Up, up and away at Lowestoft Air Festival

Look to the skies — the two-day Lowestoft Air Festival is one of the country's biggest, drawing hundreds of thou-sands to watch the dazzling airborne displays. Best of all, it's all for just a �3 donation. 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, which takes place in the resort again next Thursday and Friday, has grown into one of the country's biggest.

More than 450,000 are expected to flock to Lowestoft seafront over the two day festival next Thursday and Friday that — being free, though let's be fair and chip in the suggested donation of �3 — must rank as the best value ways to entertain the family all summer.

Putting last year's wash-out woes hopefully not to be repeated, visitors can expect everything from wing walking and search and rescue displays to all manner of planes from yesteryear right up to the present day.

'I think this year's programme is probably the best yet,' says managing director Paul Bayfield, adding they've stuck with family favourites such as the British acrobatic Red Bull Matadors, who are 747 pilots in their everyday lives.

'They've got some brand new aircraft and the display last year was just wow, I think this year it's going to be wow wow,' he laughs.

Most Read

The RAF will be well represented. As well the Red Arrows (due on both days), there will be the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a Hawk jet solo display, a Tucano solo display, Grob Tutor solo and a Sea King Search and Rescue helicopter.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the iconic Spitfire and the BBMF will be marking this event by displaying a Dakota aircraft accompanied by two Spitfires. Other attractions inlude The Tigers Parachute Team, Aerostars, P51 Mustang Pair, Hawker Hunter, and the Breitling Wing Walkers. The display will run for about 4.5 hours from 12.45pm on the first day, and from 12.30pm on Day Two.

There will be history made too as for the first time in Royal Air Force history, a female pilot will fly a solo jet for a public airshow display at this year's festival — and she's from this region.

Cambridge-born Flight Lieutenant Juliette Fleming, 32, who joins the RAF solo and team display teams after flying the Tornado GR4 in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be in the BAE Hawk T Mk1, capable of up to 630mph, during next Thursday and Friday's festival.

'Not everyone gets the chance to do this and from a professional perspective that was the motivation for the job,' says Jules, who's also an accomplished horsewoman and motor sport racer.

'There was personal gratification even just to be short-listed but to have actually got the job is awesome.'

It's the second time a female pilot has been chosen as a member of a RAF display team. Last year Flt Lt Kirsty Moore became the first woman to fly a Hawk jet with the world-famous aerobatic display team, the Red Arrows.

Kirsty is now in her second year of a three-year term with the Reds and returns with them to this year's festival. Both Jules and Kirsty have previously been stationed with the Tornado squadrons at RAF Marham in Norfolk.

Ground-based attractions during the festival will include a funfair, amusements, military displays and stands, trade stalls, an Italian market, live bands, parachute drops and much more.

It's all a bargain for just the �3. 'We've taken quite a profound decision to up the recommended donation to �3. The frustrating thing is we started off at a �1; with 400,000 people on that seafront if everybody just put a �1 we would have the best airshow in the UK,' sighs Paul Bayfield.

'I hope this year people support us because it's just such amazing value for money; where else could you see aeroplanes of the quality of the Red Arrows for �3?

'It's really, really important we get the message out there that we're doing it for all the right reasons; for the economy and local businesses [worth more than �11.9 million according to an independent tourism board report], for tourism [worth �500,000 in terms of advertising and promoting the area) and let's not forget charities as well,' he stresses.

This year's festival will support 34 different local and regional organisations varying from cancer charities to Guide Dogs for the Blind. After last year's show almost �28,000 was cascaded back into the community through the charitable partner organisations who help festival organisers.

'Come and watch some fantastic aerial displays on award-winning beaches that are probably some of the best in the area. You get a fabulous display and if you haven't been for a year or two come back and give us a look; it doesn't always rain in Lowestoft,' he laughs.

'Three pound in the bucket that's all we ask and it'll be a fabulous day out.'

If you're planning to drive, all the main seafront car parks will be closed and most of the on-street parking in Marine Parade and Kirkley Cliff will be coned off. There'll be additional parking a short walk away from the south beach at Pakefield Cliffs, with disabled car parking at Belvedere Road car park.

There's a park and ride bus scheme operating out of Dip Farm and Africa Alive, Kessingland, and Park and Walk is available from ASDA in Horn Hill costing �10 per car, with a donation to the air festival and Kirkley and Pakefield Football Club costing �8 per car.

t A full breakdown of displays and timings over the two days are available in the official fundraising souvenir programme, available now.