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Duxford Summer Airshow 2021

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"A Duxford air show would not be complete without a few Spitfires"

The Duxford Summer Airshow was the first air show held at the historic Imperial War Museum (IWM) site since September 2019. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has left the running of large events almost impossible. However, through some creative planning and the lifting of most restrictions this air show was able to go ahead, albeit with a smaller capacity than usual. The IWM also planned to split the arena into different zones and close the indoor spaces, but fortunately the government removed most restrictions in time for the event to open-up and allow visitors more chance to explore the largest air museum in Europe.

The IWM typically host three major air show weekends every year, this year they have planned for just two alongside a few smaller flying days. The tickets for the air show were limited to just 8,000 tickets per day – giving visitors enough space to socially distance and move around the site in comfort. This of course affected the line-up of flying aircraft and although it was still an all-star cast, it was a reduction on the number of displays typically seen at Duxford. The weather too played its part. On Sunday, the morning was plagued by light persistent rain, but despite a less-than-promising forecast the weather for the show itself was almost perfect. Light winds, moody skies and no rain during the afternoon. Only as the Red Arrows began their show-closing performance did the rumble of distant thunder make itself heard. Although I am sure this was a concern for the pilots and safety officer Squadron Leader Adam Collins (Red 10) it certainly added a touch of extra drama for the spectators. 

Ground attractions at the show were plentiful; for the first time the airside Flight-line Walk was included in the ticket cost. This unique experience gave visitors the chance to see the aircraft up close before they take to the skies. An added bonus saw several aircraft not involved in the show wheeled out to boost the line-up along the flight-line. These additional aircraft included a Hispano Buchon, Hawker Hurricane and the Fighter Collections Goodyear Corsair and Grumman Bearcat.

There was clearly a reduction in stalls and activities compared to the usual Duxford air show experience, but there was still plenty to do. Often overlooked on air show days, the museum is amongst the best in the World with a unique collection of incredible aircraft and artefacts – where else can you see a piece of fabric from the Wright Brothers aeroplane, a Concorde, Vulcan and a Lancaster? And that’s just the first of five hangars, all packed full of exhibits. The American Air Museum is a must too, the largest collection of United States aircraft outside of North America. The reduced crowds today made it an ideal time to explore the indoor spaces. 

The planned zoning of the airfield meant that the IWM had booked more fascinating living history displays to fill each area. Today visitors were treated to displays representing the broad wartime history of Duxford including a First World War diorama featuring a replica Fokker DrI and SE5a both accompanied by appropriately dressed reenactors from the Aces High WW1 aviation group. The Second World War for which Duxford is perhaps better known was also well represented by many varied groups including; Civil Defenders, Ops 39-45, Spirit of Britain, Tail End Charlies and the ATA Living History Group. Duxford is of course well-known for its role in the Battle of Britain, but later in the war it was also host to the USAAF and this too was represented by the Sweatin’ Out the Mission re-enactment group.

Today’s flying began at 13.45 with a loud and proud display by Flight Lieutenant James Sainty in his brightly painted Eurofighter Typhoon. This years’ RAF display Typhoon is based around one of the all black ‘aggressor’ jets and features a patriotic union-jack design and has become known as Blackjack. Sainty flew an incredible precision display over the airfield ensuring that everyone on the crowd-line got a good look at every side of the aircraft. The display was also well designed to show off the Typhoons impressive performance and earth-shattering sound. You could even feel the heat from its twin Eurojet EJ200 engines as Sainty carefully positioned the aircraft before applying full afterburners.

The contrast provided by the Tiger Nines eight de Havilland Tiger Moths and one Moth Major was a great way to follow the Eurofighter Typhoon. Other than the Red Arrows (who only flew eight aircraft today) they are the only nine-ship display team in the UK and the only team to perform a synchronised shut-down at the end of their routine. The impressive sound of nine Gipsy Major engines echoed around the aerodrome. The sight and sound of nine vintage biplanes coupled with the smell of burnt oil transported the crowd back to the golden age of aviation.

