Clacton Airshow

Thursday 22nd - Friday 23rd August 2019

The Clacton Airshow is the sole remaining seaside airshow in the region. Only a few years ago the seaside towns of Southend and Lowestoft both hosted shows, giving more variety to those in the area. Now there is only one. In common with many other seaside shows, the absence of the Red Arrows’ from UK skies this summer was perhaps more keenly felt than at other events, and left a void for the Clacton team that needed filling.

Scott Perry reports from the Essex Sunshine Coast for UK Airshow Review, with additional images of the classic jet action at North Weald from Dan Butcher.

Clacton certainly lived up to its Sunshine Coast reputation, two days of glorious wall to wall sunshine and blue skies, perfect conditions in which to spend a couple of says watching an airshow. This year’s show was certainly a show of two halves however, with a vastly different experience over each of the two days. Thursday, saw an extremely distant display line. Many of the aircraft mere specs in the distance, thoughts of hiring a boat for next year’s show were considered, as a safe bet if you actually wanted to see the displays. There were some exceptions to this, with fantastically close and engaging displays from the lighter aerobatic types. A stunning routine from Rich Goodwin, great team aerobatic displays from Team Raven, the Blades and the Fireflies. But, apart from the aforementioned stars of the Thursday display, many of the displays were the furthest seen of anywhere throughout the year. What was good, was outstanding. But what was bad, was almost impossible to see. Pleasingly, this was rectified on the Friday morning before the display began, with boats towing the buoys marking the display line closer towards the crowd. Perhaps one of the sights to bring the most joy at an airshow this year.

Akin to other seaside shows, the pier at Clacton offers a great and alternative place to view the airshow from. Looking into the display line, the view is challenging at best for photographers, facing the sun directly. However, when you get aircraft turning above and to the east of the pier – as they head back towards the display area - the sun is behind you. Rich Goodwin typified the benefits of this location. His Thursday display was one of the best airshow experiences that you’ll have all year. Starting by drawing a large smiley face in the sky, he dived in close towards the crowd performing his usual mix of high energy, exhilarating, aerobatics. From the pair the display was amazing. Turning above your head, the sun glinting off the brightly adorned colours of the wings of the Pitts Special. From the western end, diving towards you, looking straight down the a-axis as he flew on a knife edge. From start to finish, every second of the display was an utter joy.

The pier vantage point also gave a new dimension to the aerobatic team’s routines. The Fireflies duo were brilliant to watch, their smoke lingering in the sky maintaining the shapes created by their smoke trails. A tremendous maneuverer witnessed from this vantage point on the display line saw one aircraft loop as the other rolled; before switching over to mirror each others role. Team Raven also put in a great performance over the two days. Each time the team appear their formation display seems to go from strength to strength. Their five aircraft commanded a great presence throughout their routine.

Light aircraft such as these often operate from Clacton Airfield itself which lays slightly to the south-west of the town and display line, therefore offering those gathered on the pier a chance to see the aircraft as they appear and disappear, in the distance, from behind the seafront as they depart and return to the airfield.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadrons support of the UK airshow circuit in recent years has been nothing short of outstanding, it really has, their contribution really cannot be underestimated. The team electing to spend much of their summers based in the UK has benefited a large number of shows. Having previously displayed at the show in recent years with their MiG-15 and Vampires, the team returned in a new form for 2019. With the MiG wearing its new scheme and the flight’s T-33 Silver Star joining the MiG in Essex skies. The duo’s routine split between tight formations and a tailchase sequence with the MiG playing the foe, before the two broke off into their own solo routines. Likewise, high quality classic jet displays were provided by the Strikemaster Pair, who shared North Weald with the Norweigans as their operating base for the show.

Like many seaside shows it is the Royal Air Force participation that attains much of the interest from its visitors. The Red Arrows, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Typhoon, and the Chinook; plus, going back a few years, the Harrier, all massive crowd favourites for many that head to Clacton each year. With the Red Arrows away from the UK during this year’s show, it was always going to be a tough one for the show’s organisers...especially with the RAF’s Typhoon GR4 only able to display on the Friday. The Typhoon was highly appreciated by the audience on the pier, with the start of Friday’s show drawing the largest crowds for the Typhoon’s display. The RAF’s other offering, the Shorts Tucano T1, also put in good routines. The Friday morning saw Clacton play the host to a photoshoot between the Tucano, adorned with underside markings for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund’s centenary and the Blades, who have the charity as one of their partners marking the types imminent retirement from service. A rare sight of the two Tucanos (one the photoship) and three Extra 300s of the Blades.

Other high-quality acts were found in the form of a late addition to the show, the Ultimate Fighters Team. The Ultimate Fighters (complete with The Spirit of Kent as a guest performer) displayed their squadron of warbirds in great style. The sight and sound of the four fighters was a joy over the sea. Somehow the sea feels show a natural place to see warbird displays, the freedom of the vast expanse of air and sea. The sound of the Ultimate fighters, matched only with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s iconic trio of Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. The sound of the Lancaster’s four Merlins low over the sea is a great experience.

Clacton had some real standout performers this year. The strong showing of classic jets, the mix of warbirds provided by the Ultimate Fighters. The fun of the aerobatic acts, mixed in with the fun of the Tigers Parachute Team, dropping into the sea each day to start the display. Over the two days a great showing of all of the aircraft on display was had. For someone only visiting on the Thursday, a sense of disappointment wouldn’t be unjust. Those who did attend the two days, or even the Friday alone, will have seen the complete package. It must be remembered that while we as enthusiasts may be sometimes frustrated by things like shooting into the sun or a lack of topsides passes at events such as this, these free airshows are the inspiration for the next generation. The catalyst to create new pilots, engineers or just new enthusiasts. Even without the stars of the UK seaside airshow, anyone would find it hard to not be impressed and inspired by Clacton’s offering.