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Duxford Flying Finale 2023
‘A wide range of aircraft were included in the program and the organisers had done sterling work in getting representative types lined up for this year’s event...’
A number of stars aligned in mid-October to make the 2023 Duxford Flying Finale, the last airshow of the UK season, something very special.

The significance of the event, taking place 50 years to the day since the very first Duxford Air Day, had not registered with me until hearing about it at the Battle of Britain Airshow a month previously. As I got out of my car, I paused to reflect on my own Duxford journey which started a few months shy of my ninth birthday on a family visit in 1983. It has, in fact, become a regular part of both my life and now that of my two sons. Therefore, as I walked over the footbridge from the north car park and got my first glimpses of the array of warbirds lined up on the flight line, I was stepping into the familiar embrace of an old friend.
However, it is an old friend that constantly surprises and this is perhaps one of the secrets of Duxford’s attraction. Having a plethora of live warbirds and restoration houses based there and visible means there is always something new to see and the Flying Finale did not disappoint in this regard. First off was the sight of one of the most anticipated restoration projects that I can remember, namely Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd’s immaculate Hawker Tempest MkII MW763/G-TEMT. Restored by Anglia Aircraft Restorations Ltd at Sywell, the Bristol Centaurus powered beast had undertaken its first flight just four days earlier in the capable hands of Pete Kynsey, transiting to Duxford at the flight’s conclusion with P-51D Mustang ‘Contrary Mary’ keeping station alongside. Seeing the aircraft in the flesh in the crisp, bright October sunlight, was something to behold and well and truly wetted the appetite for next year’s display season.
The second welcome sight was another classic Hawker fighter in the shape of the world’s only surviving Hawker Fury MkI biplane. Returned to the skies in 2012 after an epic 20 year restoration, the machine had not flown since 2019. With work completed by Vintage Fabrics and Retrotec Ltd, Clive Denney took the unique aircraft aloft for a local flight on October 8th and flew again on the morning of the Finale as part of the ongoing test program.

Once the 1935 built Fury was back on the ground, there was a fleeting chance to get a picture with a Hawker Hurricane in view before the Fury was parked up next to Spitfire MkIX RW382 and the Hawker Tempest, although it was a shame a Hurricane could not have been slotted in as well. This line up showed the dramatic advances in technology made in the twelve years between the respective Hawker prototypes’ first flights.
Returning to the Flying Finale’s theme, we were reminded that the 1973 Air Day was not only the first Duxford airshow, but also the first time the site had been open to the public. A wide range of aircraft were included in the program and the organisers had done sterling work in getting representative types lined up for this year’s event, including one aircraft that had actually displayed back in 1973. The line up was a mix of warbirds and aerobatic displays, including some new teams, reflecting Duxford’s wide appeal and its support of new acts and new pilots.
First to take centre stage was Diana Britten MBE in her Mudry CAP-232, opening the Finale with a precise aerobatic routine. This was followed by a trio of warbirds in the shape of Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd’s Hawker Hurricane MkI P2902, flown by Gabriel Barton, leading the Comanche Spitfires, MkI AR213 being flown by Stu Goldspink with Mk.I X4650 piloted by Brian Smith. By now, the dramatic cloudscape that would remain throughout the show had filled the sky and it was an evocative sight to see a vic of these classic fighters silhouetted against it. Of course, the Spitfire and Hurricane are synonymous with Duxford, 19 Squadron being based there when it became the first unit to be equipped with Spitfire MkIs in 1938, while 310 (Czech) Squadron was the first unit to fly Hurricanes from Duxford during the Battle of Britain.
Next to display was Paul Ford in his Fokker Dr1 replica G-FOKK, the guttural sound of the aircraft’s rotary engine contrasting with the more refined notes of the preceding inline Merlins.

