Like so many other shows, 2020 saw the excellent Little Gransden airshow take an enforced break. This followed on from a great run of shows (aside from 2018s washout) that saw the show put on a string of excellent line ups combing lesser seen vintage types and some of the finest UK based warbirds.
With restrictions gradually lifting throughout 2021 the organisers were able to put on the show and started to release an exciting list of aircraft with a number of debut performances or welcome returns.
The flying got underway with a unique pairing of Ultimate Aerobatic’s CAP 232 and Richard Ellingworth’s Yak 50 in the hands of Mike Collet and Mark Jeffries. The pair flew a short formation display putting the curved display line to good use, before Mark Jeffries launched into a typically polished aerobatic routine in the Russian machine. A great low level and up close display. The CAP 232 then returned for a more up to date aerobatic performance suiting the type. This style of flying is one of the trademarks of Little Gransden with the based Global Stars team putting on a great performance, alongside the wonderful “Little and Large” Extra/RC model duo and Rich Goodwin’s impressive performance in the Jet’s Pitts.
There were plenty of de Havilland types on show, first with the Red Sparrows team putting on a four ship performance with their DHC Chipmunks, including the Canadian spec “maplemunk”. The team are another act well suited to the confines of Little Gransden. There were also plenty of Moths on show as part of the entertaining Tiger 9 display team.
Little Gransden was set to be one of the first public appearances for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster since 2019, however delays to it’s first flight following extensive maintenance at Duxford meant that a Spitfire was sent instead. MK IX MK356 arrived perfectly to mark the end of a minutes silence following the traditional remembrance service. A fighter solo, rather than flypast has been a rare sight this year from the Memorial Flight and this was a great routine to kick off a trio of Spitfire appearances in the afternoon.
This years show was unique in offering plenty of chances to enjoy some classic world war two fighters. There were three Spitfires, two Hurricanes and two P-51 Mustangs flying throughout the afternoon, with both Hurricanes and Mustang Miss Helen basing out of Little Gransden for the day. This offered a great chance to see these Merlin engines machines operating out of the grass strip up close.
After the BBMF the next WW2 slot saw the first performance from two machines now part of the newly formed Rolls Royce Heritage Flight. For many years now Rolls Royce have operated their Spitfire XIX G-RRGN, though since it’s most recent rebuild it has been an elusive performer. Flying in from its base at East Midlands Airport the Spitfire put on a graceful performance with the wonderful growl of the Griffon complimenting the Merlins on show throughout the day. The Spitfire also made good use of the Little Gransden bend.
Following shorty after the departing Spitfire, was the Rolls Royce Heritage Flight Mustang. This machine was perhaps best known recently as “The Shark” but was repainted in 2020 to it’s current 4th Fighter Group scheme. Aside from a brief appearance at a mid-week flying day at Duxford last year, this was the aircraft’s debut in it’s new colour scheme and certainly under new ownership. What followed was simply one of the best warbird solos you could hope to see. Eskil Admal seemed to pick up where he’d left off with his spectacular Sea Fury performances in 2019. Combining close topside passes with flowing aerobatics, this routine really showed off the Mustang to great effect and made wonderful use of the venue. I look forward to enjoying this pilot and aircraft combination again in the future.
Another debut performance later in the show came from James Brown in his Hurricane R4118. This marked the latest chapter in the wonderful story of James and R4118. Since purchasing the Hawker fighter in 2015 James has been building up experience initially in his Harvard, before converting to the Hurricane in 2018. James made his first public displays in the Harvard early in 2021 and Little Gransden was his public debut in the Hurricane. It was great to be there to enjoy this debut which combined gentle aerobatics with flowing passes.
Another Mustang and Spitfire duo performed later in the afternoon, this time starting their performance with a formation pass. P-51D Mustang Miss Helen flew alongside Spitfire XVI RW382, recently repainted to represent “Porky II” a USAAF operated Spitfire. It has been many years since a Spitfire flew in the UK in a USAAF scheme which makes a welcome change. Clive Denney flew the Spitfire through a series of passes and rolls before departing back to Duxford. We were then treated to a second impressive Mustang solo of the day with John Dodd flying a typically impactful routine.
The final warbird pairing of the day was comfortably the most unusual, with Hurricane G-HRLI leading Yak-3 F-AZIM through a formation pass. The Yak was a Flying Legends regular back in the 2000s but has been on the ground for some years now. Bob Davy acquired the aircraft in 2019 and it returned to the air this year. The Yak was put through a racetrack style routine making use of the curved display line that showed off the speed of the Russian design. The combination of the small airframe and the Pratt and Whitney radial make for a great sight and sound.
All in all this was another great show from the Little Gransden team with a varied line up of vintage and modern aerobatic types, right up to wonderful warbird highlights.