It may have been grey and thundery, but nothing was going to stop the mighty Red Arrows from painting the skies red, white and blue to launch the 30th Sunderland International Airshow in spectacular style.
After changing their usual course slightly to fly over the new Northern Spire bridge, the distinctive Hawk fast-jets darted through the sky above Seaburn at 350mph with pin-point precision for the Friday night of the weekend event, which is expected to attract up to a million people.
There was a mixture of flying and musical entertainment to kick off the festivities but the thunderstorms defeated the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which couldn’t take off from its base, while the Twister Aerobatics Team and Fireflies Otto had to cancel shortly before their flight time.
Some of the music performances also had to be cancelled as the heavens opened, while the fireworks were brought forward an hour to close the launch early.
But earlier in the evening crowds were treated to some finer weather and some even finer flying from the RAF Typhoon, which cut through the brewing storm clouds with its mighty roar.
On the ground, there was musical entertainment from local acts including Olivia Glover, Beth Macari and Jennison, as well as Band of HM Royal Marines Collingwood and an Indian dance extravaganza.
Meanwhile, performance company iStage performed a mash up of three decades of music to celebrate the Airshow’s 30th birthday, which has grown from a small event at the long-gone Sunderland Airport to become one of the biggest free events in Europe.
Opening this year’s event, Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Lynda Scanlan said: “Many people in the city have grown up with the airshow as it has developed and over the years it has brought millions of people to our city to enjoy the largest free event in Europe. We want to thank the public for their continuing support, this is their airshow.”
Squadron Leader Adam Collins, supervisor of the Red Arrows, aka Red 10, said: “We do 50-70 shows a season and this is one of our biggest.
“I came to Sunderland Airshow last year as shadow, but this is my first as Red 10. It’s great because I get the best of both shows: I get to fly between shows and then meet the public at the shows.
“There’s nothing like seeing a child dressed in a red flying suit come running up to you.
“There’s so much enthusiasm for The Reds, which is amazing.”
Coun John Kelly, portfolio holder for communities and culture, said: “We started the Friday night of the airshow for the 21st anniversary of the Airshow and it’s become hugely popular. It works for people because it’s such a great family atmosphere.
“What’s great is that people who came as kids 30 years ago are now coming with their kids.
“We’re having such a great summer for events, with the Tall Ships, the FanZone, Rock the North East at Herrington Country Park and Kubix Festival coming up. As a city we’ve been getting mentions in places as far afield as India, and attracting people from across the country.”
If you’re hoping to see the Red Arrows tomorrow they’re due to take to the skies between 4pm and 4.50pm. They won’t be appearing on Sunday due to a prior booking at an airshow in Ireland.
It’s hoped the Battle of Britain will be able to take off on the Saturday and the mighty Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster should be in flight at the seafront between 1pm and 2pm.
Flying will take place from 12.15pm with RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team.
Other highlights on the first full day of flying are Gyro Air Display at 2pm and The Blades at RAF Chinook Display at 3pm.