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Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow 2019



Duxford’s Battle of Britain Air Show has been a one of the highlights of the UK aviation calendar over the last few years. The ever-growing celebration of Britain’s finest hour has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the World. This year was no exception as almost 40,000 people descended on the historic airfield to enjoy two days of vintage aviation.

The Aerodrome at Duxford was first opened in 1917 during the First World War, primarily as a flight instruction site. It was during the 2nd World war that the now iconic airfield came into its own. Ideally situated to protect the capital, it was no surprise that Duxford was the first RAF station to receive the brand new Supermarine Spitfire in 1938. Heroics by the likes of Douglas Bader and many others during the Battle of Britain in 1940 cemented the airfields place in history for ever more. For this reason alone, the air shows at Duxford are very special indeed.

Duxford is now the home of the Imperial War Museum and with this comes an impressive collection of exhibits any day of the year. There is also a significant percentage of the UK’s airworthy warbirds operating directly from Duxford, with the Aircraft Restoration company, the Fighter Collection and Historic Aircraft collection and several others basing their collections here. Many of these aircraft are on permanent display, but air show days see these parked out on the grass, available for close inspection on the flight line walk.

Here, for just £5 visitors can spend a few hours closely inspecting the air show participations prior to the days flying. Today, we were privileged to walk in the impressive shadows of Boeing B17 Sally B, Plane sailings Catalina as well as all of the smaller warbirds that were due to take part in the show. Where else can you get close to Eighteen airworthy Spitfires, four hurricanes, two Lysanders and the Worlds only flying Blenheim? As ever, there were numerous appropriately attired reenactors patrolling the flight-line happy to pose for selfies and period shots.

For 2019, the main theme of the Battle of Britain Air Show was not the historic battle itself (although, this was far from forgotten), but a celebration of ‘Duxford at the Movies’. Filming often takes place here, with the Christopher Nolan Dunkirk movie and Netflix series The Crown being some of the recent visitors. It was of course the epic 1969 film ‘Battle of Britain’ kick-started Duxford’s post-war renaissance and took the abandoned RAF station to new levels of fame. In fact, the air show today, kicked-off with a mesmerising tribute to the film (and the battle!).

With many of its star aircraft present and still airworthy we were able to hear the rumbles of 11 merlin engines chasing each other around the sky dodging explosive pyrotechnics. 4 Hispano Buchons, playing the part of the ME109 once again, conducted a mock attack on the runway. Fortunately, three Mk. 1 Spitfires and four Hawker Hurricanes were soon scrambled to neutralise the threat. The crowd were left in a daze as the historic, priceless warbirds were thrown around the sky in a superb mock battle – the likes of which I have never witnessed before. This must have been the closest thing to witnessing Battle of Britain itself since the movie was filmed here 50 years ago.

The next item on the agenda was the Battle of Britain Memorial flight, who sent the mighty Avro Lancaster accompanied by one of its Spitfires, we were treated to a tight display of formation passes and solo routines. Later in the show, we were able to witness the American counterparts of Boeing B17 and P47 Thunderbolt which provided an interesting comparison of the varying fighter/bomber escorts of the war. The later formation also recalled the 1990s Memphsis Belle movie in which both aircraft starred, the B17 still wears its markings.

Next, we stepped back further in time with the Great War Display team (movie stars in their own right), who demonstrated an explosive WW1 dogfight with their replica SE5s, BE2 and Triplanes from either side. Frustratingly, as their display ended the weather started to close in. We were able to see the ‘Furious’ formation of 2 Hawker Sea Fury’s and a Hawker Fury in the sky together, but rain tamed down what these ultimate piston fighters could do. The recently restored de Havilland DH9 remained grounded whilst two of the 4 Mustangs landed soon after take-off before we could see the finger-four formation of the full complement of air-worthy P51’s currently in the UK.

A period of heavy rain temporarily stalled the flying programme, the Bristol Mercury engine formation of Blenheim, two Lysanders and a Gladiator was forced to hold off for around half an hour whilst the weather front moved through the area. We were treated to this unique sight and sound briefly before they were forced to land. Appropriately the Navy aircraft were sent to display next. The iconic Catalina flying boat was not troubled by the wet weather and displayed superbly with the contrastingly, diminutive Wildcat.
The schedule was further thrown when the Korean jet formation was scrubbed due to the inclement weather. Despite the menacing clouds, the visiting Yak-9 was able to form up with its Soviet counterpart the Yak-3 for a pleasing display representing the Russian front. Fortunately, the unique formation of American Trainers was able to find some clearer skies to display. The Stearman, Yale, Vultee and pair of Texans was certainly an unusual sight in UK skies. The vivid Blue and yellow colours schemes of the Stearman and Vultee made for a particularly pleasing display against the dark skies and the rustic hum of the Texan’s (aka Harvard’s) radial engine is warmly nostalgic.
As is tradition, the September Duxford show usually closes with a massive formation of Spitfires. The pre-show plans would have seen a modern-day record of Spitfires, but serviceability of aircraft prevented this. However, an impressive 16 examples of RJ Mitchel's iconic aeroplane bravely scrambled into the moody Cambridgeshire sky. Dunkirk veteran, Mk. 1 N3200 performed an impressive solo routine whilst the remaining 15 airframes formed up into two sub sections. Who needs the Red Arrows when you have a Diamond Nine of Spitfires?

Review by Lee Chapman