Duxford Air Festival
The Breitling Jet Team
When the format of Duxford's May and September airshows changed in 2017, the Battle of Britain show in September soon became one of the circuit's favourites, with the right balance of consistency and novelty to hold the interest of enthusiasts and casual visitors alike. However, whether or not the 2020 May show hit that mark rather depends on what the visitor was
The May Bank Holiday show had previously been themed: a wide variety of subjects opening the skies to aircraft that would draw keen show-goers with niche interests as well as a substantial proportion of the estimated 6 million UK airshow visitors who have more universal taste. Since 2017 the theme of the May show has been simply 'Festival'. This has allowed a wide variety of aircraft types to display but hasn't quite found the catalyst that holds shows together. For airshow devotees this has been a shame, because the May 'Festival' shows have offered some great displays: they just haven't gelled into a great show. For casual and family visitors, looking for a wide range of decent displays and plenty of ground entertainment, the show will have lived up to their expectations.
There were plenty of individual 'highlight' displays at the 2019 Festival. Most obvious were the Breitling Jet Team, flying seven L-39C Albatros high performance jet trainers; back at IWM Duxford for the first time in 14 years. Had they been here at the 2018 show they probably would have made more impact, but whereas the Bournemouth Air Festival scooped their only 2018 UK display, in 2019 Duxford was one of several UK shows to book them, taking the edge off a little bit, even though their displays were as good as ever, through from their formation take-off to the finish with the team's firework bursts on both days, sandwiching some precision formation aerobatics and dynamic opposition passes. (... continued below the table)
|D-Day 75 Flypast (Sunday only)|
|Republic P47 Thunderbolt 'Nellie'|
|North American P-51D Mustang|
|F15E 'Strike Eagle' x2|
|Breitling Jet Team|
|Eurofighter Typhoon (RAF)|
|Strikemaster pair, G-SOAF and G-RSAF|
|Boeing B-17G 'Sally B'|
|Republic P47 Thunderbolt 'Nellie' (with F-15 on Sunday)|
|Attack Helicopter Display Team (AHDT) Apache AH1 (British Army)|
|Grob Tutor (RAF)|
|North American P-51D Mustang 'Contrary Mary' (formerly 'Miss Velma') G-TFSI (Anglia Aircraft Restorations) (with F-15 on Sunday)|
|Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1a G-CFGJ 'N3200'|
|Tiger 9 Formation Team|
|Westland Whirlwind HAR.10 XJ729 (Historic Helicopters - Duxford Air Festival debut)(cancelled - technical problem)|
|Percival Provost T1 (Provost Preservation)(cancelled. Replaced by Harvard)|
|Hunting Percival Jet Provost T.3A G-BWDS XM424|
|North American Harvard|
|Bader's Bus Company (Piper PA-28 Warriors - show debut)|
|Auster AOP9 (Historic Army Aircraft Flight)|
|Agusta-Bell Sioux AH Mk1 (XT131 G-CICN) (Historic Army Aircraft Flight|
|Westland Scout (Historic Army Aircraft Flight)|
|Beaver (Historic Army Aircraft Flight)|
|Miles Messenger x2 (flying with Gemini)|
|Miles Gemini (flying with Miles Messengers)|
|Most of the aircraft in the flying displays were also on static display and could be seen on the flightline walk before the show. In addition, an RAF BAe Hawk T1 and the Martin-Baker Meteor were on static display but not flying.|
More traditionally for Duxford there were excellent warbird displays, notably from Richard Grace in the Ultimate Warbirds' P-47D Thunderbolt 'Nellie B' and Andy Durston in their TF-51 Mustang 'Contrary Mary'. This pair know the Duxford airspace so well that they were able, as always, to take advantage of the bends at either end of the airfield to provide some of the really good close formation topsides that provide the incentive for enthusiasts to queue from the early hours to see displays from the best vantage points. The duo also rewarded visitors who came on Friday, in advance of the show, when they arrived with the Ultimate Warbirds' Buchón and Spitfire; providing a foretaste of the new Ultimate Fighters' foursome that is in prospect for later in the season
Martin Baker Meteor arriving on Friday
F-15 Pair on Sunday
It has to be said that the same pair were also involved, through no fault of their own, in one of the slight disappointments of the show. There was quite a lot of anticipation ahead of the Sunday opener when the publicity promised a pair of F-15E Strike Eagles from the 492nd Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath 'wing-to-wing' with the warbirds, bringing together aircraft from the war era and their modern counterparts. In practice, it was more like a pair of flypasts, with one pair followed after a respectful interval by the other. It is always great to witness USAF aircraft from nearby Lakenheath taking part in a UK airshows but the build-up; the Spitfire-Typhoon pairing of 2015 and the Mustang-based Heritage formations have, perhaps, raised expectations of bi-period flypasts rather higher than the version delivered at Duxford on this occasion.
As well as the Ultimate Fighters foursome, another treat reserved for visitors who anticipated the show on Friday was the arrival of the Martin Baker Gloster Meteor, which went on to bask on public display for the weekend. As always on the Friday there were also several displays, mostly to practice for the weekend but including others for the benefit of the pilot or a bonus for the crowd, such as an aerobatic interlude performed by Anna Walker in the Jungmann.
The British military supported the show with Tutor and Typhoon displays as well as the great rotary action we have come to rely on from the RAF Chinook team and from the Army Air Corps Attack Helicopter Display Team's solo Apache AH1, complete with pyros and wall of flame finale.
There was also a range of prime civilian displays, notably the Strikemaster pair with their very close formation and fast opposition passes; Tiger 9 and the Historic Army Aircraft Flight's quartet. No negatives there, but possibly not what enthusiasts have traditional expected from a venue like Duxford, synonymous with, and bursting with, vintage aircraft and renowned for displays with a difference, from home and abroad.
