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Duxford Spring Airshow 2011

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Waking up at 5a.m. on Sunday 22nd May to the most dismal sight of rain and grey skies coupled with some very strong winds in South Oxfordshire didn’t exactly meet my meteorological ideals but the previous days forecast for Sunday was looking promising, so fingers crossed and off I went to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridge. Many regard Duxford’s Spring Air Show as the start of the display season. I arrived at IWM Duxford at around 7:30 where I met up with Airscene photographer Neil Darby from Tilehurst in the media tent. We were warmly welcomed and briefed on the days schedule, after the signing in we were offered Coffee or Tea and the early show stealer for me was the airplane shaped shortbread biscuits! (they looked like they were modeled on the DC3 Dakota) Hats off to whoever made them as they went down a treat after a two hour journey to get to the venue. The theme for todays air show is Celebrating women in aviation.

 

I decided to take a look around at what was on offer for the visiting public. The first item to catch my eye was the Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon Static display model. This was bound to be a huge attraction especially to the younger visitors as they could sit inside the cockpit to get a feel for what it must be like to be a pilot. Being able to sit in a full scale cockpit must instigate the dreams of many a youngster of becoming a pilot when they grow up (I`m still dreaming!). A quick visit to some of the vendors tents and there were some fine aviation prints, model and toy suppliers and a host of other aviation related paraphernalia to browse while waiting for the show to start.

On my walkabout I met a couple sat by a white Land Rover flying the Union flag for the charity Help for Heroes and there were a few other worthwile charities positioned around the show, but as it was early and no one was nearby I asked if I could take a shot of them and their Landy.

Moving on back toward the American air museum a cloud of dust was billowing from around the land warfare museum so made my way to see the tanks rumbling around there, by the time I walked up there and went to the entrance they had parked the tanks up and switched off. This was due to the amount of dust being stirred up and they had to stop as the strong gusty wind was blowing the dust straight down the spectator line thus making it a tad uncomfortable for those not only close to it but even further down. This was a shame as it would have made for some dramatic photographs but understandable. (No tank ride for me today then).

The Air Display begins……

Okay, due to the adverse conditions there were a few that were unable to participate, its always a disappointment when things like this happen but the weather conspired against the BBMF and some of the lighter machines.

First up on the runway is the Shorts Tucano from 207(R) Squadron of No1 Flying training school Linton on Ouse. Sporting a retro looking colour scheme of red white and blue chevron over the main silver paintwork and looking very photogenic if I might say. At the control stick was Flight Lieutenant Nathan Dale who was at one in the Tuc giving the Garrett 1150shp Turboprop a good workout.

As Nathan was taxiing back I was caught napping by the Air Atlantique Classic Flight Gloster Meteor NF11 who came in from my right over the land warfare museum. The Meteor which was once a target tug and is now painted to represent a Nightfighter in 141Sqn colours gave a spirited display with the streamers coming from the wing tips in almost every pass. For the photographers there were some great topside and head on opportunities to capture this magnificent example of early british jet engineering. His departure pass from the Airspace hangar end culminated in a superb roll out before returning to its home. Thanks to Dan Griffith for a memorable showing of this amazing Meteor.

 

Next up were the two Vans RV8’s of the RV8TORS piloted by Andy Hill and Alister Kay. The RV8TORS put on a great display in what are basically self build kit aircraft which are certified to +6G and -3G. Andy and Alister performed a close formation high speed smoke-on routine in planes that have a wingspan only twice that of an average kitchen worktop at 7.3m! Each plane emblazoned with the logo of the charity www.fly2help.org which aims to help families that have suffered life tragedy and the RV8TORS aim to spread the word of their “air smiles” events during the display season.

The display debut of VX281 Sea fury T20 from the Royal Navy Historic flight was in the air by the time I returned to my seat in the FOD enclosure with a coffee and what a sound from the Bristol Centaurus engine. The commentary said that the Sea fury shot down a Mig 15 on 08/08/1952 during the Korean conflict. I enjoyed every pass from the Sea Fury and as I haven’t seen this one perform before I noted that there was a sudden trail of smoke when inverted and upon taxiing there was quite a bit coming from the engine, I’m not sure if this is normal for an old warbird or not but I hope it was nothing serious or costly as I would love to see VX281 display again soon.

Zan Blundell was up there in the Yak 52, Zan the owner/operator of the powerful Soviet Primary trainer which is capable of every aerobatic manoeuvre you can think of. A grand show from one of the shows themed “women in aviation”. When taxiing back with assistants holding on to each wingtip I couldn’t resist a close up snap of the cockpit which revealed the pilot beaming from ear to ear, I guess she must have had a great time displaying the Yak’s prowess.

 

A short flight followed from Polly Vacher in the Piper PA28 Dakota with its Lycoming engine and lively Orange and Black livery, I had a walk around the Piper earlier and this aircraft is adorned with stickers, theres bound to be a great story behind them all, it is reminiscent of when you see cars with stickers on the back end of places the owner had visited.

One of the bigger craft, the Consolidated PBY Catalina, an impressive aircraft and I mistakenly identified it as a flying boat when I first saw it some years ago (I have got better, honest). Owned by Plane sailing, the operator of this beautiful example which is a definite crowd pleaser wherever it goes. Even when it is turning in the distance its imposing size and huge wingspan means you can get some really good sized shots of it with a modest digital camera. The Catalinas were an early example of a multi-role aircraft providing protection for shipping, bombing and air sea rescues. The sound from the two Pratt and Whitney engines always a delight to hear when coupled with the view of this well cared for example as she banks away from us.

