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2013 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Duxford Autumn Air Show

The Imperial War Museum Duxford has been organising airshows for 40 years. They started with an Air Day on October 14th 1973 and grown to be amongst the best regarded airshow venues in the world. This year’s Autumn Air Show celebrated those 40 years featuring some of the aircraft and people that have played their part in Duxford’s rich and varied airshow history.

Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author. Archive videos from the IWM Collection.

It is fair to say that travelling up to Duxford during the early morning that I had my doubt as to whether they’d be any celebration of 40 Years of IWM Duxford at all. The M25 and M11 motorways were totally saturated with huge amounts of spray under the very low dark grey cloud-base; Autumn had certainly arrived with vengeance. The downcast mood continued upon arrival at Duxford. The flightline was nearly completely devoid of aircraft and the showground was eerily quiet with only the hardiest souls braving the elements. Some comfort did come from the weather forecasts that predicted a clearance in the bad weather in lunch time but can you really trust them? Fortunately, for once, the weather forecasters got things right! A few scans of the weather radar and the airfield weather reports upwind of Duxford showed the clearance in the weather was coming and it duly arrived late morning much to the relief of everybody at Duxford. The flightline soon looked much healthier as more and more aircraft were pulled from the hangars – we had an airshow!

As British tradition dictates, an important anniversary cannot be celebrated without cake and before the main flying display the participating display pilots and flying display director Jeanne Frazer gathered for a photo-shoot in front of the Old Flying Machine Company’s Supermarine Spitfire LFIXb MH434 in Hangar 3.

By 1.30pm, the planned start of the flying programme the weather had completely changed to an afternoon of sunny spells with the occasional short shower. Most pleasing however was that almost all of the planned flying displays did take place, though there were just a few cancellations. Most notable was the BAC Canberra PR9 from the Mid Air Squadron which was weathered in at its Kemble base. The GliderFX team were in a similar position at RAF Halton while technical issues forced the withdrawal of the Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator, Spitfire Ltd’s Spitfire XVIe and Golden Apple’s F-86A Sabre.

Opening the display was an aircraft resident at Duxford for almost all of those 40 years, Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B. As she taxied out from her roost at the eastern end of the airfield, commentators Ben Dunnell and Colin Wilshire played “The Van de Valk Theme” which was at No.1 40 years ago at the time of the first Air Day. There have not been too many Duxford Air Shows over the last 40 years that have not seen Sally-B take part in so it was a highlight appropriate opening act.

Following on the heels of Sally-B was the first modern military contribution to the display with the Royal Navy Westland Lynx HMA8 from the Black Cats Helicopter Display Team. The various air arms of the UK military have long supported the events ever since the first show in 1973 so it was good to see participation from all three services.

For the Royal Air Force’s Tucano T1 Display Team, it was their final public display of the year. The Tucano flown by Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae has been the busiest of the RAF solo displays this year flying at all the major air displays in the UK plus more recently the Malta International Airshow. Duxford however marked Andrew’s final display and probably the last time the desert camouflage scheme that celebrated 70 years since 72[R] Squadron was engaged in the North African and Malta campaigns.

Completing the trio of armed services was the Army Air Corps Westland WAH-64D Apache AH1 solo display. As always, the large Apache helicopter put on an impressive display with the dramatic cloudscape complementing the aircraft’s sinister lines.

There were just a handful of other visiting display acts. The first IWM Duxford Air Day saw involvement from the Shuttleworth Collection based just a few miles away at Old Warden. That first show saw the Collection’s Miles Magister monoplane trainer take part alongside other aircraft from their fleet. 40 years later their Miles Magister was back in company with Peter Holloway’s example for an attractive duo routine. Sadly plans to bring a third example down from Breighton to display all of the airworthy Magisters together were dashed by the autumnal weather.

Jonathon ‘Flapjack’ Whaley has taken part in many Duxford airshows flying a variety of types. However he is best known for displaying the quite spectacular Hawker Hunter F58a “Miss Demeanour and it was this aircraft which Jonathon displayed at Duxford. Jonathon’s displays are always a highlight of any airshow showcasing the wonderful lines and performance of the classic jet fighter. This show was Jonathon’s final UK display before retirement from display flying (Miss Demeanour is due to be displayed at the Al Ain Aerobatic Show at the end of the year) though Jonathon has not ruled out the occasional future display.

