The 2020 airshow season has certainly been one like no other in a year that in general has been much the same. It is a strange and uncertain time and having some elements of normality have helped make getting through this difficult year easier.
So far this season we have enjoyed inventive events such as the Shuttleworth drive-in shows and some small showcase shows at Duxford but so far, no traditional shows had happened. Late September was long held as the hopeful point on the horizon with planned “walk-in” airshows at Duxford and Headcorn. As the second wave of the pandemic began to become clear Duxford cancelled and it was assumed Headcorn would follow suit. Thankfully, Headcorn were able to work within the regulations to still put on an event.
Typically, the weather across the previous weekend (that would have been Duxford) was glorious. As the week went on the forecast got progressively worse for the Headcorn show. Waking up Friday morning to a bitterly cold wind gusting at times up to 40 knots, I genuinely expected no flying. Fortunately I live local so was able to at least keep an eye on conditions and any signs of activity.
The sight of Aero Legends C-47 pair coming up on my phone flight tracking signalled that perhaps all might not be lost for day one of the show. Sure enough 20 minutes later the familiar rumble of radial engines could be heard as the pair positioned to land. That was enough to convince me so we went down to the show. I’ll admit to being apprehensive about attending a “normal” show with a walk-in crowd but have to say that on both days it was a comfortable, easy experience to keep distanced. Particularly at the western end of the show ground.
We walked in on Friday just as Parky and Charlie Brown were firing up the Aero Legends Spitfire pair for the opening display of the day. A graceful pairs routine was flown before Charlie Brown flew a solo aerobatic performance.
Up next on the blustery day was Michael Pickin in his CAP232 with a great display of unlimited aerobatics. This added some smoke and noise as a contrast to the vintage machines on the rest of the lineup.
A stand out act across the weekend was the C-47 pair. This consisted of C-47 Drag ‘Em Oot, part of the Aero Legends collection for a few years now and their newly acquired (in 2019) “Pegasus” in RAF Markings. BBMF aside, it has been quite a while since there has been a RAF D-Day schemed “Dak” on the circuit. It was wonderful to see this aircraft make its airshow debut in the new scheme.
The two heavy transports were flown with great style. Just watching two examples of this type operate up close off the grass runway at Headcorn is a treat in itself, but watching both machines follow each other round in a fighter style tail chase routine before each performing a short solo was magic.
Undoubtedly the most determined act of the weekend was the Stampe display team, managing to fly across all 3 days despite the high wind conditions that plagued the weekend. Friday looked particularly hard work but a great formation routine was put on and a typically polished solo aerobatic display from team leader Chris Jessen. With the high winds the solo Stampe was almost stopping at the top of some of the figures. On Saturday the Stampe team even flew a second five ship routine to fill in for the BBMF (who were unable to fly in the wind).
After being weathered in at Duxford on Friday, Saturday morning saw the arrival of a rare trio of Hispano Buchon “Yellow 10”, Hurricane I R4118 and Spitfire I N3200. The latter was a first time visitor to Headcorn and it looked right at home in amongst the Kent countryside. The show was also notable as the only flying appearance from a Buchon in 2020, a welcome high point.
These three types made up the main Battle of Britain tribute. This started in a typical fashion with John Romain getting airborne in the Buchon before delivering a typically polished (though only a rolling routine due to cloud base) display in the Buchon, before Parky (genuinely taking us by surprise at the Western end) scrambled to intercept.
Each year at Headcorn I’m impressed by this dogfight routine as one of the best examples of a well covered scenario.
With the Buchon successfully “shot down” with help from its Dunkirk smoke system, Charlie Brown got into the air in the second Aero Legends Spitfire followed by Martin Overall in N3200 and Dave Ratcliffe in R4118. The six fighters formed up for a number of passes in formation before the Buchon broke off to land, allowing the RAF to fly a graceful tail chase.
In a year that has been so light on airshows I don’t think any of us expected to see a Duxford style warbird set piece this year. It was a wonderful routine and thrilling the whole way through.
Two other acts remained in the line up, with a wonderfully noisy pairs display from Aero Legends’ two T6 Texans, including the debut of their recently acquired “Carly”, a familiar machine to any long term Headcorn local. This airframe was based at the museum for many years before moving to Pent Farm a few years back.
Not long after the Harvards had landed they were back in the air again, this time accompanied by both C-47s and Spitfires for an Aero Legends Balbo finale. The American trainers formed up behind “Drag Em ‘Oot” while the Spitfires joined “Pegaus”. I’ll admit to getting a little emotional as the formation positioned downwind and ran in for the first pass as it reminded me how lucky all in attendance had been, despite the weather, to enjoy what felt like the most normal airshow experience in at least 12 months.
The show was brought to an ultimate close by a reprise pairs performance from Parky and Charlie Brown in the two Aero Legends Spitfires.
Aero Legends and Headcorn Special Events should be commended for putting on a fantastic weekend against the odds, not just from the current world situation but also some awful weather. I can safely say I’ve never been more surprised at there being any flying at all, let alone a full show on Saturday.
The recent Headcorn shows have delivered a slightly different but great value format. They opt for extended 20/30 minute multiple aircraft sequences with short breaks between each item, rather than spreading out solo performances or pairs routines. This makes for an enjoyable afternoon and gives the show its own personality, whilst being unique in delivering these big warbird sequences away from Duxford.
I for one can’t wait for next year and hopefully we can enjoy three days in the glorious Kent sunshine, perhaps even in more familiar circumstances.
I’ll leave you with this great comparison of a familiar Headcorn view, 30+ years apart. The sight of a Battle of Britain schemed Spitfire and Buchon outside the Headcorn hangar for the Piece of Cake Filming in 1988 fittingly replicated by the Buchon and Spitfire N3200 in 2020. Even more appropriate is the inclusion of the Hurricane as well. As of course, that is the aircraft the fictional Hornet Squadron flew in the original Piece of Cake book.