Sunday 13 October 2013 marked both the end of the British airshow season and the 40th anniversary of air displays at IWM Duxford. Despite some appalling weather trying its very hardest to put a dampener on the occasion, those who attended were treated to a fine afternoon of flying which placed the spotlight firmly on the many based operators. Kieran Lear reports for GAR, with images by Huw Hopkins.
Driving down the M11 motorway in torrential, horizontal rain en route to IWM Duxford that morning left me wondering how airshow organisers must feel when faced with such terrible weather conditions. Months, if not years, of hard work, potentially washed away in just a few hours as the flying programme teeters precariously on the edge of cancellation.
That must have been the situation faced by Jeanne Frazer and her team as the Autumn Air Show, the finale to the British airshow season, drew closer. The days leading up to the event had largely been a washout, and show day brought low clouds and precipitation that would make Noah flinch. Regardless, the show went on and aircraft were slowly towed out and positioned on the flightline, ahead of the afternoon’s flying display.
Arriving later than usual at around midday, it was immediately obvious that the weather had put many people off. The crowd was as light as I had ever seen it and there were huge swathes of clear fence space throughout the day. Flying Legends, this was not! It’s a real shame, given that the flying programme assembled to mark the 40th anniversary of IWM Duxford airshows was a reasonably strong one with a number of high points.
Sadly, the star item – Midair Squadron’s Canberra PR9 – had to cancel on the day due to inclement weather between its base at Cotswold Airport and IWM Duxford; a situation completely out of anyone’s control, but a stinging blow nevertheless. There were a few other cancellations from the home team, too – The Fighter Collection’s (TFC) Gloster Gladiator being perhaps the most sorely felt – but in general, most of what was scheduled to appear from the home-based assets, flew.
The flying programme commenced as intended at 1330, just as the clouds began to part and sun, rather shockingly, bathed the airfield in crisp autumnal light. One good thing about the treacherous start to the day was that it cleared the haze that often plagues Autumn Air Shows!
Opening the show was one of IWM Duxford’s long-term residents, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B. This beautiful heavy bomber has, despite financial and technical woes in the last couple of decades, been based at IWM Duxford for the vast majority of the last 40 years, and has appeared at the vast majority of airshows, be it as a solo act or in formation with ‘little friends’, as well as playing the starring role in David Putnam’s 1989 motion picture, Memphis Belle, much of which was filmed at IWM Duxford.
Sally B is an absolute treasure – likely irreplaceable on the European airshow circuit and representative of the sacrifices of the US 8th Army Air Force; to lose this aircraft would be to lose one of the most significant types currently flying in the UK. It’s more than a piece of metal; it holds a special place in the heart of thousands and one hopes that she still has a few more seasons left in her before the (perhaps inevitable) end of her life at IWM Duxford.
IWM Duxford always boasts a wide selection of support from all three of Britain’s armed forces and the 2013 Autumn Air Show was no exception. It was the last chance to see the 2013 Royal Air Force’s ubiquitous solo Short Tucano T1 display, flown as ever this year by Flt. Lt. Andrew Fyvie-Rae. It was also the last chance to see the Royal Navy solo Lynx display, and also the impactful Apache AH1 provided by the Army Air Corps, with both helicopters carrying out their final appearances of the season. The display routine for the Apache has been, in my opinion, a very interesting demonstration that fully shows the versatile capabilities the menacing chopper can perform in operations. Commencing with a traditional helicopter display that included nothing but centre-line manoeuvres, the display latterly shifted to a closer view of the Army’s latest toy with plenty of low sweeping passes blending in with the infamous Duxford backdrop. One hopes the Army returns with the Apache solo as it’s an excellent recruitment tool for youngsters, and, for we seasoned airshow lovers, it’s always nice to see a helicopter thrown about with some gusto!
Returning to the main theme of the Autumn Air Show, it was pleasing and exciting to see TFC provide such strong support, with a wonderful cavalcade of machines including the Curtiss stable and Grumman duo of Wildcat and Bearcat. Taking off as a storm-front was imminent, visiting Frenchman Patrice Marchasson led this segment of the show in TFC’s Curtiss Hawk 75-A1. It’s times like these, with the weather at its worst and the flying display in jeopardy do you truly realise how lucky we are in the UK and especially with these five machines. Let’s not forget, all five are truly unique. The Hawk 75-A1 is the only airworthy example in the world, the P-40B is a veteran of Pearl Harbor, the P-40F is one of two airworthy P-40s that houses a Merlin engine instead of the usual Allison engine, and the Grumman FM2 Wildcat and Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat are the sole airworthy examples in Europe. It’s easy to forget how unique these machines are, because they’re virtually a common sight at IWM Duxford every year at Flying Legends and other airshows, but the pilots that are lucky enough to fly them really do set the bar high for display flying capability.
This section of five classic warbird designs really was a spectacular affair. With commentary selecting Michael Kamen’s Band of Brothers Overture as background music, Patrice Marchasson led Stu Goldspink, Alan Wade, Dave Southwood and Brian Smith for a five-ship flypast before breaking for individual displays. Whilst Patrice performed a lyrical flat-display in the ’75, the P-40B and F took it upon themselves to beat up the display area with copious amounts of low, fast passes along the A-axis before leaving the stage for the Grumman duo. Seeing the Wildcat and Bearcat put through their paces by two of the UK’s best historic pilots was special, with Dave Southwood keeping the Wildcat purring beautifully over the top of his loops and barrel rolls as Brian Smith chose to keep the Bearcat close to terra firma further away from the crowdline. It was simply warbird flying at its highest value.
