Duxford’s season opener has long heralded the start of the Airshow season “proper”, being the first major venue to host an event in the season. Traditionally a one day show, though since the demise of the (much missed) October display the May show now gets two full days, rightly or wrongly.
This years show was billed as a VE Day anniversary show, so things looked set for a classic Duxford full of World War Two heavy metal commemorating the conflict. However, the expected line up didn’t really appear. Rather than the expected wall to wall warbirds with some modern aircraft thrown in, Duxford instead chose to chart the history of aviation from the Great War through to modern times.
While different to the expected result it did make for a number of Duxford firsts and some welcome variety. For the purpose of this review I’ll take a look at the show in chronological order, rather than the display order which differed greatly on both days.
The earliest aircraft on display were the First World War aircraft, this included a welcome return from the Nieuport 17 replica based at Duxford which put in quite a sporty display routine. Flying below it were a pair of more original aircraft, leading this pair was the WW1 aviation heritage BE2, which is a highly accurate reproduction from the Vintage Aviator Ltd.
The star of this segment however, was the original Bristol F2b, which is rarely seen away from its Old Warden base these days. Seeing these World War One aircraft against the expansive back drop of Duxford made for a glorious sight.
While the show saw a number of Duxford firsts, it also saw two “world” debuts, the first of which formed part of a 30’s fighter pair. The Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Fury made its first appearance following a number of years on the ground since carrying out its first flights in 2012.
The debut was well worth the wait, renowned warbird pilot Charlie Brown threw the 30’s fighter around with grace and power in equal measure, starting the solo display off with three full loops in succession, followed by sweeping passes and towering barrel roles. Those short exhaust stubs mean the Fury demands your attention even when you aren’t looking at it!
Prior to the solo display Charlie followed the Shuttleworth Collection’s Gloster Gladiator for a few formation passes, before the Gladiator performed its own display. Much like the F2B from earlier in the display it was refreshing to see the Shuttleworth based bi-plane performing at Duxford, having so much space to use allows for a different display profile to that which Shuttleworth provides.
Carrying on through the 30s, this time the civilian side of development, with a four ship (three on the Saturday) of American Radials. Leading the formation was The Fighter Collection’s Beech Staggerwing, with a Spartan executive on each wingtip, the latter two aircraft making their Duxford debut. Following each other around with the characteristic rasp 30s radials give off as they traced figure of eights across the Cambridgeshire skies.
Joining this three ship earlier in their display was another Duxford debutant, the Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship”, a no compromise racing aircraft designed in 1934. This wonderful replica echoes the Gee Bee racer designs from a golden era of all power small frame aircraft. The mystery ship is a type I had been eager to see ever since it joined the UK circuit and it certainly lived up to the build up, putting in a high energy and above all, noisy display.
This brings things up to the WW2 elements of the display, which is of course where many of the star items were shown. Representing the early years of the war, specifically the Battle of Britain, were the two Mark One Partners Spitfire 1a’s and, making its first appearance since restoration, the Bristol Blenheim 1F. A beautiful sight and sound, with some impressive formation flying from some of Duxford’s finest.
Though it does beg the question why we couldn’t have been treated to one or two passes from the Blenheim on its own, given how long the restoration process has taken. Though I suppose this leaves Flying Legends to provide the first public outing at Duxford for the Blenheim solo routine. (Having seen this on the practice day, we are in for a treat!).
L4 Grasshoppers are a common sight at Duxford, often putting on choreographed multiple aircraft displays at Flying Legends. This familiar routine was given new life at this show, though only one Grasshopper was featured. The segment was started with Peter Holloway’s Feiseler Storch and Richard Grace in the Yak 3M. It has to be said that this is one of the most striking displays of contrasts seen in a long while.
The Storch put on its familiar display of low speed handling, while Richard Grace came screaming in from great height in the Yak 3, with low passes and loops thrown in for good measure. Once the Yak had failed to shoot down the Storch, it cleared the airspace leaving way for the L4 Grasshopper and Auster Autocrat to take up each end of the display line to conclude this tribute to the liaison aircraft of the conflict.
The main commemorative part of the show was the VE day formation. This consisted of multiple warbirds, including fighters and heavies. It was fitting in her first appearance of her 40th display season, that B-17 Sally B led the formation in over Duxford. Escorting the bomber were a flight of three Mustangs, supplemented by The Fighter Collection’s P-40F and Wildcat. Following the main formation was the unique three ship of the Catalina, Beech 18 and C-47. This made for a level of spectacle rarely seen outside of the Flying Legends show.
This formation made a fitting tribute to those who fought and died for the cause during the conflict, however it seemed very strange to me that not a single British aircraft took part in this section of the display. With only the Sharkmouth Mustang and the Wildcat representing the RAF. While not to take anything from an impressive display, the lack of a Spitfire or Hurricane, especially given there were examples in the display, seemed a little strange.
Prior to the formation we were treated to a classic Fighter Collection Duxford slot, this time featuring the P-40F, Wildcat and Corsair in remembrance of VJ day and the pacific theatre. This followed the traditional formation arrival followed by classic Fighter Collection displays.
The most striking of these for me was the Wildcat, which put in an impressive display under a grey sky with low cloud on the Sunday of the show. Watching the Wildcat being thrown around the Duxford skies is always a pleasure. The P-40 and Corsair both put in polished displays, showing off the aircraft to great effect, before making way for the VE Day formation to run in.
Following the formation passes, the Mustang three ship performed a lengthy tail-chase, again a rare sight outside of the big show in July.
The final display of this segment was fittingly a solo performance from Sally B, ending with the familiar smoke on pass to represent those bombers that limped back during the war years.
It wasn’t all Warbirds of course, though they made up a large part of the afternoon’s entertainment, there were also display’s from post war aircraft, such as the DHC Beaver, the Red Bull Matadors and Cosmic Wind, the latter of which put in its usual incredible display of low flying agility
The Classic Air Force Meteor T7 was a striking highlight on both days, putting in an incredibly graceful and smooth display on both days.
The modern day military was out in force as well, with the debut display this season of the Apache pair and the RAF Typhoon display. The latter was performed by the sychro pair jet, which this year wears the World War Two camouflage of a Hurricane, it performed the impressive display we have come to expect from the Typhoon over the years, with plenty of noise as well as impressive low speed demonstrations.
Further RAF displays came in the shape of one of the last Search and Rescue demos from the Sea King helicopter, as well of course as the Red Arrows, who closed the show on the Sunday.
Overall Duxford managed to bring together a wide variety of types, from many different areas and bring them together in what was actually a very cohesive theme, with each item having a clear purpose in the line up.
This gave the display a good narrative and made it perhaps even better than the sum of its parts.
No doubt it will long be remembered for the debut of the Blenheim and Fury, as well as the wonderful sight of Sally B leading many of Duxford’s finest in memory of all who served.