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2013 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Duxford Air Show

Billed in the pre-show publicity material as Duxford's annual family Air Show, “The Duxford Air Show” presented a very varied range of aircraft both historic and modern over the two days. Unlike the majority of the IWM organised airshows, this year's September Air Show did not have any specific theme either but that did not stop the airshow attracting some very interesting and rare displays from the UK and Europe.

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

The Met Office recognises the beginning of September as the beginning of the meteorological Autumn and this year it certainly felt that way. The heat of summer had certainly gone leaving cool sunny spells with the threat of the odd shower. The trees too were showing the first signs of autumnal decay and the once bright coloured fields around the airfield took on the brown and dull gold colours of the end of summer. Even though the weather may have been “winding down” the same could be said of the Duxford Air Show which boasted one of the best line-ups of the season with home-based participation bolstered by aircraft from France, Norway and the Netherlands.

It was however a difficult weekend for Jeanne Frazer and the display pilots who had to contend with pilot illness and some last minute unservicabilities on the Saturday. However, though some display extensions and nice fill-in by the Aerostars a full programme was still achieved.

Without an overriding theme to the show, the canvas of the flying display was left clear to present some very rare displays and well as of the most popular. In something of coup for a non-military flying display, the Duxford Air Show boosted two national display teams. Closing Sunday's display were the Royal Air Force Red Arrows performing for the second time at Duxford this year having opened their UK season at the Spring Air Show.

Both days should have seen the French Air Force La Patrouille de France with their eight Dassault Alpha Jet Es. However pilot illness prevented their appearance on Saturday. The team are celebrating their 60th Anniversary this year and have a very engaging display routine which contains some special manoeuvres to highlight the anniversary including a clever piece of sky-writing with their coloured smoke. The team have built up a very good relationship with Duxford too have appeared a number of times over recent years but it always good to see them back.

Further formation aerobatics came from the Aerostars on the Saturday. Equipped with the Yakovlev Yak-50 the team always on a tight display routine combining big formations and solo aerobatics that always catches the eye. As mentioned earlier the Aerostars saved the day on Saturday not only with a fine performance in the Patrouille de France slot, but also presented some close formation work close to the end of the day to fill in the gap before the Eurofighter Typhoon appeared to close the show.

The Aerostars were not the only civilian act in the display. Locally based aerobatic champion Mark Jefferies appeared on both days in his Extra 330SC giving an amazing account of unlimited aerobatics that often seems to break the laws of physics!

More 'classic' aerobatic routines came from Pete Kynsey displaying on both days the tiny LeVier Cosmic Wind and Anna Walker displaying her Bucker Jungmann on the Saturday only. Sunday say Anna fly a very nice “Thank You” banner behind her Piper Cub for the La Patrouille de France.

In complete contrast were the antics of Brendan O'Brien in his Piper J3C Cub who performed some crazy flying and attempting to land on the back of trailer racing up and down Duxford's hard runway.

Apart from the big national display teams, modern military participation also featured well with a number of teams from the Royal Air Force. It was a busy weekend for those teams as it was also the final RAF Leuchars Airshow being held in Scotland. Just the Typhoon FGR4 appeared at Duxford on both days having made a quick transit south from Leuchars. With just Southport Airshow left the week after Duxford, Flt Jamie Norris was performing some of his final display of the season at the show after a very long season which started as long ago as March in Malaysia!

Sunday saw further representatives from the modern day RAF. Flt Lt Andrew Flyvie-Rae displayed the Shorts Tucano T1 from 72(R) Squadron while RAF Wattisham sent a 202 Squadron Westland Sea King HAR3A for a search and rescue role demonstration. Sadly however, the Sea King was called away on a ‘shout’ before it had a chance to display.