The smaller private operators at IWM Duxford were also well represented, with each organisation given the chance to shine in a number of solo and multiple aircraft sequences, which included the likes of TFC Chief Pilot Pete Kynsey’s Cosmic Wind, TFC’s Beech Staggerwing, the Aircraft Restoration Company’s de Havilland Beaver and Mark Miller’s de Havilland Dragon Rapide. It was particularly pleasing to see the latter, given that Mark and David Miller have been restoring vintage aircraft at IWM Duxford for decades. At the Autumn Air Show, these individuals, whose drive and passion enables us to enjoy a raft of historic aircraft throughout the year, were just as much a part of the 40th anniversary celebrations as the big piston warbirds.
Further displays came from a pair of T-6 Harvards, the Red Bull Matadors, a solo Hawker Hurricane, a duo display from two Hispano Buchons and a pair of T-28S Fennecs. Due to the unfortunate cancellation of Spitfire Ltd’s Supermarine Spitfire XVI TD248, it was left to Cliff Spink and Paul Bonhomme to perform a tight duo display in Spitfire Ltd’s and Historic Flying Ltd’s pair of Hispano HA-1112M1L Buchons. Whilst some may be bitter towards the Buchon as it masquerades as its big brother, the ME-109E, the Buchon itself is still a potent airshow performer, and when the type is displayed by capable pilots such as Cliff Spink, Paul Bonhomme, John Romain, Charlie Brown and Brian Smith, you simply can’t beat it.
It’s also worth mentioning the pair of T-28S Fennecs that performed at the show. Whilst this pair have been regulars in the skies over the historic Cambridgeshire confines, the display at the Autumn Air Show was tinged with importance as it was Martin Willing’s final public display. Martin has displayed Radial Revelations’ T-28 for many years and his displays have always been cherished by aircraft enthusiasts and photographers, with many pleasing photo passes always given by Martin. GAR would like to wish Martin a happy retirement and thank him for all of the tremendous displays he has given over the years.
Sticking with the retirement theme, it was also Jonathon Whaley’s final UK display in his stunning Hawker Hunter Mk.58 Miss Demeanour. Jonathon has displayed his Hawker Hunter since 1999 and his displays have always been of the highest quality, even if some wouldn’t say the same about the colour scheme it has adorned. What those who braved the weather saw at IWM Duxford was one of the UK’s finest classic jets put through a superlative, powerful routine that, for your author, stole the show.
It’s surprising how a 60 year old jet can be so loud, especially without afterburner, and it’s always impressive to see how agile Sydney Camm’s classic really can be. What is more associated with the single-seat version of the Hunter is the “blue note” that resonates when going at speed. “Miss D”’s blue note is more of a roar than a gentle “whooshing” noise that is traditionally identified as the classic Hunter sound, and as Jonathon screamed down the A-axis, the roar was met with a plethora of applause and whooping and hollering – the latter more so resonating from your author! As Jonathon taxied back into parking position, the crowdline spontaneously gave “Flapjack” a well-deserved round of applause. GAR would also like to wish Jonathon good luck for his displays at Al Ain and thus, a happy retirement from display flying in the Hunter, should this be the end of that association.
Closing the proceedings for the afternoon were a quartet of aircraft that are associated with the aerodrome above all others: the Supermarine Spitfire. No less than four Spitfires graced the skies for a 15-minute demonstration of R.J. Mitchell’s classic with a diamond-four formation and tail-chase, led by Brian Smith. It’s worth mentioning some of the history of Brian’s display flying career. Originally brought to display flying by the legendary Ray Hanna, Brian is now one of the UK’s leading warbird pilots and he holds an impressive résumé under his belt.
For many years, Brian led the Corsair duo with Eric Goujon at Flying Legends and flew the Buchon in a scintillating routine with Marc Mathis in the FW-190 at Flying Legends in 2009. More recently, Brian led the 16-ship Spitfire formation that celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2010. Celebrating 40 years of IWM Duxford airshows, it really was fitting to see Brian lead the formation of Spitfires, given his prominence at events over the last couple of decades, with Richard Grace, Nigel Lamb and Charlie Brown keeping tight in formation with their leader. How absolutely fitting that the sun should break out as a four-ship of warbirds flies over Duxford!
As a whole, the afternoon turned out to be a success for pilots and spectators alike as a near full, safe airshow was offered and only two showers reared their ugly heads through the proceedings. Whilst commentary was informative and interesting, it was particularly disappointing that big names associated with Duxford were not explained in further detail to the crowds. Unfortunately, Ray and Mark Hanna were only mentioned in a passing sentence or two, and whilst Stephen Grey, founder of TFC, was discussed at length, there was next to no mention of other greats such as Nick Grace, Lindsay Walton, John Larcombe or “Hoof” Proudfoot, amongst others. It seems remiss not to give such legends more recognition, for they are amongst those who have helped to make IWM Duxford what it is today.
As we took the long journey from the Land Warfare Hall to the main Duxford carpark, there was a chance to reflect on IWM Duxford’s season, which has certainly been, fair to say, split down the middle. Blistering heat and displays were met at the May Air Show celebrating the Mighty Eighth, and the same could be said for the Flying Legends Air Show, which always delivers top quality displays. Sadly, weather and general poor fortune lingered over the September Air Show and the same could equally be said for the Autumn Air Show. Regardless of weather and unfortunate cancellations, the display was still thoroughly enjoyed and savoured.
Next year sees a change in direction for IWM Duxford. With the D-Day 70th dominating airshows in western Europe next year, the May Air Show has changed to a two-day affair on 24 & 25 May. Flying Legends returns on the 12 & 13 July, which unfortunately clashes with the Royal International Air Tattoo, and the Duxford Air Show is pushed back a weekend next year; that being on the 13 & 14 September. There is no Autumn Air Show planned at Duxford next year.
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