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Duxford Air Festival 2017

 

   
 

"...bootfulls of power, tight agile turns, speed and of course noise!"

The Spring Bank Holiday annually marks the start of the bigger air shows with the first of Duxford’s three scheduled shows.  This May saw the “Air Festival”,  a more family orientated show with a festival atmosphere designed to celebrate the excitement and thrill of flight with a varied line up of aircraft, demonstrating design through the ages with vintage examples from the great war display team through to todays tip of the spear frontline aircraft with the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 and Dassault Rafale.

 
 

This May’s show also commemorates the centenary of IWM Duxford, where work began constructing the airfield back in 1917, when the grass airfield became a strategic part of the air defence network of the British Isles.

As with all of Duxford’s shows the interest isn’t exclusively in the air, there is always plenty to see and do on the ground and throughout the museum, where full access to the extensive displays is all included within the ticket price of 29.50.  This years special ground attractions included a replica of the Bloodhound land speed record car along with its team, a chance to get up close with a Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey and an opportunity to meet the RAF Falcons Parachute Team.

Saturday saw some fantastic weather with glorious sunshine and bright blue skies, but some strong winds very quickly began to throw a spanner in the works with the announcement that certain elements of the programme may be rescheduled. 

The flying programme kicked off on time with an opening display from the North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco from the Belgium based Bronco Display Team, this year embellished with a poppy design and the words “Lest we Forget”.  Tony de Bruyn gave a spritely display in the Luftwaffe marked airframe before departing off for another display elsewhere. 

The strong winds prevented the RAF Falcon Parachute display team from making their jump into the showground, but the dedicated team landed in the Skyvan to meet their fans and give them the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the displays and what it takes to be a Falcon. 

Luckily the RAF Typhoon Display was able to move forward their timeslot and make a thunderous appearance from the left of the crowd line.  A firm favourite with many an air show goer, this years display seemed to be a little restrained, as a viewer from the ground it felt as if the display was holding back a lot of the power and focussed more on displaying the low speed manoeuvrability the airframe affords.

A Duxford regular, Sally B, the only flying B-17 Flying Fortress in Europe took to the skies along with a “little friend” in the form of TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma”.  The pair gave the familiar display ending with the crowd line pass from vintage bomber with smoke on.  Pilot, Richard Grace remained airborne in “Miss Velma” to give an extended solo display whilst the flight director reordered the programme, again due to strong winds experienced on the day.  That being said, all involved on the day worked together to keep the entertainment going.

The Air Festivals broad variety switched towards a rotary theme with the ever popular Calidus Auto Gyro, quickly followed by the Army Air Corps’ Attack Helicopter Display with their Agusta Westland Apache Mk I along with pyrotechnics.  The display demonstrated the airpower the Apache platform gives via a role demonstration depicting ground troops encountering enemy contact on the ground.  The pyrotechnics team had rigged up explosions to depict Hellfire missiles launch as well as canon fire.  It was fair to say the explosive finale was highly impressive and adds a unique dynamic not seen with many other displays on the air show scene.

 

Both rotary displays played heavily to crowd centre locations, with very little time spent with the viewers positioned on the ends of the display lines, which I feel was a little disappointing.

Variety was clearly the name of the game with the Air Festival with a number of aerobatic acts in the form of The Blades and the Trig Team in their Pitts Specials who both gave dynamic displays for the viewers gathered along the crowd line, but at times did feel a little far away and lost in the vast blue skies.

 

The weekend welcomed the Strike Master Display Team who performed a duo routine with their BAC Strikemaster Mk82a and Jet Provost T5.  Pilots Mark Petrie and Ollie Suckling gave a close and graceful formation display to the crowds with some dynamic breaks to crowd centre.

Jets of the Cold War were also represented with the stunning silver Mig-15UTI from the Norwegian Airforce Historical Squadron, which gave a stylish display with some great speedy passes along the crowd line displaying its gleaming body in the glorious sunshine that blessed the show.

Aviation’s golden age was represented with a clutch of classic racers represented with the a pair of Percival Mew Gull’s and one of the most beautiful aircraft currently on the scene; the de Havilland DH-88 Comet, owned and operated by The Shuttleworth Trust.  The trio performed a surprisingly lively display that really showed off these fantastic classics.

The flying programme held a distinctive rare treat for aviation fans in with two Bush Planes with both pre and post war examples in form Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman from the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation and a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver from the Aircraft Restoration Company.  I say a rarity because this was the first time a Norseman had been present at Duxford since the Second World War.  The pair displayed to the sounds of Glenn Miller over the speaker system to represent the unfortunate passing of Glenn Miller in an accident aboard a Norseman.

Next to take to the sky was some more Second World War heavy metal with plane sailings Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina.  The gleaming white flying boat took to the air and the two Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp Radial Engines purred their way through the sky, giving a gentle and elegant display giving views of top and bottom sides along with the opportunity to see the wing tip floats down.  With a relatively short display “Miss Pick Up” returned to the tarmac runway before taxying in along the crowds; a fantastic opportunity afforded to crowds at Duxford.

One of the stars of the show on the flying bill was another example of the de Havilland stable with the inclusion of Naval Aviation Limited’s DH110 Sea Vixen FAW2 .  The Navy Twin Boomer arrived from the left of the crowd, the distinctive shape looking absolutely stunning in the afternoon light.  Commander Simon Hargreaves put on a fantastic display, showing off some of the power and noise held within the twin Rolls Royce Avon Turbojets.  Unknown at the time, the display was tinged with a little sadness as on the Vixen’s return to base the 1950’s fighter suffered hydraulic issues and had to make a wheels up landing at home base.  Hopefully the team will be able to rectify any damage and the old girl will be in the air again later in the year.

The theme of jet power continued with the arrival of The French Air Force’s Dassault Rafale C Solo Display.  The flamboyantly painted display ship piloted by Captain Jean-Guillaume Martinez gave what can only be described as one of the best fast jet displays I have ever witnessed outside of the likes of RIAT, with bootfulls of power, tight agile turns, speed and of course noise!

Duxford wouldn’t be Duxford without Spitfires, and the Air Festival followed on the tradition with the inclusion of a pair Mk I types.  The classic fighters completed a simultaneous take off down the historic grass strip where 77 years ago similar Spitfires scrambled to defend the skies of the British Isles during the Battle of Britain. Pilots Pete Kynsey and John Romain showed off the classic shape of the Spitfire with a series of passes, loops and rolls bathed in the late afternoon sunshine.

Luckily as the day unfolded the wind had dropped enough to allow the Great War Display Team to take to the skies to close the show.  Always such an evocative sight the team performed wit the addition of plenty of pyrotechnics that finished off the display nicely.

The Air Festival was definitely a slightly new approach to the standard Duxford Air Shows, with the ground broken into Zones to give that “festival” feeling, and the diverse range of flying and static aircraft from WW1 era types through to modern day front line aircraft really gives a sense of there being something for everyone and a true sense of a celebration of flight.  Some more regular or hardcore air show goers may feel there was a slight lack of the crowd pullers, but that being said the show had two current front line aircraft and the Worlds only flying Sea Vixen, which for me is always one of the stars of any show it happens to be at.  There were a couple of acts that felt a little far away at times, but this didn’t dampen what was a highly enjoyable event.

 
There will be two further Air Shows throughout the summer at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, with “Flying Legends” scheduled to take place on the 8th and 9th July and the “Battle of Britain Show” scheduled for 23rd and 24th September.
   

Review by Jonathan Wintle

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