Curtiss P 36 Hawk aka the Curtiss Hawk 75 was to give us more of the warbirds fix but as I was answering a call it took me a while to return due to a bit of a queue I missed this particular display.


The Breitling Wing Walkers were up in the Boeing Stearman with a very bright colour scheme and one that lends itself well to photography, the contrasting Orange and white scheme manages to stand out in even cloudy conditions. The girls brave enough to get on top of these were Danielle Hughes and Sarah Tanner, when the commentator asked everyone to wave back at the girls in the air a cursory glance over my shoulder showed quite a few hands in the air, can they really see the crowd waving back at them? I do wonder, but it’s a nice thought. In the programme it states that they will be seen by million people this year! That’s more than most rock stars will be seen. The one manoeuvre which really impresses me is the roller coaster, I’m impressed that the girls manage to hold on to their breakfast when being put through such a barrage of ups and downs twists and loops, close passes and to top it all climbing in and out of the cockpit, upon landing they still had a cheery smile for everyone, clearly made of stern stuff these two, I get vertigo on a stepladder.

Golden Apple have given the F86a Sabre something of a Tigermeet theme, maybe to co-incide with the RIAT 2011 NATO Tiger association as one of the themes for this years show, whether it will revert back to its former paint scheme after this years display season I don’t know but it was nice to see the tiger paint on the Sabre but personally I would have liked to see the whole jet done with the scheme or at least the whole top half, still the swept wing fighter looked pretty damn good during the display with Cliff Spink showing the crowd a fair view of the paintwork with a series of topside passes, loops, four point rolls and I think towards the end of the display a half Cuban eight? Cliff passed us by after landing and making his way back to the flightline walk with a grin like a Cheshire cat, clearly enjoyed the showing of the new paint scheme.

After the Sabre came a pairing of the Hispano Buchon “Yellow 10” a star of the movie “Battle of Britain” and the Hawker Hurricane of the Historic Aircraft Collection LTD which both gave what seemed like their own display, as the Hispano flew past the flight line the Hurricane was lining up on display centre and turning away to the west, I didn’t know where to look at times which is always good fun for a display, keeps you on your toes!

The P51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie paired up with Supermarine Spitfire MH434. With a series of formation passes and nice loops from the two with Alister Kay and Brian Smith partnering the old flying machine company warbirds. I always enjoy seeing and hearing the vivid Mustang with its brightly coloured nose, and the whistling from the gun ports coupled with the roar of the Packard built Merlin engine has a tendency to send shivers down your spine, although as it was displaying paired up with the Spitfire maybe they were backed off the throttle a bit as there didn’t seem to be so much as Ive heard before from Frankie.

Diana Britten gave us some fantastic stomach provoking manouevres in the CAP232 with the required grunt being delivered by the Lycoming 300hp engine, the crowd watched in awe as the CAP pitched and rolled went vertical as though it was going to do a loop but a bootful of rudder sent it spinning uncontrollably back towards terra firma before she gathered it up again to give us some more airborne excitement.

Duxfords spring show theme “celebrating women in aviation” would not have been right without the classic shape of my all time favourite Spitfire ML407 and Caroline Grace in charge of this well known crowd pleaser. Pairing up on the day with Caroline was Anna Walker strapped into Kennet Aviation’s fine Supermarine Seafire.

Flt Lt Juliette “Jules” Fleming took the BAE Systems Hawk XX245 for a good wringing out and we weren’t disappointed, after all the previous props it was nice to hear the thunderous echo of the Hawk reverberating off the American Air Museum during her show. The “dirty pass” was the only one where I managed to bag a shot of XX245 with total blue sky behind it otherwise I was too occupied trying to keep up with where she was in the sky!I was under the impression that the Hawk with “Jules” on board was the show closer and nearly started packing up when the 2 Royal Navy Black Cats Lynx took to the air, so I settled back down to watch the last display of Duxfords Spring Air Show, now this is the first time I’ve ever seen both lynx with the Black Cats paint scheme so I was quite happy about that, pirouettes crossovers and an Arial ballet were graceful as ever from the Lynx pair

To sum up it was a well put together show which catered for everyones tastes in aviation, although I did hear a few murmurs from some in the crowd that the aircraft were displaying too far away and too high etc. to some extent I would have agreed if it were not for the conditions on the day which more than likely meant that safety of the aircraft and public alike were an important factor. In past displays I have seen them closer and lower but that wasn’t going to happen today. The show is family friendly with something there for everyone and some very good photographic opportunities from the flightline walk, though some of the entertainment trade stands/rides seemed a little on the pricey side.

The show organizers deserve a special mention for re-arranging the schedules due to the weather playing its part in disrupting the original schedule, there were also a lot of behind the scenes volunteers who also play a huge part in the organization and running of the IWM Duxford shows so a special thanks goes out to them. Comedy moment of the day has to go to Anna Walker from the open cockpit of the Sea Fury being pushed backwards past the crowd line by a group of 6 museum staff she shouted “It’s the only way to travel” which raised quite a few laughs from the spectators. All in all a great show which leaves you wanting more……..and we will be there for more……Roll on Flying Legends!

 

Review by Ken Brannen. Photos by Neil Darby