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Duxford America Airshow 2016



"Trying times for air show organisers..."

Batteries charged and Alarm set for a particularly early rise. The first Air Show of the season for this reviewer has arrived and excitement & anticipation are high. IWM Duxford’s “The America Air Show” has been designed to celebrate the recently transformed American Air Museum by displaying and embracing the relationship between the Great Britain and the United States through the years, with a display schedule detailing the rise of a close UK & US alliance over the years including “Forging an Alliance”, scenarios from the First and Second World Wars, Vietnam era displays and modern military displays in the form of the Patrouille de France (Saturday) / Red Arrows (Sunday) and Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 display from 29 Squadron based out of RAF Conningsby.

The full line up for the day’s proceedings could be looked upon as a pretty standard list, up to the usual standards set by the team behind the shows at Duxford, with a few notable stand out features including the KC-135 Stratotanker of the USAF based out of RAF Mildenhall and a Mitsubishi A6M Zero replica from Aeroretro, all of which signalled for an interesting show.


Upon arrival the first thing to greet this reviewer was a special visitor from RAF Mildenhall, the Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey along with crew from the 352nd Special Operations Wing of the USAF. An unusual and magnificent looking monster which was born out of special requirements for the US military for an aircraft capable of vertical take off and landing, but with the speed of a fixed wing aircraft to transport troops quickly.

For a lot of visitors to the American Air Show it was their first opportunity to experience the newly transformed America Air Museum, which had officially reopened on the 19th March after a major redevelopment. The museum not only holds a magnificent collection of US Aircraft from over the years but also tells the story of the people linked with the aircraft within the museum. The museum now holds 850 objects to accompany the aircraft including equipment, uniforms, personal possessions and photographs, each with their own story. Another special appearance at the show was the Boeing Scan Eagle Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Unmanned Air Vehicle, displayed by Boeing in the American Air Museum.

As 1.30pm crept ever closer Saturdays show day planned to kick off with a contemporary display from the Patrouille de France in their 8 Alpha Jets. Bang on time the team arrived in formation in what was a bit of a cloudy and gloomy sky meaning the display ability was limited to what could be considered a flat display; however the team managed to pull off an entertaining flying act including some tight close passes and breaks.

As the opening display was coming to an end the next phase of the display was beginning with the start of up of two Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a bi-planes and one Fokker DR.1, al part of the Great War Display Team. The trio put on a great display, with a surprisingly spritely cat and mouse chase for such aircraft along the crowd line to depict those early days of aerial combat over the fields and trenches of Western front during the Great War.

As the display moved forward, further vintage aircraft took to the air including the highly polished Ryan STA and the striking Boeing Stearman of Golden Apple Operations with its distinctive sound as the propeller tips reach supersonic speeds.

Next to fire up was the Augusta Westland Apache of the Army Air Corps based out of Wattisham Flying Station. A visitor last seen at Duxford in 2015 as a duo display team, the Apache quickly got into its display routine of rapid climbs and descents with a few notable top side passes thrown in.

The flying schedule was going according to plan and as 2.30pm arrived the next segment within the printed format was about begin, designed to display the forming alliance between the UK & the US. “America before Pearl Harbor” including a tight flying display from a trio of differently coloured North American Harvards, which was a drop in numbers by one according to the flying schedule. Along with the Harvards this segment of the flying programme also included a pair of Supermarine Spitfires in the form of Mk Ia of the IWM and a clip winged Mk LF Vb of The Fighter Collection, as well as a Hawker Hurricane mk XII.

The Second World War element within the flying programme contained a Duxford Stalwart in the form of the ever popular “Sally B”, Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, which ventured skywards and soon formed up with her “little friends” escorts in the form of a pair of North American Mustangs, a TF-51 and a P-51D. Quickly intercepted by two Buchons representing Me-109’s, the B-17 headed for home with a “smoke on “ pass, before landing back on the tarmac almost as soon as she got airborne. The ensuing tail chase between the axis and allied forces continued for five minutes or so until returning to home to free up the air space for the final piece of the first half of the flying schedule.

A special visit from the USAF soon appeared on the horizon from the East in the form of a KC-135 Stratotanker, a rare guest for one day only. The mammoth jet carried out a single pass with its fuelling probe trailing.

