Aviation action returned to the Essex coast to start the August Bank Holiday weekend with a full edition of the Clacton Airshow. As well as the Red Arrows and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the show saw a whole host of historic aircraft and crowd favourites take part including a thrilling evening display on the Thursday.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from the opening day. All photography by the author.
The return of a full edition of the Clacton Airshow proved very popular despite some dire weather forecasts for the Thursday of the event. Despite rain falling inland, the main car parks for the event were full well in advance of the start of the flying displays.
Many of the forecasters had predicted a day of heavy rain and low cloud for Clacton. However, the morning saw high cloud and a couple of light showers before breaking into a sunny and bright late afternoon and evening. The predicted poor weather remained further west and gradually fizzled out as the day went on. This did cause several late changes to the flying programme which was extended into late afternoon to allow several aircraft based inland to transit to Clacton in more favourable conditions. Thanks to the efforts of the flying display director and participating crew almost every act did fly! Friday saw much fairer conditions allowing the full planned display to take place.
Compared to some of the other major seafront airshows in the UK, Clacton Airshow is quite compact. The main showground area is placed on the Greensward lawns just to the south of the main town. This plays hosts to some traders, charity stalls and a selection of exhibitions from the UK military. However, there are plenty of different viewpoints to watch the displays with many taking to the sandy beaches while others watch from the raised promenades. Clacton Pier and the Martello Towers at the extreme ends of the main display line also offer some fine views of the main daytime flying.
In 2021, the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performed on their own over Clacton to mark the town’s 150th anniversary. For the return of the full Clacton Airshow they were back as the main headline acts. The Red Arrows performance on the Thursday drew the biggest crowds of the day as many leaving work were able to catch their late afternoon display. On Thursday the BBMF Avro Lancaster B1 PA474 displayed on its own and looked magnificent in the late afternoon sun flying over the Thames Barges moored at sea. Thursday’s display also saw a rare airshow appearance by an Airbus Helicopters Puma HC2 from RAF Benson and captained by Flt Lt Genevieve Rolleston-Smith. The helicopter made a single but stately slow flypast along the Clacton display line before departing north towards RAF Wattisham.
Further warbird flying came from civilian operators. Peter Teichman made a welcome return to his local airshow with a smoothly flown solo display in his North American P-51D Mustang ‘Tall in the Saddle.’ A late addition to the flying programme was Lt Cdr Chris Gotke displaying the Supermarine Seafire XVII from NavyWings flying in place of their Fairey Swordfish. The Swordfish is now back flying but its test programme has been running slightly behind schedule. They are hopeful the Swordfish will return before the end of the 2022 season. Completing the warbird line-up was Supermarine Spitfire IX MH434 which only flew on the Friday due to poor weather at Duxford.
Adding to the historic line-up were a number of cold war warriors. The North American OV-10B Bronco flown by Tony de Bruyn was an eye-catching participant wearing its Luftwaffe target towing colours. As well his display over the seafront, Tony was also able to use the short take-off and landing abilities of the OV-10 to operate from the confines of Clacton Aero Club which is usually only able to accommodate some of the smaller aircraft types.
Adding to the international flavour were a pair of jets from the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron. Thursday’s late afternoon flying display saw a solo display by their de Havilland Vampire FB52 piloted by Kenneth Aarkvisla. With Friday’s better weather, Kenneth had a busier day not only flying the Vampire but also the squadron’s Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTi. Rounding off the classic jet participation were the pair of BAC Strikemaster Mk82s from North Wales Military Aviation Services flown by Chris Heames and Ian Brett.
As well as all the modern and historic military displays, there was a very eclectic selection of civilian displays with everything from Peter Davies’ barnstorming display in his Calidus Autogyro through to the precision of The Blades Aerobatic Team. Further colour to the display was added by Rod Dean’s sublime aerobatics in the Slingsby T67M Firefly, Rich Goodwin tumbling around in his Pitts S-2S Special and Team Raven filling the sky with their big formations.
However, the high point of the Clacton Airshow was once again the twilight displays on Thursday. While the very British weather had disrupted the day it did leave the most wonderful pink and blue sunset skies over Clacton seafront for the evening flying. Opening the series of three displays were the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team. The team managed to get to 6000ft for their drop on to Clacton Beach with pyrotechnics firing the parachutists’ feet. The drop zone however was quite tight and while most jumpers landed safely, one found himself overshooting into the water at quite some speed. He unfortunately suffered a foot injury but the incident was handled well and very quickly by the event team and emergency responders.
Next to fly were the Firebirds. Previously known as the Fireflies, the aircraft now have new owners with John Dodd and Nigel Reed flying the pair of Vans RV4s. With their navigation and anti-collision lights twinkling against the darkening skies, the two aircraft firing a series of different pyrotechnic effects from their wingtips while flying close formation and synchronised aerobatics. The team also invited the crowd to get involved waving their mobile phone torches back at the team during their ‘heart’ finale.
Closing the flying ahead of the Pier’s own fireworks display was Brendan O’Brien flying OTTO the Helicopter. His pyrotechnic display has to be seen to be believed with well over 1,000 different pyrotechnic shots being fired from boxes mounted on the side of the little helicopter filling the sky with colour, smoke and noise!
It really was wonderful to see Clacton so busy over the two days. Thursday may have started slow due to poor weather elsewhere in the UK, but I think those that stayed were rewarded with some great flying set against some very attractive skyscapes – particularly in the evening. Organisers reported the Friday was even busier with little space left on the beach. Long may the Clacton Airshow continue!