Airshow Moments 2021 Number 10 – Rolls-Royce Heritage Flight

As we come to the end of this years Airshow Moments series, it’s fitting that we look again at a new operator/”team” in the form of the Rolls Royce Heritage Flight. Neither aircraft is entirely new to the show circuit but are being operated as a pair for the first time.

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The Rolls Royce Spitfire XIX has very much been on and off the airshow season for some years now since it’s last major overhaul at Duxford some years ago. Griffon Spitfires have become increasingly rare over the years, though thankfully that seems to be changing with the recent return of the Seafire XVII and Spitfire XIV RN201 to British skies. It had been noted that throughout the last couple of years the Rolls-Royce Spitfire had been very active on local flights from East Midlands Airport but hadn’t ventured much further. In 2020 the Mustang formerly known as “Old Crow” and “the Shark”, repainted and now known as “Warhorse” moved up to East Midlands Airport from Duxford and was hangared with the Rolls Royce Spitfire and Harvard.

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Slowly but surely there were more and more references online to the “Rolls-Royce Heritage Flight” which certainly sounded like an exciting prospect, though any level of searching online yielded little results. That was until towards the middle of the 2021 season when bookings started appearing for the flight with the promised pairing of Spitfire XIX and P-51D Mustang. Their debut display was set to be Little Gransden, a fine venue for such machines.

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Ultimately the promised pairs display did not materialise (hopefully a treat we will get to enjoy next year) but the aircraft did each fly extended solo routines. The Spitfire flew a largely flat but graceful display, really providing a great contrast to the number of Merlin powered machines also in the flying line up that day. The sequence did include some vertical manoeuvres to showcase the Griffon powered Spitfires impressive performance. It was wonderful to hear the growl of a Griffon engined Spitfire again after a couple of years away (for me at least).

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Then came the wonderful classic Mustang arrival, diving in from high altitude before pulling up into a loop with that classic whistle off the gun ports. This airframe in particular has such a strong pedigree on the European airshow circuit that you come to expect a certain style of display from it. This routine certainly did not disappoint, vertical and rolling aerobatic figures were blended together seamlessly with low level passes making great use of the dog leg display line at Little Gransden. Not only was this routine a firm highlight of the day but it was also for me one of the displays of the summer.

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With the end of that fantastic Mustang routine, the debut appearance of the Rolls Royce Heritage flight was complete. The team also performed at Jersey and featured heavily during Rolls-Royce test flying of their electric powered aircraft later in the year.

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Since the end of the season, the Mustang operated by the flight has been re-registered to the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar and is expected to be carrying out passenger flights from Biggin in 2022. Given that the Mustang is still based at East Midlands, hopefully it will continue to operate under the Rolls-Royce banner as well and I look forward to seeing what other machines the flight can attract.

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