The final “visiting” and penultimate act of the afternoon was the Matadors Aerobatic Team of Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones in their Xtreme Air XA41s. Despite displaying during a light shower, they put on their usual incredible routine of close formation and solo aerobatics.

The rest of the display was drawn from the rank of Duxford based aircraft past and present. In typical Duxford style, many were group together into group for formation and combined display routines. Particularly pleasing were the ‘Bumble-bys’ which put some of the slower, less powerful machines together. The first ”Bumble-by” saw Mark Miller flying his De Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide in company with the Aircraft Restoration Company’s De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver and Golden Apple’s Boeing Stearman PT-17 Kaydet while Anna Walker flew The Fighter Collection’s Boeing Staggerwing through a solo display.

The Fighter Collection has long been a feature of IWM Duxford AIrshows and it was good to see the operator display so many of its fleet at the show. TFC even put together its own combination of American fighters together with the Curtiss Hawk 75, Curtiss P-40B Warhawk, Curtiss P-40F Warhawk, Grumman FM-2 Wildcat and Grumman F8F Bearcat. Following an opening flypast the Hawks and the ‘Cats displayed separately against some very dark clouds rolling in from the north.

Further TFC involvement came later in the afternoon with the Collection’s North American Harvard joined by the Aircraft Restoration Company’s example plus the two Duxford based North American T-28S Fennec’s. The appearance of the Fennecs was significant as the show was the final display by Martin Willing before he retires from airshow flying.

The second “Bumble-by” involved some of Duxford’s lightest residents and performers. Mark Miller was again in the lead with the Auster Autocrat in company with Jeanne Frazer’s Piper L4 Cub flown by Dave Puleston, and the Aircraft Restoration Company’s De Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10 flown by John Dodd. After formation split, the Auster and Cub made a few passes showing their slow speed handling and agility before a short sequence of aerobatics from the Chipmunk. Closing the Bumble-by was Pete Kynsey in the Le Vier Cosmic Wind giving a superb aerobatic account of this rare Formula 1 racer which has so often been a part of Duxford’s air displays.

A highlight of the afternoon flying display was an aerobatic duo routine by Cliff Spink and Paul Bonhomme in the Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons from Richard Lake and the Aircraft Restoration Company. Buchon’s have often graced Duxford’s skies, not least during the filming of the movie “Battle of Britain.” However they have also featured in IWM air displays often in company with Spitfires and Hurricanes. This year in particular it has been good to see the Buchon showcased in its own right at venues like Old Warden and Shoreham. However, the pairs display at Duxford was awesome with Cliff and Paul maintaining a very close formation throughout some graceful sweeping aerobatics over the airfield.

The finale to the Autumn Air Show, and the 2013 UK display season, was a classic Duxford combination of Hurricane and Spitfires. Opening the sequence was Dave Harvey in the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane XII. This Hurricane is a stalwart of Duxford air displays having been part of the Fighter Collection before joining HAC.

The Hurricane was followed by a quartet of Spitfires led by Brian Smith in TFC’s Spitfire LF.Vb. He was joined by Richard Grace flying the Grace Spitfire IXT, Nigel Lamb in the Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire LFIXb and Charlie Brown at the control of HAC’s Spitfire Vb. Many Duxford airshows have been closed by various combinations of Spitfires and there really would have been no better finale to this show. In many ways, Duxford is the spiritual home to the Spitfire as the first RAF examples entered service at the Cambridgeshire airfield with 19 Squadron in 1938. Today, Duxford is a hub for the restoration of the famous fighter with the likes of Historic Flying and the Aircraft Restoration Company at the eastern end of the airfield. The formation wheeled around the dramatic cloudscape with the sun starting to set to provide an emotive and perfect ending, not only to this airshow, but also the Duxford and UK Airshow seasons.

It was a shame such poor weather at the beginning of the day not only forced the cancellation of some display, but also put off a noticeable amount of people from attending the Autumn Air Show. However the show was very unique (it is not often that nearly 25 Duxford-based aircraft from all eras perform in a single flying display) and enjoyable despite the damp and the cold! It was certainly a great tribute to the last 40 years of Duxford air displays and we hope they continue long into the future!

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