Following the Tiger Nines were the BAC Strikemaster Display Team. The last few years has not been kind to British civilian vintage jets, which makes it especially pleasing to see this team performing in the show. The Strikemaster is a combat variant of the popular RAF trainer, the Jet Provost which saw active service with the Royal Air Force of Oman and the Royal Saudi Air Force. Today’s display jets are veterans from these two air forces. Mark Petrie and Ollie Suckling flew these jets smoothly today through several formations, tail chases, breaks and opposition passes.

One of the highlights of the day was a nod to the days when the USAAF was based at Duxford during the later stages of the Second World War. The iconic Boeing B17 Sally B was joined in the Cambridgeshire skies by two P51 Mustangs and a P47 Thunderbolt. It was great to see the Comanche Warbirds ‘Hun Hunter/Texas’ take to the skies – although it has been based in the UK for a few years it rarely performs at air shows. The three fighters flown by Richard Grace, Dave Pulston and Pete Kynsey performed several flypasts before joining up to escort the B17 for the photographic moment of the show.

The pace of the show switched up a gear once again as we moved into a short aerobatic segment; Chris Burkett flew a superb high octane aerobatic display in his Extra 300S accompanied by a 41% scale model radio-controlled doppelganger operated by Mike Williams. The Little & Large duo are becoming crowd favourites at UK air shows with their deceptive performance which keeps the crowd guessing as to which the full-sized aircraft is. The aerobatics then continued with a Rod Dean’s demonstration of the North American Harvard ‘Taz’ in its Portuguese markings. Nice to see and hear the distinctive Radial engine being put through its paces in very capable hands.

The second half of the flying display kicked-off with a tribute to naval aviation in an unlikely pairing of the Consolidated PBY Catalina and the Grumman Wildcat. The disparity in performance meant that the two aircraft could not fly in formation, but it was still great to see them share the same air space as they took turns to entertain the crowd. Dave Southwood flew the diminutive Wildcat to its limits in an impressive performance.

A Duxford air show would not be complete without a few Spitfires. Today we saw three of the World’s population of airworthy Mark I aircraft (there is only one other) flying together in the Battle of Britain Vic formation. The IWM’s own N3200 led the formation around the skies flown by John Romain, Anna Walker and Pete Kynsey. Later in the show we also saw a pairing of two famous later Marks of Spitfire; John Romain flew his PRXI Spitfire with its Thank U NHS message underneath alongside Steve Jones in MH434. MH434 is possibly the most famous of all airworthy Spitfires having appeared in many TV shows and films.

   

The Aerosuperbatic Wingwalkers are always a pleasure to see. Their two Boeing Stearman PT-17 aircraft painted bright Orange contrasted brilliantly against the darkening skies. Credit to the two Wingwalkers who gave a professional display despite the turning weather which must have made it particularly challenging for them to perform their aerial gymnastics. The Blades aerobatic team also provided some high-energy aerobatics with their team of ex-Red Arrow pilots flying nimble Extra 300LPs through the skies in some brilliant manoeuvres. They are also a fully-licensed airline, so anyone with a strong stomach can flying with them!

   

As the weather began to close in the dark clouds cast doubt on the Red Arrows arrival. So, the crowd were especially thrilled to see the nose lights appear on the horizon. Despite the absence of Squadron Leader Steve Morris (Red 9) who was unwell, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team gave a stunning performance of their flat display. The eight Hawk jets flew the usual formations around the skies before splitting into Enid and Gypo formations for the dynamic element of the show. The red and blue smoke looked particularly striking against the black clouds in the distance. The rumbles of thunder seemed to complement the roars of the jet engines. A fitting end to a wonderful show.

   

Despite weather setbacks and Covid restriction U-turns the IWM managed to pull-off another excellent show. Whilst we all look forward to a return to normal, its great to see that a large event can still take place in relative safety and comfort. The Duxford Battle of Britain Air show on September 18-19th is now on sale and if you cannot make that a number of smaller flying days are also on offer at historic Duxford. If you have never been to an air show at this iconic location then do put it on your list, you will never forget your first visit.

 

Review by Lee Chapman