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2011 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Duxford Spring Airshow

Duxford Airshows always throw up interesting themes, and unlike other shows the Flying Display Director Jeanne Frazer does no compromise these creating some very unique airshows. For their first airshow of the year, Duxford celebrating women in aviation with perhaps the largest gathering of female display pilots ever seen at a UK show. It is 100 years since the first British female pilot, Hilda Hewitt took to the air in 1911. Today, women are very much at the forefront of aviation across the globe whether as pilots, engineers or leading businesses.

Sadly, the slightly bizarre May weather meant not all of them could take part in the flying displays thanks to a strong westerly wind which disrupted many of the planned displays. However, visitors were treated to a first class displays thanks to some last minute changes and skilful flying.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

Duxford is not the first airshow to celebrate women in aviation, there have been many others but it was undoubtedly the largest gathering of female display pilots seen in recent years. Some of the faces were familiar from airshows past and present, but many were taking part in one-off displays especially for the event. Their displays would have represented a huge variety in aircraft from delicate vintage aircraft right through to advanced jet trainers. On the day however, the strong westerly winds which were thankfully straight down the runway were just too much for some of the machinery. However, there was at least a unique photo-call for the press with all female participants gathered for the show to record this unique gathering.

The Spring Show brought together two new developments for Duxford. First was the "Airshow App" for smart-phones. While feedback from its debut is mixed, it is good to see airshows finally taking advantage of modern technology and I'm sure we'll see more "apps" from various different shows. Secondly, "Military History" channel is now supporting Duxford's display year and there probably cannot be a more apt partner for IWM's shows and we hope it becomes a long lasting and fruitful relationship for both parties.

The weather forced a last minute rethink of the flying displays. For some acts, it was simply too much but full credit to all those involved for getting a flying display underway in very trying conditions. The wind also caused a few problems on the ground, with some nasty clouds of dust whipped up from the very arid arable fields that surround the airfield as well as the tank track near the Land Warfare Hall. Even attempts to wet the ground in this area failed to alleviate the problems!

First to display over the very yellow looking Duxford grass was Flt Lt Dan Hayes in the Shorts Tucano T1. Duxford was the first outing for the new display aircraft in it's striking silver livery which in part points back to the early RAF training colours, albeit with a patriotic twist. Dan's display was following by a brief pause in the proceedings, the wind strengths just being a little too much for Dennis Neville's Flying Circus. However, flying was resumed by the Meteor NF11 flown by Dan Griffiths who put on a great display in the jet celebrating the 70th anniversary of British jet aviation, one of a couple of sub-themes to the day.

The first of the late additions to the flying programme were the RV8tors team, now in partnership with Kemble based charity Fly2Help. Alister Kay and Andy Hill put on a superb display of formation aerobatics with their silver Vans RV8s looking great again the blue skies! They were followed by the Royal Navy Historic Flight operated Hawker Sea Fury T20 flown by Chris Gotke. The Sea Fury was a late addition to the flying programme replacing the Swordfish which has still not recieved all the paperwork necessary for public displays.

The first "cavalcade" of women display pilots followed, though sadly the winds prevented some from joining in. Zan Blundell displayed in a Yakovlev Yak-52, while Polly Vacher gave a series of flypasts in her Piper Dakota. Completing this segment of the flying was Tizi Hodson, former member of the Fournier RF4 equipped Skyhawks, showing off her aerobatic prowess in the Slingsby T67 Firefly.

The next segment of flying was centred on some Duxford favourites. Opening was Plane Sailing's Catalina operating from the grass runway, an appropriate participant to mark the 70th anniversary of Search and Rescue at the show and the grey and white puffy clouds made for a dramatic backdrop for the all white aircraft. It was a pleasure to see a pair of the Fighter Collection's rarer types put on great solo displays. Stephen Grey displayed the ultra-rare Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 while Pete Kynsey flew the wonderful P-40B Warhawk, a true survivor from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The aircraft was stored at the time of the raid following an accident and has been restored into the colours it wore at the time of the attack.

The Aircraft Restoration Company and Old Flying Machine Company both made further contributions. John Romain and Dave Harvey displayed a Battle of Britain pairing of the Hispano Buchon (Bf109) and Hawker Hurricane XII while Alister Kay and Brian Smith displayed the P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie and Spitfire IX MH434 in typical polished fashion.

The ever brilliant Breitling Wingwalkers added some further colour to the flying with a superb display despite the choppy winds and were the opening display in the final segment devoted to women in aviation. The aerobatic theme continued with a display provided by Diana Britten who put on a superb demonstration of gyroscopic aerobatics in her distinctive CAP232 which simply appeared to defy the laws of Physics with some eye-watering tumbles and flick rolls.

Perhaps the highlight of the theme was the first pairing of Supermarine fighters flown by women with Carolyn Grace in the Spitfire IXT and Anna Walker in the Seafire XVII. It was a superb salute to the women of the Air Transport Auxillary who ferried all manner of military types during the Second World War. The final display act within the theme was Flt Lt Juliette Fleming flying the RAF Hawk T1 solo display. Jules has completed tours of Iraq and Afghanistan while flying the Tornado GR4, but since 2010 has been a Qualified Flying Instructor with 208(R) Squadron at RAF Valley on the Hawk.

The flying was brought to a close by the Royal Navy Black Cats Display Team with two specially marked Westland Lynx HMA8 helicopters. The team waited all afternoon for the winds to die down enough for their superb aerial ballet and were rewarded with an opportunity right at the end of the flying display. It was great to see the team able to use the specially marked Lynx helicopters once again in this, the 40th Anniversary of the type.

All things considered, it was a great start to the display season at Duxford with a very varied and different display despite the best efforts of the weather. The rest of the season at Duxford is looking superb with Flying Legends, a celebration of the Spitfire in September and a look back at the Korean War to round the season off in October.

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