Airshow gives one last chance to see an icon in action

Vulcan in the skies at this year's Clacton Airshow where it performed its display

Vulcan in the skies at this year's Clacton Airshow where it performed its display - Credit: Contrib

This week’s Clacton Air Show will give aviation enthusiasts – and day trippers to Essex’s Sunshine Coast – the chance to see one of Britain’s best-known planes in action for the last time.

I’ve never considered myself a hard-core plane-spotter (steam engines are more my thing) but growing up in Suffolk during the 1960s and 70s it was impossible to ignore the aircraft that filled our skies from the US and RAF bases in the area.

And thanks to Airfix model kits, I became something of an annoying young expert in telling the difference between a Phantom and a Starfighter, a Lightning and a Buccaneer.

Every so often there would be the opportunity go to one of the air shows that were put on for us curious locals, the local one at Bentwaters or the long trip to the daddy of all shows, the Mildenhall Air Fete.

There was one plane that was always able to steal the show. The Red Arrows’ displays were fantastic and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight always stirred the nostalgia surrounding the Second World War and black and white British war movies.


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But it was the Vulcan that always left the biggest impression. And now there’s only one left flying – and that will be grounded at the end of the year. Forever.

The Vulcan was one of three “V” bombers designed in the 1950s to carry Britain’s “independent” nuclear bombs. It entered service alongside Victors and Valiants.

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But they were not in the same class as a heavy bomber. Victors were converted into tankers which remained in service until the early 1990s and the last Valiant was retired in 1965.

The Vulcan carried on as the RAF’s heavy bomber until the early 1980s. It was only ever used in anger once, right at the end of its service, to drop conventional bombs on Stanley airfield in the Falklands.

But at airshows it was awesome. I must have seen it three or four times performing its party trick – and every time it left me shaking. Literally.

In those days, when safety was not such a consideration, aircraft were allowed to fly over the audience, now they have to perform in front of the audience to avoid any risk to those below if anything should go wrong.

The Vulcan would always arrive from behind the audience at several hundred miles an hour and just a few hundred feet in the sky.

You wouldn’t know it was coming until it swept over you with engines on full and its distinctive V shape filling the sky before roaring up in a near vertical climb.

Your ears felt as if you’d stuck your head in a loudspeaker at a Deep Purple concert, the ground shook. And we all lapped it up!

I’ve got a pass out from the office on Thursday for one last look at the aircraft as Vulcan XH558 headlines the Clacton airshow.

She’s being retired at the end of this year because she’s already operated far more hours than any other Vulcan – but I’m told that her displays remain as impressive as ever.

She will be flying on Thursday only as part of the two-day festival over the coast at Clacton and will certainly be the highlight of the show for many visitors.

There will be something melancholy about the event. You’ll still be able to see a Vulcan at Duxford. There will still be a couple that are able to show off taxiing along a runway.

But you’ll never see one in its natural habitat – the sky – ever again. And while the reasons are understandable, it’s a real pity!

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