Sky high fun at Lowestoft Air Festival

Look to the skies — the two-day Lowestoft Air Festival is one of the country's biggest drawing thousands to watch the dazzling airborne displays — and having moved to the weekend its just got bigger. SIMON PARKIN previews it.

Watching the Red Arrows dart, flip and weave an airborne trail across the sky from the sunny comfort a deckchair — what could be better.

Several hundred thousand people seemingly agree as the Lowestoft Air Festival has grown into one of the country's biggest.

More than 450,000 people flocked to Lowestoft beach over the two day festival last year for an event that — being free — must rank as the best value ways to entertain the family all summer.

Many more are expected to be craning their necks skyward this year as for the first time ever the festival is taking place on a Saturday and Sunday.

Final preparations were being put in place this week for the weekend air extravaganza, which is also being held earlier in the summer having been moved to an earlier date to avoid clashing with the London Olympics in early August.

Not only does it mean more people will be able to enjoy it, but organisers say the entertainment on offer will be even better, with nearly 40 aircraft flying over the two days and the world-famous Red Arrows, in a seven ship formation this year, closing the show both tomorrow and Sunday.

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'It is as good an airshow as anywhere in Britain this year,' said the show's flying director Tim Miller. 'I'm happy to put my name to it as it has taken a lot of hard work to get it all together and the aim is for the public to have a fantastic weekend.

'It is a huge show — with more than 20 different displays on the Sunday alone.'

Also among the show highlights are the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the return of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the historic B17, the Sally B, the Red Bull Matadors aerobatics team and the Breitling Wingwalkers.

However though it is all free with the event costing more than �300,000 to stage, the money donated by the public is crucial to its future and organisers are calling on everyone attending to pay the suggested �3 per person fee to help make sure the event happens again next summer.

As an added incentive, everyone paying their �3 will receive a 60-page programme containing more than �170-worth of money-off vouchers from the army of volunteers who will be greeting spectators to the seafront.

Air Festival managing director Paul Bayfield said: 'We are all set and up for the show, and anticipating great support from the visitors, simply because of the vouchers.

'Other airfield-based air shows in the area cost �20 per car at one and �30 per person at another so we believe the package that we have for our spectators of a fantastic four-hour air show and money-off vouchers represents a terrific value-for-money day out.'

Speaking about the new-look programme, Mr Bayfield added: 'We thought a �3 donation was fine before, but now they will get an event programme for free and save an awful lot of money while seeing this fantastic air show. This �3 was really good value before – it is excellent value now!'

Meanwhile organisers have revealed that hopes are high there will be a flying visit by the Red Arrows this Sunday as locals are offered the unique chance to meet the pilots on Royal Green, at the Red Arrows PR unit, at about 12.15pm — but they will only be there for about 30 minutes.

With the festival hoping for fine weather and clear skies, the forecast for tomorrow is for sunny spells and possible showers. On Sunday, the forecast is for a mixture of sunshine and heavy rain showers.

Mr Miller, who is excitedly looking forward to his first Lowestoft air show as the flying director, said: 'I can't think of a bigger air show in this country — may be internationally.

'It will be a lot of work from my point of view to get it all together, but I hope it all goes well on the day.'

Among the historic displays will be The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who will be bringing a Spitfire, Hurricane and a Dakota — which is fitting, as this year sees the 70th anniversary of the latter's delivery into service with the RAF.

A wartime American bomber will also be among the aircraft thrilling crowds when it returns to the event after an absence of six years. Instantly recognisable as one of the classic heavy bombers from the Second World War, the B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B will be appearing on both days of the show – its first visit to Lowestoft since 2006.

The only airworthy B-17 in the UK, Sally B is now operated from Duxford by a charitable trust and ably assisted by a small army of 26,000 'friends' in the supporters club.

With 2012 marking the 70th anniversary of the arrival in East Anglia of the first elements of the American 8th Air Force, and in August 1942 they flew their first daylight mission with a force of 12 B-17s.

By 1945 it was possible to count over 30 formations of B-17s – more than 1,000 aircraft – heading out over the coast.

The return of their often depleted formations and crippled bombers staggering home over the town became the stuff of legend.

Coming right up to date, current front line fighters, the Typhoon and Tornado from squadrons which have seen action with the RAF in Afghanistan and Libya, will give displays that are certain to be a visual and very audible portrayal of modern air-to-ground warfare.

Other aircraft and aerial display teams set to entertain over the weekend include the BAe Hawk, Tucano, the Falcons Free Fall Team, King Air, the Hawker Hunter, The Red Bull pair, the Breitling Wing Walkers, Aerostars and the RAF Tornado.

'The flying programme features over four hours of aviation entertainment but differs slightly on each day – so to be sure to see all the displays we recommend that spectators visit on both days to make a full weekend of it,' added Mr Miller.

With at least 20 solo and team displays bringing nearly 40 aircraft to the skies over Lowestoft seafront on each day, the festival is set to soar once again to the delight of the hundreds of thousands expected.

t Lowestoft Air Festival is run by the community, for the community - so please give an entrance fee of at least �3 per person, including children. In return you'll get the official programme (with lots of money-off vouchers).

t As usual, parking will be very restricted in the area – use the official Park and Ride site at Dip Farm to the north of the town, just off the A12 (�10 per car, bus running every 10 minutes). There is no Southern Park and Ride this year. Or Park and Walk (�10 per car) at Pakefield Cliffs car park, Kirkley in South Lowestoft or Riverside Road, Lowestoft. Money from these official sites also goes to help next year's event.