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Headcorn Battle of Britain Airshow 2023
‘..like watching poetry in motion as two of the world’s most experienced Spitfire pilots performed a flowing, rolling display for the appreciative crowd’

With so many airshows having disappeared over the last decade, it’s very refreshing to see an event growing and maturing into a season favourite, the annual Battle of Britain Airshow at Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent doing just that. Hosted by Aero Legends, and now in its eighth year, the show mixes an intimate, garden party atmosphere with quality warbird action and a photographer friendly orientation! The heady sight, smell and sound of Spitfires, Hurricanes and much more taxing past the crowd line, virtually within touching distance, mixed with a backdrop of rolling Kent countryside, makes for an ideal experience.
The closeness of the aviation is a real plus point, the aircraft being so near that you can feel the throb of nine de Havilland Gipsy III engines in your chest as the Tiger 9 Display Team starts up. You can see the pilots up close and they’ll come up and chat to you after their display if you’re lucky. Or, if Rolls Royce Merlins are your thing, you can watch in awe as a pair of Spitfire IX’s flash past, roaring down the grass runway in a close formation take off.
This year’s event was run over three days, the Friday being set to start with an evening airshow interspersed with arrivals. Unfortunately, poor weather hampered proceedings and only a couple of acts were able to display. Fortunately, Aero Legends were quick to announce that ticket holders could come back on the Saturday or Sunday for free. Saturday saw better weather and the Sunday, when Airscene visited, delivered the best conditions in terms of sunshine, although the pilots had to work hard with a blustery off-crowd wind, a particular challenge for the lighter biplanes.
The show opened at midday with a ceremony of remembrance, including the poignant sound of the last post, reminding all of the importance of commemorating the events of the Second World War and their relevance in today’s world. Commentator Max Couch then took over as our guide for the afternoon, the display being opened by a bi-plane balbo led by Charlie Brown in Thruxton Jackeroo G-AOIR with John O’Connor in Tiger Moth G-PWBE and Richard Ward and Roger Bishop of the Stampe Formation Team in Stampe SV4Cs G-BPLM and G-AYIJ respectively. The Stampe pair performed a pairs display after the initial 4-ship formation passes.
With the first part of the balbo safely back on the ground, it was the turn of the Tiger 9 Display team to take centre stage, their engine start, warm-up and taxiing out being an integral part of the spectacle, alongside the synchronised engine cut at the end! Led by Jeff Milsom, the team’s mounts included G-ACDA, the oldest flying Tiger Moth in the world, and DH-82B Queen Bee LF858/G-BLUZ, the only flying example of this remote controlled target drone in existence. The team’s intrepid flyers ranged from ex-RAF Phantom, Lightning and Tornado aviators to Boeing 737 and 777 pilots, the team even boasting a medical consultant! With the wind buffeting the Tiger Moths, the team did a great job in holding their formations, including diamond nine, feathered arrow and delta, alongside a series of opposition passes.
Next up, the mournful sound of air raid sirens filled the air prior to John Romain swooping across the airfield in Aerial Collective’s Hispano Buchon ‘Yellow 10’ to signal the start of the show’s Battle of Britain sequence. Unable to resist this blatant provocation, Anthony ‘Parky’ Parkinson and Charlie Brown thundered down the runway in the Aero Legends Spitfire IXs TD314 and NH341 ‘Elizabeth’ in an exhilarating pairs take off. The classic elliptical-winged profile of the Spitfires could then be seen duelling with the smaller ‘Bf109’ until the intruder was duly dispatched.
Proceedings then mellowed a little with Nigel Wilson displaying 1942 built Beechcraft Staggerwing N17GL. The Earls Colne based machine has an attractive red livery and ‘Bohica’ nose art. This was followed by John O’Connor performing an aerobatic display in Harvard G-BGHU ‘Carly’ which was actually built as an AT-6C Texan, upgraded to T-6G configuration in 1950.

The iconic song of the Rolls Royce Merlin was the next highlight as the Aero Legends Spitfires were joined by the Boultbee Flight Academy’s MkIX RR232 ‘City of Exeter,’ flown by Neil Hutchinson. The fighters flew a three-ship formation display followed by a tail chase, the sky reverberating to the throb of the unleashed Merlins.

The sound of three inline, liquid-cooled piston engines was then replaced with that of four air cooled radials in even closer formation as Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’ entered stage left with Peter Kuypers at the helm. The display included a superb topside that was beautifully lit by the sun and concluded with the traditional smoke on pass, made in thanks to the members of the Sally-B supporter’s club. It was great to see the bomber in the air after the concerns over the recent Airworthiness Directive published on the B-17. This had seen ‘Sally-B’ back in the hangar at Duxford for checking of the wing terminal-to-spar chord joints. Fortunately, no issues were found and the machine was given a clean bill of health. It’s easy to take the aircraft’s continued operation for granted and the sheer effort and determination put in by Elly Salingboe and the team should never be ignored.

Something new to Headcorn, with the exception of the Red Arrows, then followed; the sound of jet noise! Aero Legends’ latest venture is Jet Legends; the chance to fly in a BAC Strikemaster out of North Weald. The Strikemaster is a weaponised, uprated and strengthened version of the Jet Provost trainer used by the RAF for many years until replaced by the Shorts Tucano in the early 90s. Aero Legends have just been granted Class 5 SSAC approval to fly passengers, the first customer flight occurring on April 25th this year. Flights are currently available in Mk.80A G-RSAF which is in Sultan of Oman Air Force colours, the aircraft being leased from NWMAS (North Wales Military Aviation Services Ltd). The second Strikemaster in the display, also owned by NWMAS, was Mk.82A G-SOAF.
As the Strikemasters finished their routine and Red 10 arrived in Juno HT1 ZM532, the sound of Merlins could again be heard, this time mounted in three Hawker Hurricanes. These were MkIIB BE505 ‘Pegs’ and MkI R4118 from Hurricane Heritage, piloted by Mike Collett and James Brown respectively, leading MkI P3717 ‘Hugh/Soph’ with Frank Chapman at the helm. Once airborne, the Hawker workhorses flew a three ship formation routine and then broke into their own tail chase providing a great opportunity to contrast the aircraft with the earlier Spitfire trio.
The scene was then set for Aero Legends’ final contribution to the display with C-47 ‘Pegasus,’ flown by Andrew Dixon, leading John O’Connor in the Harvard flanked by ‘Parky’ and Charlie Brown in the Spitfires, the quartet performing a series of formation flybys before the Spitfires broke off to perform a superb pairs routine. Perhaps a little cliché, but it really was like watching poetry in motion as two of the world’s most experienced Spitfire pilots performed a flowing, rolling display for the appreciative crowd.
The show was now drawing towards its finale and the RAF came to the fore, firstly with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster PA474 flown by Seb Davey. It was announced at the time that watching the display was 100 year old World War Two veteran Colin Deverall DFM. He had flown 34 missions in Lancasters and Stirlings alongside the repatriation of servicemen from the Far East in Operation Manna. That Colin was there added extra significance to the moment as PA474 displayed overhead.
As the sounds of the Lancaster’s Merlins faded into the distance, the scene was set for the show’s finale and Red 10, Squadron Leader Graeme Muscat, took the microphone to introduce the 2023 Red Arrows. At 5.30pm, the sound of 8 Hawk T1As filled the sky as the team arrived overhead and commenced their display. Unfortunately, the Arrows were only able to complete their rolling routine but nonetheless, it was an excellent end to what was an exceptionally well organised display.

Review by Andrew Critchell