A break in the flying schedule allowed for a reflective look of what had taken place so far. Other than the hazy skies, there was a noticeable change to the flying displays. Elements of the flying did look to be further away and higher at times, but not massively. What was noticeable was the lack of top side passes aircraft were making and a lack of exuberance in the actual flying displays and patterns when compared to previous shows held at Duxford before the changes implemented by the CAA. Looking around on the show ground it was also obvious that on the Saturday at least there was an overall lower attended than at previous shows. For now it must be said that there are obvious changes to the flying, but one can live in hope that given time things may return to normal.

As the mid show break ended and the flying recommenced the crowd were treated to some spritely flying displays from the aerobatic LeVier Cosmic Wind followed by the de Havilland Canada Beaver of the Aircraft Restoration Company.

The next segment to get airborne was “The Hot War – Vietnam”, which hosted a treat of Vietnam era aircraft including The Bronco Demo Team, some rotary action from MSS Holdings Bell UH-1 Iroquois and Hughes OH-6A Cayuse, as well as the radial engined T-28 Fennic.

The Fennic was the first to display with a rather basic display, a little too far away from the crowd to get the full enjoyment. To follow this was the Bronco Demo team consisting of a Shorts SC-7 Skyvan and North American OV-10 Bronco which in this reviewers opinion was one of the stars of the show, taking off in formation and giving a brief pairs flying display before breaking and carrying out a semi solo display consisting of a dramatic Khe Sanh landing and brief stop before taking off again, whilst under constant air cover from the Bronco to depict a typical scenario developed during the Vietnam War at the Khe Sanh Marine base. The display was completed with a dramatic steep dived dual Keh Sanh landing from both the Bronco and Skyvan.

To complete the hot war the “Huey” and the” Loach” got airborne and started their fly in to the sounds of Wagner and Flight of the Valkyries. Always great sites to behold for any true aviation fan as both of these are extremely rare in the UK skies. Both airframes are “War Horses” having both served in the Vietnam War, with the OH-6A still bearing some battle scars from its days in “Nam”.

The skies of Duxford now awaited the arrival of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with their Douglas Dakota along with one of their Spitfires and Hurricanes from their extensive collection. Sadly due to starter motor issues the Dakota was unable to attend so the crowd had to make do with a display from Spitfire Mk XVIE TE311 and Hurricane IIC LF363 , which exercised both pilots close formation flying abilities, albeit it be at quite a distance.

A lengthy aerobatic display from the RedBulll Matadors in their Sbach aircraft gave a change of pace for spectators with some tight aerobatic formation flying, climbing to height and tumbling down in trails of their display smoke.

As the show moved towards the final few segments, the viewing crowd were treated to some fantastic formation flying from a pair of C-47 Skytrains representing troop support throughout wartime. The display included a tandem formation landing which swept in low from the West and down onto the grass landing strip of Duxford Airfield. A truly fantastic site and piece of flying.

The Penultimate set piece represented the pacific theatre of World War Two, including an allied fighter tail chase to take down a Japanese Zero Fighter in this case represented by a highly modified Harvard training aircraft. The allied contingent was well represented by a Curtiss P-40 C Tomahawk, a Grumman FM-2 Wildcat, a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and last but not least an immaculate Curtiss Hawk 75, all owned and operated by The Fighter Collection. The display itself included a lengthy tail chase, but unfortunately certain aspects felt a little flat and distant.

The show came to an end with a high energy display from the RAF Typhoon Display from 29 Squadron based at RAF Conningsby. The display felt like it came and went in the blink of an eye, perhaps due to the dramatic ramp up in pace from earlier displays in the day. Flt Lt Mark Long completed his display with a truly magnificent power climb, reaching high altitude in a matter of seconds before levelling out at height and heading for home.

As the show came to an end and the crowd began to disperse around the Duxford site it was clear that changes brought in by the CAA had reduced the amount of dynamic flying the crowds had grown used to at Duxford. With such changes being expectant in conjunction with levels of uncertainty within the air show world it may have accounted for lower than normal attendance figures. That being said, there was still enough activity, noise, smells and excitement going on to keep this reviewer occupied. It was clear that teams behind the planning at Duxford have been hard at work to ensure they meet new standards set by the CAA, whilst also trying to make sure the crowds get a worthwhile air show experience.

These are trying times for air show organisers and the best thing fans can do at the moment is support the air shows, continue to attend and try to understand that organisers are under pressure. All in all Duxford put on an enjoyable day, with extensive ground & static displays with varied flying displays from a range of different types of aircraft despite the restrictions operators and pilots now face. As the viewing audience we can only hope that things slowly return to normal over the course of the season and crowds continue to attend these shows.

Review by Jonathan Wintle

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