The Essex resort of Clacton-on-Sea opens it August Bank Holiday weekend with its very popular airshow. 2023 saw the 30th running of the Clacton Airshow which celebrated the milestone with one of the larger seaside flying displays of the year and some spectacular twilight flying on the Thursday
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The Clacton Airshow has come an important cornerstone of the tourist season on the Essex Sunshine Coast. Run over the Thursday and Friday ahead of the August Bank Holiday weekend, it regularly brings in crowds topping 250,000 who line the beaches and Clacton Pier to watch the flying.
2023 proved very popular though once again very differing weather forecasts meant the sunnier Friday was incredibly busy in the town with every car parking space taken and huge crowds on the seafront. Thursday was a little greyer, but the weather thankfully remained onside for most of the time with just the odd light shower. On the ground, the Greensward lawns were home to a military village, some industry exhibitions and traders.
For the 30th year, the flying display was bigger than ever with a varied mix of old and new taking to skies. Opening the show on the Thursday were the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team jumping onto the beaches to be met by local dignitaries.
Royal Air Force support for Clacton has always been somewhat low key compared to that allocated to some of the other big seaside airshows. The Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were the clear highlights for the crowds on each afternoon. However, there was also the Grob Tutor T1 solo display making a welcome return to Clacton with a superb aerobatic sequence flown Flt Lt David John-Gibbs. Friday’s display also saw the late addition of a RAF Mildenhall based United States Air Force Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker flypast.
Adding some additional colour to proceedings were a host of civilian displays. Team Raven impressed with their excellent formation aerobatics while the crowd were enthralled by the jet assisted antics of Rich Goodwin in his Pitts S-2S Special. Adding further aerobatic thrills to the daytime flying were the Firebirds Aerobatic Team with their two Vans RV4s and Rod Deans elegant solo routine in the Slingsby T67M-160 Firefly. Another display that always surprises at Clacton is Peter Davis in his Autogyro Calidus. The layout of Clacton’s seafront means the display line is slightly distant but Peter is able to come much closer to the beaches highlighting the superb agility of the autogyro.
What really made Clacton’s flying display stand out was the collection of historic displays on top of those from the BBMF. A strong naval theme was opened on the Thursday with a smooth aerobatic display from Fighter Aviation Engineering’s Hawker Fury II flown by Paul Bonhomme. Later in the display the NavyWings Heritage Flight presented their ‘Taranto Formation’ with their Fairey Swordfish and Westland Wasp arriving in close formation ahead of solo displays. More piston powered heavy metal came from the Rolls Royce Heritage Flight with their pairing of Supermarine Spitire PRXIX and North American P-51D Mustang.
A very unusual addition to the flying programme was the pair of elegant Beech D17S Staggerwings flown by Peter Kuypers and Nigel Willson. The two 1930s biplanes gave a lovely display of formation and tail chase flypasts taking the audience back to the golden age of aviation.
Recent editions of the Clacton Airshow have always featured good classic jet participation and 2023 was no different. The Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron and North Wales Military Aviation Services teamed up to present a combination of de Havilland Vampire FB52 and BAC Strikemaster Mk82 for some pleasing flypasts and formation aerobatic displays ahead of their respective solo displays. Further international flavour came from the Belgium based North American OV-10B Bronco flown by Tony de Bryun – a firm favourite with the Clacton crowd.
Once again it was Thursday evening’s “Twilight Flights’ ahead of the main Fireworks display that were the high point of the show. Sadly, the Tigers were unable to return for a second drop in the evening due to issues with their aircraft, but the amazing pyrotechnic displays by the Firebirds Aerobatic Team and Brendan O’Brien in OTTO the Helicopter provided the best possible finale in the clearing evening skies. This element of the Airshow is become more and more popular each year and Clacton is just about the most perfect venue with the evening light bathing the display area from behind the crowd creating some lovely skyscapes.
It was great to see Clacton so busy for its 30th Airshow and receive so much support from the local area. The crowds clearly enjoyed the displays too with many of the acts received rapturous rounds of applause. Here’s to many more airshows at Clacton with the 2024 event already pencilled in for the 22nd-23rd August next year.