Large scale Spitfire gatherings have now become at least an annual affair at Duxford each September and as impressive as that will always be, it does get a little less special the more such an event is repeated.
Similar gatherings of the airworthy Hurricane population are far rarer though, with four ships having been relatively common in the warbird era but larger gatherings few and far between (of the top of my head I can only think of the Goodwood/Biggin Hill gatherings in 2015, which did not feature a mass formation) and the 2017 Duxford Battle of Britain show which saw six examples in two blocks of three.
Big Hurricane sequences would often leave the impression that the Hurricane is somehow less of a fighter than the Spitfire, offering sticking to lower speed formation passes and gentle, flat tail chases. This always surprised me as we are shown time and time again how capable an aerobatic performer the Hawker fighter can be, especially at Old Warden in recent years.
It is fitting then, that the very same venue hosted what can be comfortably considered the greatest airshow tribute to the Hurricane of call time in July 2019. With an anticipated line up of eight Hurricanes ultimately dropping to a record breaking seven due to a tailwheel issue with one of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight examples, it really was a day for the history books.
Understandably the Hurricane sequence was retained as one of the last acts of the day, partly due to four of the seven examples operating at a show at Headcorn the same weekend. This meant that the day started with only the Shuttleworth Collection Sea Hurricane on the flightline.
As the day went on, anticipation built as first the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight example joined the circuit to land (another first for Old Warden) to join the line up, only to be followed by “P3700”, P3717, V7494 and R4118, the latter making a welcome return to Old Warden having been a based performer for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The final Hurricane to join the line up was Duxford/Sywell based P2902 which flew in from Duxford.
The time came and the preparation started with the Collection’s Sea Hurricane leading the start ups and taxi out. Simply writing “the seven Hurricanes then got into the air” comes nowhere near to doing that sight and sound justice and watching this gathering form up on the downwind leg was a real thrill.
As the formation lined up from the South, one of the most special moments I can remember in airshows happened as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane, having flown the whole circuit with their usual separation effortlessly slotted into the back of the formation resulting in a full seven ship Hurricane spectacular overhead.
A single pass gave way to a tidy solo from the BBMF example playing the “joker” role as the remaining six aircraft went around the circuit again. After another formation pass each three ship split off into their own tail chase routines. These were as dynamic as any Spitfire sequence we may have seen over the years and really gave the impression of the Hurricane as a true contender and fighter that the history books always describe.
With three of the four Duxford based machines completing their tail chase it was time for the “home team” to close out the sequence. This saw the traditional Old Warden Hurricane sequence flown with Paul Stone in the Sea Hurricane, Frank Chapman in P3717 and Stu Goldspink in P2902. After a formation pass the latter machine climbed for height while the others flew a low and close tail chase. Fittingly, given recent history at Old Warden this extended sequence closed with a lyrical aerobatic solo from Stu Goldspink, departing off slot to Duxford as the remaining Hurricanes shut down on the flightline.
As airshow moments go, I don’t think they come a lot better than this glorious day at Old Warden.