While piston powered warbirds are Duxford’s bread and butter, there have been many jet displays over the years, ranging from the Golden Apple Trust’s classic F-86A Sabre that was based at Duxford for several years until its move to the US in 2014, to modern fast jets, the USAF’s F-15E Strike Eagle demo in 2011 being particularly memorable. As a nod to this, and to the appearance by the RAF Gemini Pair team of two Jet Provost T5s at the 1973 Air Day, Chris Heames displayed BAC Jet Provost T5A XW325/G-BWGF. The aircraft is marked in the colours of 6 FTS, with which it spent most of its service life, and Chris performed a dynamically fluid routine, beginning by curving in from the M11 end, thin wisps of vapour streaming from the aircraft’s wingtips in the turns.

Plane Sailing have been a part of the Duxford scene since 1985, first with Catalina G-BLSC and then, from 2004, with Canadian built Vickers Canso G-PBYA marked up as a USAAF OA-10A Catalina of the 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron, 8th Air Force. The display was flown by John Harmsworth with plenty of topside shown, much welcomed by the photographers in the crowd. The light and cloudscape seemed to be at its best at this point too making for some memorable images.

In stark contrast to the sight and size of the Catalina were the two Taylor Monoplanes of the next act. The Taylor Mono Display Team was formed earlier this year by 21 year old Ben Gilmore and his friend Bruce Buglass. The diminutive size of the aircraft made even the familiar D31 Turbulents of The Turbulent Team look positively spacious in comparison and it was a pleasure to see a new act fly a well executed and well received routine.


Aero Legends are a relative newcomer to the warbird scene but have risen to become a well respected operator providing many different flight experiences. However, while Aero Legends itself was not around in 1973, their Douglas DC-3 Dakota KP220 was, albeit in stripped down state on show in one of the hangars. It would be 1977 before the aircraft was acquired by Air Atlantique and brought back to airworthy condition. After a varied career, the Dakota was then sold to Aero Legends in 2019 and was displayed at the Finale by Andrew Dixon.

Joining the Dakota at the beginning of the routine was Charlie Brown in Aero Legends’ Supermarine Spitfire MkIX TD314/G-CGYJ. Some pilots have a certain style that, over time, becomes recognisable. Having seen Charlie displaying Spitfires many times, and even photographed him in this one air to air, it was a welcome treat to see him showcase TD314 with due aplomb in the Duxford skies.

The next display was from another new act for the 2023 season namely the Titans Display Team. This saw Patrick Wilson and Simon Ansell piloting a high-wing American Champion Xtreme Decathlon and low-wing XtremeAir XA42 in a sharp routine of formation and individual aerobatics. This was all the more visually appealing due to the eye catching blue and white colour schemes on the aircraft and the use of white smoke.


By now, we had seen three Rolls Royce Merlin powered examples of the Spitfire and next it was the turn of a Griffon powered example to display in the shape of the Rolls Royce Heritage Flight’s  (RRHF) PRXIX PS853/G-RRGN flown by former Officer Commanding of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Squadron Leader Mark ‘Disco’ Discombe MBE. The Griffon entered service later than the Merlin and had a larger capacity of 37 litres giving the opportunity for more power. The real innovation was that the Griffon was only slightly larger than the Merlin making it a viable proposition to mate with the Spitfire airframe offering a potential dramatic leap in performance. While a discussion of supercharger and engine development is beyond the scope of this review, the Griffon 66 series, as used in the photo-reconnaissance Spitfire PRXIX, gave the aircraft a superlative performance and allowed it to roam over occupied Europe with virtual impunity. Mark’s energetic display showed the raw power of the Griffon, the engine’s much louder rasping growl apparent when compared to the Merlin. The RRHF also lease a Merlin powered aircraft, this being North American P-51D Mustang G-CMDK ‘Warhorse’ but unfortunately, pilot illness prevented the aircraft from participating as well.

Once Mark had brought the Spitfire PRXIX back onto the hard runway, it was the turn of Peter Kuypers to display his lovely Beechcraft Staggerwing N18V. The prototype Staggering first flew in 1932 and many were pressed into wartime service as general hacks and this is reflected in the aircraft’s attractive camouflage scheme. Peter, who is more likely to be seen at the helm of B-17G ‘Sally-B,’ acquired the aircraft in 2021 to assist with his commute from the Netherlands!

