The seaside resort of Clacton traditionally opens its August Bank Holiday weekend with its annual airshow. The free airshow takes place between the town’s famous Pier and the historic Martello Towers with the crowds watching from the promenades and beaches. Like many of the other seaside airshows, the flying displays mix military and civilian participants over the two days with a spectacular evening air display on the opening day.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The annual Clacton Airshow is Essex’s last remaining major airshow. It is also slightly unusual being held on the Thursday and Friday ahead of the August Bank Holiday weekend. This creates an extended weekend for the region’s hotels, restaurants and other tourism business. Unlike some of the other bigger seaside airshows, Clacton is quite a compact display site with a small showground and trading area on the Greensward.
Seaside airshows offer spectators a number of different views of the flying and Clacton is no different. The beaches and promenades are the main locations but the Pier and Martello Tower locations also offer some very good vantage points. Spectators arriving by car to one of the official parking areas also often see some of the smaller participants on the ground at the small aero club just outside of the main town. Airshows in Essex have always been popular with the local BBC radio station and Clacton is one of few airshow to still have its commentary broadcast on a main radio station.
Clacton’s flying displays are a crowd-pleasing mix of civilian and military displays with everything from front line jets through to aerobatics and historic warbirds. Opening the flying displays each however were the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. Conditions for the team were just about perfect throughout the event allowing the team to show off a range of different parachute skills and canopy work.
The Royal Air Force is always keen to interact with the holiday crowds on the ground as well as in the air. This year the RAF contributed the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 (Friday only), Shorts Tucano T1 and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight over the two days.
With the Red Arrows unavailable due to their North American tour, it was perhaps unsurprising that there were perhaps more civilian display teams than previous editions of the show. The Blades have certainly had a busier summer than of late thanks to the Red Arrows tour. At Clacton they presented a three-ship routine flown by Andy Evans, Mike Ling and James McMillan highlighting much of their own Red Arrows heritage in the gin blue skies.
More big formation aerobatics came from Team Raven flying their five Vans RV8s. The team are now a well-established item on the European display circuit and always present a thorough professional and eye-catching routine. Further Vans formation flying came from the Fireflies with their pair of smaller RV4s. The team have a new look for 2019 with a new colour scheme and two new pilots in the form of Nigel Reid and John Dodd.
Complementing the formations were some solo aerobatic routines. Rod Dean gave a sublime display of graceful and perfectly placed aerobatics in his Slingsby T-67M Firefly. At the other end of the power spectrum was Rich Goodwin with his red, while and blue Pitts S-2S Special. He opened his routine on both days with some ‘sky-art’ drawing a huge smiley in the Essex skies. On Thursday at least his creation stayed in the blue skies throughout his display too! Some ‘chopperbatics’ came from Brendan O’Brien with his Schweizer S300C ‘OTTO’.
As well as the BBMF, there were some excellent civilian operated historic displays. The Ultimate Fighters made their Clacton debut presenting their stunning four-ship routine with the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt leading the Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon, the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s Supermarine Spitfire IX and the North American TF-51D Mustang.
Two pairs of classic jets also appeared in the flying display. The pair of BAC Strikemaster Mk82s flown by Mark Petrie and Ollie Suckling was a popular addition to the flying programme with some formation work, opposition passes and tail-chasing. Also new to Clacton was the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron’s Lockheed T-33 Silver Star which appeared alongside the more familiar Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTi. The pair initially performed some formation passes before separating into a simulated dogfight recreating the early jet-on-jet engagements of Korean War.
Adding to the Cold War flavour was the North American OV-10B Bronco flown by Tony de Bryun. The OV-10B was the largest participant to operate from Clacton Aero Club using its impressive short take-off and landing abilities to operate from the short grass strip. In the air, the Bronco is an imposing display aircraft showing off its agility needed for the close air support mission as well as smoke used to mark targets for other aircraft.
For the fourth successive year, a evening display was held on the Thursday. This year the ‘night-flights’ was opened by Tigers Parachute Display Team this time jumping with fireworks attached to their feet rather than just smoke. Rather than jump into the sea, the team landed in a tiger dropzone on the beach which was very impressive. The were followed by the return of the FireFlies Aerobatic Team who gave their trademark twilight aerial ballet with fireworks streaming from their wingtips. The evening flying was brought to a colourful and explosive end by Brendan O’Brien and Alex Garman flying a new joint routine in ‘OTTO’ and the Piper J3 Cub. On his own, ‘OTTO’ is quite the most impressive sight and sound during the pyrotechnic spectacular but the addition of the Cub fills the sky with techni-coloured effects. It was a superb way to round off an excellent day out on the Essex Sunshine Coast.