UK Airshows

JUN 01 2012
Airshows >> Review - Duxford Jubilee Airshow

As a seasoned airshow goer, it’s rare to find one’s self in the position of not needing the umbrella and waterproofs, even if it’s ‘just in case’.

Duxford’s opening show of the 2012 season was thankfully one of those rare occasions, with glorious sunshine and soaring temperatures bathing the UK for the week leading up to the event and into the weekend itself, producing perfect, gin-clear blue skies and a hint of a breeze; just about perfect flying conditions.

Throw into the mix a promising line-up full of variety; the ingredients were in place for a classic.

With the show focusing on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as its main theme, it came as no surprise to see healthy participation from the UK armed forces. Headlining for the RAF was the Typhoon FGR4, making its return to the display circuit after a year’s absence due to operations in Libya during 2011.

Returning to display the aircraft is Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran, a veteran of the 2009 season, who this year is flying a 6 Squadron jet from RAF Leuchars in a typically punchy and noisy routine that seems a little more dynamic than previous seasons.

Training aircraft form the bulk of the RAFs solo displays, and also provide a pertinent link to the Royal Family. Displaying the Tutor T1, the type on which Prince William learned to fly, was Flt Lt Shaun Kimberley, who demonstrated the agility of the aircraft admirably in a pleasing aerobatic routine.

Of course, Prince William has gone on to become a SAR helicopter pilot, flying Sea Kings, so it was appropriate for the type to perform a classic yet all too rare SAR role demonstration at the show, courtesy of 22 Squadron at RAF Wattisham.

This year sees a new pilot take over the duty of displaying the King Air. Flt Lt Ian Birchall is flying the aircraft this year, along with Flt Lt Marcus Eyers, in a familiar, sporty routine that retains the ever popular ‘Khe San’ approach.

This year’s Tucano solo aircraft, flown by Flt Lt Jon Bond, sports a stunning and rather patriotic scheme in honour of her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne. Due to follow suit is the solo Hawk display aircraft, although sadly the jet couldn’t quite make it out of the paint shop in time for the show.

Nevertheless, Flt Lt Philip Bird put on a precise demonstration of the type in a standard black jet. Hawk displays seem to come under, often unfair, criticism amongst the enthusiast community; this year’s routine appeared to be flown closer to the display line, with some photo-friendly passes thrown in for good measure, combining to create a display of high quality.

Completing the RAF participation was of course the BBMF, displaying the classic trio of Lancaster, Spitfire PR.XIX and Hurricane. More often than not, it’s better to just let the aircraft do the talking, and the commentators did just that, allowing the crowd to enjoy the divine sound of five Merlins and a Griffon echoing around the aerodrome.

Not to be outdone by their colleagues in Light Blue, the Royal Navy also contributed to the show in the form of a solo Lynx HMA8 courtesy of 815 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton. The type is particularly relevant to the Jubilee theme as Prince Andrew flew them during his naval flying career.

Joining in the Jubilee celebrations were France and Belgium in the form of the Cartouche Dore display team and the F-16 solo display respectively. The former, flying a three-ship of Socata TB-30 Epsilon trainers, a type rarely seen on these shores, was making its debut appearance at an airshow on the UK mainland.

Sporting a very smart blue and gold colour scheme, the team flew a quaint display, featuring tight formation work as well as some more dynamic breaks and opposition manoeuvres. A relaxed yet enjoyable routine indeed.

Less relaxed, but by no means less enjoyable was the rip-roaring display by the Belgians. After a successful three years for ‘Mitch’ Beulen displaying the jet, and receiving universal acclaim as one of the best fast jet routines about, his successor would have some mighty boots to fill.

That task falls to new pilot Renaud ‘Grat’ Thys and is one that he has passed with flying colours. Making his first public display at Duxford, complete with a stunning new paint scheme, ‘Grat’ continued where ‘Mitch’ left off, performing a fluid routine that demonstrates the aircraft’s superb handling qualities to their fullest, combining tight turns, rapid rolls, high and slow speed passes, smoke and, everyone’s favourite, flares, into 10 minutes of textbook fast jet display flying. An incredible routine in every sense, the bar has been set extraordinarily high.

Of course, no Duxford show is complete without substantial contributions from classic aircraft operators. In light of the Jubilee theme, many of the historic aircraft on display were types that had been flown by members of the Royal Family. Both The Fighter Collection (TFC) and the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) displayed their Harvards in a routine that involved tight formation work followed by a break into solo routines.

Harvards are just one of the aircraft Prince Phillip has flown, another being the Meteor T7. The Classic Aircraft Trust (TCAT) provided their stunning example of the jet, which was once again flown in the very capable hands of Dan Griffith, putting the Meteor through its paces in an elegant yet punchy routine, the later afternoon sun shimmering beautifully off the aircraft’s silver paint scheme.

Another TCAT type on display was their handsome Avro Anson, a truly graceful type that pleasingly seems to be getting plenty of outings so far this season. The Anson made up a quarter of the Royal Fourship, a formation of aircraft types with Royal connections. Leading the formation was David and Mark Miller’s Dragon Rapide, ahead of the Anson and a pair of Chipmunks, courtesy of ARCo and the Henlow Chipmunk Club.

The latter is particularly significant to the theme as it was the very aircraft Prince Charles learned to fly on, having spent much of its career on strength with the Royal Flight during the 60s and 70. After a single pass in formation, the Rapide and Anson first performed a tailchase as a pair, before the ‘Chippies’ took centre stage with some typically graceful aerobatics.

Both Hawker Nimrods of TFC and the Historic Aircraft Collection (HAC) displayed at the show as a nod to the 1936 Coronation Flypast for King George VI, that took place at Duxford. It was hoped that HACs newly restored Hawker Fury would join them, but sadly the aircraft was not ready in time to participate, so HAC provided its Hurricane XII in its place.

After a formation flypast of all three aircraft, the Hurricane broke off to leave the Nimrods with centre stage in a routine full of all the grace and verve one would expect from aircraft of this vintage, returning every so often for a series of high speed passes during the Nimrod's repositioning manoeuvres, keeping the action constant.

Another type on display dating from 1936 was Gordon Brander’s Bucker Jungmeister.

The aircraft if synonymous with the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where aerobatics was included as an event and in celebration of this year’s Olympics taking place in London, the Jungmeister flew a classic aerobatic routine akin to those flown so successfully in Berlin.

On a similar note, and celebrating the very best of British were the Red Bull Matadors. Sporting their new display colours on their Sbach 300s for the first time at a public display, pilots Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones performed a flawless display of formation and solo aerobatics, as to be expected from such highly acclaimed aviators.

Whilst not directly supporting either theme, any show at Duxford wouldn’t be complete without its own resident old lady performing. Sally B made her first public performance of the season with a typically gentle, graceful display, culminating in the now signature pass complete with engine smoke, in honour of her army of loyal supporters.

It can also be said that no Duxford show is complete without a Spitfire, and so it was left to a trio to close the show in a spectacular finale.

Flying TFCs Mk Vb, Brian Smith led Paul Bonhomme in the Old Flying Machine Company’s famous Mk IX MH434 and Pete Kynsey in the Grace Mk IXT in a textbook demonstration of close formation flying, followed by the customary tailchase.

Once again, the commentators let the aircraft do the talking, with nothing but the sweet sound of three Merlins reverberating around the airfield. Undeniably, a most fitting way to close a thoroughly excellent airshow.

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