Following the Staggerwing was the moment when we truly stepped back in time fifty years as The Shuttleworth Collection’s Miles Magister P6382/G-AJRS got airborne. This very machine displayed at the first Air Day as well as the Collection’s Avro Tutor K3215/G-ASHA. Unfortunately, although the Tutor had also been booked to display, serviceability issues meant that its place was taken by a second Old Warden based Magister in the shape of V1075/G-AKPF flown by Dave Bramwell. With Jean-Michel Munn at the controls of G-AJRS, it was an opportunity to reflect on how lucky we are to have such a vibrant and long-lived historic aviation scene.

The show’s final formation team act came next as The Flying Comrades took to the skies in their Yak-18T and pair of Yak-52s piloted by Phil Hardisty, Alex Lewton and Tom Turner. This is another relatively new team, formed at the end of the Covid lockdown in 2021, and it was great to see them displaying again at Duxford.

Next, we were treated to the sight and sound of three Pratt & Whitney R-1340 radial engines and their respective North American Harvards holding on the Duxford grass as Rod Dean in G-BGPB and Nigel Wilson in G-TSIX prepared for a pairs display to be followed by Isobel Rutland in CK Aviation Services T-6 G-BTXI, an aircraft once owned by The Fighter Collection (TFC). With the snarling rasp of supersonic prop-tips reverberating off the Duxford hangars, the Harvards took off with Rod and Nigel positioning for their formation routine. Once completed Isobel ran in to make her air display debut with a solo aerobatic performance.
It was now time for warbirds to take centre stage again as the Flying Finale geared up for its grand finale. A trio of Hurricanes got airborne to fly a solo and pairs routine. George Haye was first off in Hurricane MkXII G-HURI. This aircraft has a long association with Duxford having been based there since 1989, firstly under the stewardship of The Fighter Collection and then, from 2002, under the ownership of the Historic Aircraft Collection. The next two Hurricanes are more recent restorations signifying how the warbird movement continues to grow and evolve. Second to get airborne was Fighter Aviation Engineering’s MkI P2902 with Gabriel Barton in command followed by the Hurricane 501 syndicate’s MkI V7497 flown by Neil Oakman.

The stage was now set for the Finale’s homage to the history of Duxford and its warbirds. While a plethora of Spitfires and Hurricanes have taken to the skies recently, some as restorations and some that could more appropriately be seen as recreations, it is the unique and rare warbirds that have set Duxford apart over the years, all based on the foundations of The Fighter Collection and the Old Flying Machine Company and their pioneering founders, Stephen Grey and Ray and Mark Hanna, legends that are sadly no longer with us.
Taking to the skies were two stalwarts from The Fighter Collection in the shape of Goodyear FG-1D Corsair G-FGID with Stu Goldspink at the controls and TFC’s longest serving aircraft, Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat G-RUMM with Brian Smith at the helm. The Corsair joined TFC in 1986 but it was 1981 when the Bearcat joined what was to become TFC. While these two warbirds represented Duxford’s history, Fighter Aviation Engineering’s Hawker Fury ISS G-CBEL and Republic P-47D Thunderbolt G-THUN, flown by Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones respectively, represented the new kids on the block and the link to Sywell Aerodrome based Air Leasing which has fast become the home of some very exciting and unique projects.

Led by Paul Bonhomme in the Fury, the quartet of fighters made several formation passes before splitting into two pairs. The Bearcat and Fury flew together, perhaps the ultimate piston fighters built by America and England, while the Thunderbolt and Corsair joined up as two types which gave sterling service in World War Two. The quartet then reformed for one last pass before breaking to land to close out what was an excellent show and a wonderful way to commemorate and celebrate fifty years of air events at this warbird mecca.

Review by Andrew Critchell