The crowds of holidaymakers and aviation enthusiasts who came to Blackpool’s famous seafront today were treated to both breathtaking aerobatics and a nail-biting competition which went right to the wire.

Some of Britain’s top aerobatic and display pilots are appearing at the Aero GP Blackpool event, the first such event to be held in the UK. The aircraft, pilots and groundcrews were based at Blackpool’s International airport for the course of the weekend but the real action takes place over the sea in front of the historic Imperial Hotel.

Poor weather earlier in the week meant that the planned air racing element had to be cancelled due to a lack of practice time. However two very different (but equally exciting) aerobatic competitions were run under the guidance of the British Aerobatic Association (BAeA), starting with a time trial and followed late in the afternoon by a freestyle competition.

The first event of the day saw the seven pilots competing against the clock to complete a set sequence of aerobatic manoeuvres. This was a first for Aero GP but proved very popular with pilots and spectators alike.

Let the flying begin!
Mark Jefferies (the reigning British Aerobatic Champion) entered the competition ‘box’ at shortly after midday and set a blistering time of 2mins 20secs. News of Mark’s result soon filtered back to the airport, inspiring the other pilots to work on their routines in an attempt to beat his pace.

The competition started in earnest at 2pm with Gerald ‘Gerry’ Cooper taking to the skies first in a French-built CAP 232. Gerry, who is currently eighth in the world aerobatic rankings, flew a very quick time of 2mins 24secs, but it wasn’t quick enough to beat Mark, especially after a 30 second penalty for a rule infringement increased his total time to 2mins 54secs.
Steve Carver flew next and set a personal best of 2mins 40secs in his Extra 260, one of only three such aircraft ever built. Next up was Clive Butler, flying the small and nimble Pitts S1 and he put in a good showing with a 3mins 13secs time.

Alan Cassidy’s incredible Pitts Model 12, dubbed the ‘Macho Stinker’ Billowed smoke and growled around the skies like a 1930s barnstormer the Model 12 made for a spectacular sight, but the aerodynamic drag from that big round-engine meant Alan stood little chance in the time trials, clocking up a time of 2mins 48secs.

Gary Ferriman’s tiny Extra 230 dates back to the 1980s but that didn’t stop him putting in a truly amazing performance in the time trials. Speaking before his flight Gary confessed that the fastest time he had logged in practice was 2mins 50secs and he thought he stood little chance of keeping up with the newer, sleeker designs. However, as he crossed the line he was astounded to hear that he had finished in just 2mins 21secs – nearly 30 seconds faster than his personal best and just one second adrift from the lead!

By 2.45pm only one pilot had yet to fly and nobody had beaten Mark Jefferies time. Yorkshireman Tom Cassells strapped into his CAP 232 and departed Blackpool airport for the beachfront venue, with the eyes of the crowd watching his every move.

Airshow legend Brendan O’Brian is commentating on the Aero GP event this weekend and as Tom entered the airspace above the beach Brendan worked his magic on the crowds to build the tension. Could Tom, as a former British Aerobatic Champion, steel the Aero GP crown from the reigning champ? As he tipped in and dived through the start line the stopwatches were started and Tom flew a very tight, precise and fast routine… but was is fast enough?
Tom landed back at Blackpool just as his time was radioed through… he had completed the routine is just 2mins 31secs, an amazing time but still eleven seconds slower than Mark!

After a short break the pilots took to the skies once again for a freestyle aerobatic competition. This is familiar territory for these hardened aerobatic pilots so great things were anticipated from each of them.

Gerry was first to take centre stage, still reeling from his defeat in the time trials. He loves flying freestyle routines and the formidable CAP 232 is considered by many to be the perfect machine for this category of competition. He performed an astounding routine with almost faultless precision achieving a total score of 2950 from the judges – surely it would prove unbeatable?

Over the course of the next 45 minutes pilot after pilot took centre stage in an attempt to beat Gerry’s score, but with just one pilot left to fly nobody had come remotely close. However, the last man to fly was no other than Aerobatic Champion (and round one winner) Mark Jefferies…

Mark powered his way into the competition box just a few minutes after 4pm and coaxed every last bit of performance from his highly tuned Extra 300S. The crowd knew it was a good performance, but what did the judges think…?

Mark taxied up to the Blackpool’s Hangar 3, shut down his engine and opened the canopy to be greeted by film crews. There was still no word from the judges and the pilots gathered around waiting for news. Finally, the call arrived…. “Mark Jefferies… final score… 3120… position one!”

Known Programme (Time Trial)

Pilot Aircraft Time Penalty Total Position
Mark Jefferies Extra 300S 2m 20s Nil 2m 20s 1
Gerald Cooper CAP 232 2m 24s Nil 2m 54s 6
Steve Carver Extra 260 2m 40s Nil 2m 40s 7
Clive Butler Pitts S1-T 3m 13s Nil 3m 13s 4
Alan Cassidy Pitts Model 12 2m 48s Nil 2m 48s 5
Gary Ferriman Extra 230 2m 21s Nil 2m 21s 2
Tom Cassells CAP 232 2m 31s Nil 2m 31s 3

Pilot Aircraft Marks Position
Gerald Cooper CAP 232 2950 2
Steve Carver Extra 260 2800 3 (Joint)
Clive Butler Pitts S1-T 2680 7
Alan Cassidy Pitts Model 12 2800 3 (Joint)
Gary Ferriman Extra 230 2720 5 (Joint)
Tom Cassells CAP 232 2720 5 (Joint)
Mark Jefferies Extra 300S 3120 1