The UK's sea-front airshows don't offer either the volume or variety of aircraft that you might get at a RIAT or a Waddington but they do offer a good family day out and a lot more flying than you might expect considering it all comes for free! Clacton is no exception to the rule and this year saw another strong 2-day performance for tourists and enthusiasts alike. 'Something for everyone' seems to be the order of the day and the organisers seem pretty successful at achieving their aim.
Although the summer of '03 has had outstanding weather and the airshows have probably had a bumper year as a result, the clouds did their best to join up over the Essex coast and conspired with a stiff breeze to prompt the appearance of a few more jumpers and jackets than the Tourist board would have wished for ! Despite that, the Clacton holiday-makers seemed to be a fairly resilient bunch this year and were not as easily put off as you might think - the sea-front was packed.
The only vantage point from which to freely wield a camera seemed to be at the extreme end of the display axis, unless of course you decided to stroll down to the end of Clacton Pier where ( not that I would ever condone such a thing ) you can sit directly on the flight-line and get the kind of close up overhead views of the aircraft that are rare in the modern airshow calendar. The only drawback is that you can't hear any commentary from down there and so probably miss out on all kinds of information which in turn might lead you to write airshow reviews which are full of holes - oh well, carry on regardless....
As ever, the RAF were the backbone of the show and provided a number of classy displays throughout the duration of the event with a good share of their display inventory seeing action over the two days.
The trainer contingent of Tucano and Hawk put in stellar aerobatic appearances and a Jaguar arrived from behind the Pier at low level and high speed to cause the usual 'Burger dropping, children crying, dogs barking' chaos for which its reheated jets have become famous!
As well as that, the Falcons dropped in exactly on target despite what must have been borderline wind conditions and just about managed to gather up their unruly parachutes in time for the C130's high speed pass.
On the subject of fly-pasts, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were on hand but with their Dakota leading the event rather than the City of Lincoln. It was good to see a different 3-ship at Clacton this year but the Lancaster is such a special aircraft it's inevitably disappointing when she goes u/s and has to take the day off.
With the Red Arrows kicking off the whole show on Thursday and a Tornado bringing it to a thunderous conclusion on the Friday the 'junior service' did Clacton proud. I think it's worth remembering that without their support, this show and others like it would probably cease to exist. Well done RAF.
It wasn't just the RAF who made the Clacton Airshow worth seeing however.
The 5-ship Aerostars put on a superb show in their Yaks and the Tutor, Piston Provost and Extra 300 displays completed another great round of sea-front aerobatics. I would normally include the SU-26 in a sentence about aerobatics but the performance of that pilot and his aircraft, particularly the party-piece 'hover' and it's version of the SU27's 'Cobra' really shouldn't be compared with any other non-jet display - it's in a league all of its own.
The Barnstorming Stearman's performed as a pair with some cold looking wing-walkers and the Essex Air Ambulance also gave the public a look at what their donations have achieved. For me however, the star of the 'indy' performers was the De Havilland Sea Vixen which, perhaps not surprisingly given its carrier-based heritage, looks so completely at home while skimming over the waves during its very impressive display routine.
Clacton will never replace the major shows from an enthusiast's point of view but it's very good at keeping nearly everyone entertained for a long afternoon of flying. Long may it continue. Oh and by the way, SAVE THE VULCAN !!
Review by David Guild.