IWM Duxford Battle Of Britain Airshow 2017

The Imperial War Museum have clearly decided to take a different approach to their own airshows at the Duxford site in 2017. The May show, the Duxford Air Festival, took on the role of an airborne variety show with something for everyone, some First World War Action, some modern military and everything in between. This meant that the May show, for the first time in a number of years (as long as I can remember) did not feature the trademark Duxford warbird set pieces from the Fighter Collection. Back in May this seemed very strange, but a good show was delivered. Once the September list was released, all became clear.

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The list that was initially published clearly showed that IWM’s intention was to put on their own show focused on the historic aircraft based at the airfield. This effectively resulted in a second round of Flying Legends, albeit it could never quite be the same!

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The “headline” act of the weekend was the largest gathering of Hawker Hurricanes in the air together for decades, with each day of the show opening up with a six ship display of the classic underdog fighter. It was made very clear that this show was to pay tribute to the Hurricane, as well as the Spitfire as has become tradition for the September show. Quite rightly, the Hurricane sequence was carefully orchestrated with a 6 ship flypast peeling off into a gentle tailchase. This tailchase sequence saw two groups of three develop, giving an impression of how the Hurricane would have operated in combat. Having only previously seen four of the type in the air it had never become apparent just how different a mass gathering of Hurricanes sound when compared to the Spitfire. This opening performance on each day goes right up there as one of those special “only at Duxford moments”, real airshow magic!

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This Hurricane symphony was followed on each day by the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight. This meant that in two consecutive acts we were treated to no fewer than seven Hurricanes, not to mention the Duxford return for the Flight’s Avro Lancaster. This was the bomber’s first appearance at Duxford following its winter maintenance and repaint with the Aircraft Restoration Company. The Flight put on a great display across both days, with the Spitfire solo on the Saturday being particularly spirited.

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The Tiger 9 team delivered their trademark brand of aerial entertainment with impressive formations alongside plenty of opposition manoeuvres. This show also saw the debut of the beautiful DH60III Moth Major, taking the place of one of the Tiger Moths. This act, along with the entertaining commentary are always welcome at any show and a great alternative to some of the more common aerobatic formation teams.

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Leaving the Battle of Britain theme and displays to one side, the standout moments of the weekend had to be the two impressive solo performances from the Fighter Collection’s P-40C. These displays, in the hands of Pete Kynsey, were the first public solo performances of the airframe since arriving at Duxford in 2014 and were simply extraordinary. The opening figure saw the P-40 flown through a loop with a full roll at the apex, something I have previously only seen in much heavier aircraft such as the Bearcat, while the rest of the display followed suit with classic aerobatic figures and a stunning account of energy management. I’ve waited a long time to see this aircraft put through its paces on centre stage and it was certainly worth waiting for!

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First World War aviation was, as always, expertly demonstrated by the Great War Display team who put on a great routine on both days with their dynamic and layered performance giving a great impression of the chaos of WW1 aerial warfare.

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The Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Biplane pair must be one of the most undercooked display acts in the country and their performance on Saturday of the show made you appreciate just how special these aircraft are. This display represented the Fury’s only 2017 display (the winds on Sunday were out of limits), while the Nimrod only displayed at Old Warden earlier in the year. Watching two Hawker biplanes being put through their paces never gets old, especially with Charlie Brown’s graceful aerobatic account of the Fury. Hopefully with the RAF 100 celebrations coming up in 2018 we will get to see more of this unique aeroplane.

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Another step back into the 1930s saw the return of the “Mercury Magic” segment, which saw the Blenheim, Lysander and Gladiator take to the skies together. This was a great sequence and it was a real bonus to see the Gladiator displaying after a season in which both airworthy examples have been plagued by technical issues.

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A welcome break from the normal 109 vs Spitfire/Hurricane came in the shape of a western front set piece, which saw the Aircraft Restoration Company Hispano Buchon put up against a pair of Yak-3s. This display made great use of pyrotechnics and the sight of the two slick Yaks, flown by Will Greenwood and Richard Grace chasing the Buchon around at high speed always makes for a memorable sight.

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Naval aircraft have a long association with Duxford and this years September show saw a bumper crop take to the sky. Across the weekend we were treated to a high-octane pairs aerobatics display from Richard Grace in the Hawker Fury II and Brian Smith in the Bearcat, solo performances from the Seafire III (Pete Kynsey), Corsair (Alan Wade) and on the Sunday, as the Bearcat went tech, a Richard Grace Fury solo. Alongside this impressive display of high performance piston fighters there was also a brilliant duo of Wildcat and Catalina, which saw the pair perform a formation take off before trading places on the display line in an ever changing sequence.

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Duxford has been known over the years for putting together special formations. This show was no exception. A pair of C-47s put on a graceful performance before joining B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B for a very special “heavies” formation.

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Classic Jets are an increasingly rare sight at UK airshows so it always a pleasure when the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron are able to take part in a show. As with last September, this Duxford appearance saw a pairs display from the two Vampires, which were then joined by the MIG 15 for a tailchase and formation display.

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The last half hour or so of the extended flying programme (another great adjustment to previous years shows) was simply extraordinary. The Battle Of Britain tribute began with the familiar, but never “normal” mass Spitfire take off. This year saw 13 Spitfires take to the sky for this segment. Steve Jones took on the “Joker” role in Anglia Aircraft Restoration’s MK XIV while the other aircraft formed up. This Joker routine was a graceful series of figures that effortlessly led to a smooth form up at the back of the main pack as they began their first pass. Once the impressive formation passes were completed the real magic began. Breaking off into two sections a seemingly endless tailchase sequence began. There are many wonderful sights on show at air displays around the world but I challenge anyone to show me a more powerful and immersive experience than a Duxford Spitfire tailchase. Everywhere you looked there were Spitfires, with a number of aircraft on the southern display line performing a figure eight pattern, while the other aircraft flew a racetrack pattern over the grass. At moments when the two flights met up there was a simply incredible layering of Spitfires.

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In years gone by the sight of the final Spitfire peeling off from the tailchase would represent the final act of the show. However, as mentioned at the start of this review, 2017 was the year of the Hurricane and an even more fitting Battle Of Britain tribute was on offer. Led by the Bristol Blenheim was a flight of three MK I Spitfires, five Hurricanes (a different aircraft went tech on each day) and a lone Gloster Gladiator. This formation is arguably the most special on offer in years and certainly the most comprehensive tribute to the aircraft of the Battle possible in the present day.

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The Imperial War Museum pulled off something magical with this show, from start to finish each act was stunning. A perfect blend of powerful solo displays, formation aerobatics and stunning formation sequences and tailchases. The move to late September certainly works in the shows favour with wonderful light on offer at the end of each day. I’m pleased to see that the Imperial War Museum appear to have stuck with these dates and themes for next years airshows, perhaps next year we could see an even larger number of Hurricanes!

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