The very first seafront airshow took place on Friday 23rd August 1912 when Claude Graham-white along with several other pilots put on a flying demonstration in their new seaplanes. White who was flying his Henri Farman Hydro-plane landed just West of the Pier he was joined by two other aviators who had flown from Margate in Kent, they arrived in Bleroit seaplanes with was part of the "Wake up Britain Campaign"
Apart from the occasional display by the Red Arrows including one in 1978 and displays by the Rothmans Aerobatic Team in the early 1980s there a break of some 74 years before a full blown airshow was to be seen on the seafront When in 1986the first of a new breed of seaside entertainment quite literally took off.
The first annual seafront airshow took to the sky's on Monday 26th May 1986 as the Grand Finale of the Spring Festival. This was the only year that there was a fee charged to enter the cordoned off display area from Shorefields Road to the Three Shells. Adults were charged £3 whilst children aged 3-16 were £1. To stop people cheating the entrance fee 8ft high scaffolding covered with nylon netting was erected. The star of the was without doubt the double pass by Concorde carrying 150 passengers whilst on its way back from a trip round the Bay of Biscay from Heathrow.
Concorde returned for the 1987 show again making a double pass whilst returning to Heathrow on a Bay of Biscay pleasure flight, for the final year of Concorde's airshow appearance in 1988 British Airways arranged a special flight just to take pail in the Southend Airshow this time she made three passes. This year also saw the first commercial sponsor in the shape of American Beer Budweiser. The company sold 500,000 drinks throughout the day, this was made of 20,000 pints and a staggering 480,000 soft drinks 1p from each drink sold was donated to charity a commendable £5000.
In 1989 the coco-cola company launched a new brand of drink named "Sprite" The Southend Airshow was selected to be one of the very first places in the UK to showcase the new drink. The airshow had secured a new sponsor for the event in the shape of the railway company Network Southeast at that time still part of British Rail. This tie up would last for 12 years including the privatisation of the network in 1994 when the line became LTS Rail owned by Prism Rail and its further sale to the First Group, the name would change again in millennium year when it became C2C.
From 2001 the seafront Westcliff Casino took over the sponsorship. The Casino based right at the centre of the flight line provided commanding views of the show and first class catering for its members and invited guests. The casino sponsored the airshow until 2008, the last year of its sponsorship saw it change its name to Maxims Casino.
With the worst recession in British history hitting its peak during 2009 companies were finding it ever harder to release funds in sponsorship packages so Southend Council decided that without a commercial sponsor it would fund the event itself but to cut back on the flying time to try and keep the costs down. The same year also saw a major restructuring of the Southend special events programme take place, this saw the Feast of Festivals theme, with the airshow being Southends biggest event of the year this too was
Southend has also seen the been the airshow showcasing the first full public debut displays by a number of aircraft including the RAFs new training aircraft the Shorts Tucano in 1990 followed by the latest state of the art front line attack aircraft the Eurofighter Typhoon T1 in 2005 and the Typhoon F1 in 2006. Teams have also made their debut UK appearances at Southend including the new Plane Sailing Consolidated Catalina G-PBYA (F-FNJF) in 2005, The Blades formation team in 2006 and the Hong Kong Oasis Boeing 747 in 2007.
Southend Council took over the running cost of the airshow themselves from 2008.
The event was rebranded Festival of the Air this was in keeping with the re-branding of many of the special events being incorporated into a Feast of Festivals.
The airshow was moved from it's traditional end of May Bank Holiday Sunday - Monday slot to a Saturday - Sunday slot in 2011 as escalating costs in policing the event proved prohibitively expensive, this was only the second time in the events 26 year history that it was not held on the Bank Holiday Monday.
The memrobilia that was either sold or given away free at the airshow.
The leaflets used to advertise the event.
A set of limited edition postcards.