Warbird Tails Looking Back – Duxford Air Festival

As we near the last week of May (hard to believe we are already here!) it’s time for another look back at airshow seasons from the past. This weekend would have marked the 2020 edition of the Duxford Air Festival.

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May airshows at Duxford have been an early season fixture for decades now, originally as a one day show, this was expanded to a full weekend in 2014 with the end of the traditional October show. Historically the show has taken on a specific theme, such as 2015’s VE Day show and 2016’s American Air Show. From 2017 onwards the show moved to a new concept, renamed the “Duxford Air Festival”. The idea is that the show does as described, celebrates all aircraft and types of displays.

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The move to the Air Festival theme has taken some flack for at times not having enough warbird content, for which Duxford is associated of course. To an extent, that is probably the point of the Air Festival, to attract a different audience to sample the delights of a Duxford show.

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Right off the mark in 2017 the Air Festival, in my view, made a great impression. The first show featured a rare appearance from the Rafale display team from France, along with the RAF Typhoon display providing plenty of jet noise.

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The 2017 show also saw a rare trio of racers not seen away from Old Warden together at any other show. The Shuttleworth Collection’s incredible DH88 Comet was joined by their original Percival Mew Gull and David Beale’s replica Mew Gull. A wonderful trio of rare racers and also the Comet’s first public landing away from Old Warden since its return to flight in 2014.

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2017 only featured three single engined warbird fighters, which meant that aerobatic displays were the order of the day, rather than more familiar multi-aircraft displays. This certainly worked for me as we were treated to a wonderful routine from Richard Grace in TF-51D Miss Velma and a wonderful pairs routine John Romain and Pete Kynsey in the IWM Spitfire I N3200 and Comanche Fighters MK I.

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2017 also saw the only UK display appearance from the Norweigian Spitfire Foundation’s rare Norseman. A wonderful machine that displayed alongside Duxford based DHC Beaver which shares some looks and roles with the Norseman. Classic jets were also well represented with the familiar sight of the Norweian MIG-15 and sadly what would be the last public appearance (to date) for Navy Wings Sea Vixen.

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2018 saw a more balanced show between the typical Duxford line up with a few of the popular changes from the 2017 show. This show saw the return of the Rafale from across the channel, once again putting on a great display.

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This show saw a wonderful tribute to the North American Harvard/T-6 in its 80th Anniversary year with 8 examples flying together and there was another great North American design on show with the T-28 displaying.

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Warbird highlights in 2018 were wide ranging, the show saw the return for two Fighter Collection/Former Collection machines, with Sea Fury T20 WG655 making its first appearance since a few years on the ground and an engine change and the much missed P-47D G-THUN making a welcome return to Duxford to open the show.

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Comfortably the surprise of the weekend was the FW C-3605 “Schlepp” target tug over from Switzerland. I remember often seeing pictures of this machine and a few static examples over the years but had no idea of the aerobatic performance on offer!

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Skipping forward to 2019 and there was another great selection of highlights on show. During the off season excitement around the newly formed Ultimate Fighters formation team had been building and while this show didn’t see the full team on show it did feature an incredible close formation flight from the TF-51D and P-47D from the team, flown wonderfully by Andy Durston and Richard Grace.

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2019 picked up where 2017 left off with a wonderful vintage trio of Miles aircraft featuring the Gemini and two Messengers.

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This would also be one of the final UK appearances for the Breitling Jet team, at least under that sponsorship deal.

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Once again the show was brought to a close by a Spitfire, this time a graceful solo from Spitfire I N3200.

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Looking back at the first three Duxford Air Festivals, they were great shows on balance and still provided that classic Duxford experience, with a few unusual surprises thrown in. Here’s to 2021!

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