2018 is already proving to be an incredibly exciting year for the UK airshow scene and in particular the warbird sector. We have already seen two Buchons return to the skies in the last couple of months alongside two Spitfires making welcome returns to the UK skies (more on which later).
The last year or so has seen a rather impressive collection of fighters assemble under Air Leasing’s care at Sywell. Perhaps the most exciting return is that of an old Duxford favourite and an iconic machine for any regular airshow goers of the 90s/early 2000s, P-47 Thunderbolt G-THUN, known to many as “No Guts, No Glory”.
It was announced earlier in the year that the “jug” would be returning to the UK and in late April pictures started to emerge of a familiar sight being unloaded at Sywell. Incredibly the team at Air Leasing got the fighter from container to taxiing in just 12 days, with a first flight in the UK following shortly after on the 4th May. A real testement to the incredible work by the Air Leasing team. Though losing the iconic identity of “No Guts”, it is a refreshing change to see the airframe take on a new colour scheme, which certainly has hints of the old scheme.
The new scheme represents an aircraft of the 48th Fighter Group and features that classic checkerboard cowling, only this time in red and silver rather than black and white. There is something about a P-47 in D-Day stripes that just looks right. This scheme is especially fitting as the unit is still active in the UK and are based at Lakenheath, where the Thunderbolt made its first appearence in its new scheme on the 7th May.
I can still clearly remember so many incredible shows with this aircraft playing a central role. My memory takes me back to performances at Woodchurch, Boxstead and even landing on at the farm strip at Chailey in 2004. This P-47 played a key part in so many airshow memories for many and I remember watching fondly as G-THUN departed Duxford on the Friday before its final Legends appearance in 2006, if I remember correctly, off to Stansted for the afternoon. My final memory of the aircraft back before it left for the states in 2007 was sitting almost underneath it whilst having dinner at one of the great Friends of the Fighter Collection events that winter.
With 11 years passing since G-THUN departed, it would seem pretty unlikely that this icon of the UK warbird scene would be back displaying again. While there is no denying that “SNAFU”, the second P-47 operated by The Fighter Collection for a short period following its return to flight in 2012, was an outstanding restoration, it never quite resonated in the same way or left the same mark as G-THUN. Either way it was certainly unthinkable that a Thunderbolt would be back over here.
This brings me to another of those great airshow memories, aircraft and their pilots. There are certain warbirds out there where in the hands of a certain pilot they just fully seem at home. Rob Davies and a Mustang, Nick Grey in the Gladiator, Ray Hanna and MH434, there are plenty of others, but you get the idea. Many reading this will know that Stu Goldspink used to spend a great deal of time displaying both of the Fighter Collection’s Thunderbolts and it is well documented that he really enjoys flying these big fighters. It was a real pleasure to see this classic combination back together at Duxford this weekend.
These early displays as the aircraft makes its return to the show circuit serve as a great reminder at the surprising agility of this big aeroplane once it gets going. I can’t wait to enjoy further displays as the season goes on and look forward to seeing what this unexpected, second chapter of this iconic machine brings.