The final “modern day” participant proved to be one of the absolute show highlights. Duxford is just to the north of London Stansted Airport which as well as a popular passenger airport is also an important freight hub. Amongst the cargo operators based there is Global Supply Systems Ltd which leases three giant Boeing 747-8F Freighters to British Airways World Cargo. One of these majestic next-generation versions of the classic Boeing 747 design made a series of flypasts over Duxford on the Saturday marking the type’s début air show appearance in the UK. The 747-8F is largest freighter aircraft on the British register having received a 5.575m stretch over standard model and has a maximum take-off weight of 442,000kgs. They are used to carry a wide range of loads from Formula 1 cars to live animals and even wind-turbine blades.

It is however historic aircraft that Duxford is most famous for. The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is always a feature of Duxford Air Shows and appeared on both days. Saturday saw just a solo by the Spitfire PR XIX while Sunday‘s display suffered as a shower delayed the flight’s arrival. They began their display as normal with the Lancaster flanked by the Spitfire XVI and Spitfire PR XIX, but only the later performed it’s solo as the other two aircraft had other slots to make and were fuel critical.

Duxford is of course synonymous with the Spitfire. 19 Squadron was based at Duxford when it became the first unit to equip with the type in 1938. Today Duxford is still home to flying Spitfire with a number of civilian operating examples as well as companies such as the Aircraft Restoration Company and Historic Flying gradually increasing the world population. It was therefore fitting that 75 years after they entered service Duxford marking the anniversary with a sequence of flying marking the early war dogfights. It opened with the Historic Aircraft Collection's Hawker Hurricane XII and ARCo's Hispano HA-112-M1L Buchon performing a dogfight sequence over the to of six “scrambling” Spitfires. Those Spitfires included Spitfire Ia AR213, HAC's Spitfire Vb, TFC's Spitfire Vb, OFMC's Spitfire LFIXb, ARCo's Spitfire IXT and finally the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight's Spitfire LFIXb. After some swooping passes in classic “Vic” formations the Spitfires broke into a tail-chase sequence, the likes you only ever see at Duxford. The Sequence was closed by Pete Kynsey flying an elegant solo in the Spitfire Ia.

Completing the line-up of British warbirds and a late replacement item on the Saturday was DM Miller's wonderful De Havilland Dragon Rapide which is one of the finest examples of the type still flying.

As well as the Battle of Britain, Duxford is also famed as a base for the United States Army Air Force and it was therefore fitting to see a number of American piston engined types take part. Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B holds the accolade as the longest based aircraft at Duxford and it is always great to see her take part in a Duxford flying display. It was also go to hear that the B-17 Preservation seen positive about flying next year – we hope the momentum builds to form a more secure future for this very important warbird.

Joining Sally-B was the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight's North American B-25N Mitchell was always puts on a great performance of agility and power. The Fighter Collection also provided a look at US Naval Aviation with the Grumman F8F Bearcat joined by the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat which has recently returned to airworthiness. The Sunday also saw the based pair of North American T-28S Fennecs provide a welcome pairs routine.

It was however the participation by the classic jet element that provided some of the shows real highlights. The Royal Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron was back in force again this year. Their popular pair of De Havilland Vampire FB6 and Vampire T55 returned once again. Sadly Saturday saw the T55 left out of the flying due to braking issues, but the FB6 solo was very nice and well presented to the crowd. Sunday saw them back to full strength for a lovely pairs routine. However the star was the Canadair CT-133 Silver Star which joined the Squadron last year. It had appeared at Duxford's September show last year, but was only seen on static display as radio problems prevented from taking part in the flying. However this year, it was able to make its Duxford flying display debut in the hands of Rolf Meum. Rolf spent many years displaying at Duxford with the Old Flying Machine Company so it was great to see him back and clearly enjoying this wonderful classic jet.

Despite a whole host of challenges Duxford once a again prevailed to produce undoubtedly one of the most interesting and varied flying displays of the year which was full of contrast. What other display venue would present the tiny Cosmic Wind (one of the smallest display aircraft) immediately followed the mighty Boeing 747-8F (the largest aircraft ever to appear in a Duxford flying display) ?? Roll on the Autumn Show!

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