A couple of displays did stand out as novel. The Miles trio brought together a Gemini with a couple of Messengers and the Bader's Bus Company had three disabled pilots in Piper PA-28 Warriors performing their first ever public display.
Is this to be the long-term future of the spring show at Duxford? Probably. Two of their three shows, the Battle of Britain Show in September and Flying Legends in July, have a heavy emphasis on vintage and especially warbird types and are extremely popular with airshow fans. Understandably, the venue needs something else for its other show. For the casual airshow visitor this may well have been ideal. For the enthusiasts and other airshow regulars, it wasn't. Yes, there are the ground displays and museums, but they are there for the other Duxford shows, too. Yes, the Bader and Miles trios were new. But overall the mix was a bit like a seaside show without the sand. Seaside shows are free. The Duxford Festival isn't. For me, the Festival needed a bit more to please more than the average husband, wife and 2.3 children.
IWM Duxford Air Festival
Duxford's Spring Air Show is usually themed, with flying and static displays inspired by a subject chosen for the season. However, for 2017 the theme was simply 'Festival', celebrating the Imperial War Museum's 100 years with a huge variety of flying, mostly from the UK but with a significant contribution from abroad.
One such non-UK contribution was, arguably, the star of the show, raising huge applause from the crowds. This major highlight was the Rafale Solo Display from the French Air Force. Capt Jean-Guillaume "Marty" Martinez, in his second year as the Rafale solo display pilot, gave a spirited, high-energy display within a tight box, never out of the view of spectators. The spectacle was enhanced by the striking livery of the jet which did, let's be honest, make the British Typhoon appear rather bland. The Saturday display at Duxford was the first UK appearance by the team this season and one of only two UK shows to get the Rafale in 2017 - quite a coup for the Duxford team.
Sea Vixen on Saturday
Sopwith Pup, with GWDT in background
Mk 1 Spitfires
Another highlight was the Sea Vixen. 'Foxy Lady' had been due to fly at Abingdon a fortnight earlier but neither the aircraft nor the team were ready, principally because of technical issues. The Duxford Air Festival's Saturday display was consequently its inaugural public appearance of the year and the first display since it curtailed one in Eastbourne last August following discovery of an issue with a flap. The display by Cdr Simon Hargreaves was superb but unfortunately the aircraft suffered an hydraulic failure when it returned to base at RNAS Yeovilton and made a wheels-up landing. The pilot is OK but the Sea Vixen was damaged and was inevitably not able to return to display at Duxford on Sunday.
The rest of the programme went more-or-less according to plan but there were a few exceptions. A minor technical problem was soon fixed but an off-site traffic incident prevented the MiG-15 flying on Sunday - a huge shame for the crowd to miss such a great aircraft - but most of the changes affected Saturday's schedule. The wet start gave way to dry conditions by the time flying started but a wind around 20 knots, gusting to 25 knots, meant that the Falcons arrived in their Skyvan rather than jumping from it and both the Dragon Rapide and the Sopwith Pup stayed on the ground. Happily, for those who attended for the whole weekend, both were able to fly on Sunday.
The outing of the Historic Aircraft Collection's Sopwith Pup replica on Sunday, in the hands of Roger 'Dodge' Bailey, Chief Pilot of the Shuttleworth Collection, was its maiden public display. The aircraft represents N6161, from which some original parts, together with other original Sopwith factory and Sopwith Pup components, were incorporated in the 4-year re-construction by Retrotec, part of the Historic Aircraft Collection based at Duxford.
Another Duxford débutante was the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation's Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman. Not only was this the first flight of this particular aircraft at a UK airshow, but probably the first time any of this type has flown from Duxford since the second world war. Shows at Duxford are famous for displays of warbirds, especially the fighters and bombers that are better known to most attendees, but the Norseman was a Festival highlight both for its novelty and for the superb presentation of this relatively modest utility aircraft in its fresh Royal Norwegian Air Force livery. The Norseman is remembered as the type of aircraft in which bandleader Glen Miller went missing on his way to organise a concert in France, so the commentary was accompanied by the band's music and some speculation that Glen Miller's plane may have been lost because of carburettor icing or because it was hit by munitions being jettisoned from returning bombers. Flying with the Norseman was the Aircraft Restoration Company's de Havilland Canada DHC_2 Beaver, resplendent in its red, while and green civilian markings.
The Pup was the most anticipated, but not the only WWI replica flying, joined on the programme by eight of the Great War Display Team's aircraft whose upgraded display for 2017 began with tailchases in pairs against a background of pyrotechnics to simulate bombing, strafing and a WWI dogfight, ending with an opposition pass. Their display on Sunday was on slot, but on Saturday it was delayed to the end of the afternoon when the strong gusts had subsided sufficiently for the display to go ahead safely. Quite a logistical accomplishment to rearrange such a large display involving so many aircraft, and full credit to the pilots and the new Flying Display Director who has taken over the reins from recently-retired Jeanne Frazer.
One change that was not weather-related was the substitution of the second Strikemaster, which is not yet ready to display, by Jeff Bell's Jet Provost T5. Ollie Suckling flew the Provost and Mark Petrie the Strikemaster in typically fluent style, reminiscent of the Jet Provost pairs displays of the 2016 season.
It was novel to see the inter-war racers at Duxford. The world's only DeHavilland DH88 Comet from the Shuttleworth Collection, a two-seater designed and constructed specifically for the MacRobertson England to Australia Air Race, flew with the Collection's original, and David Beale's replica, Percival Mew Gulls. Frequently seen at the nearby Shuttleworth Collection airshows it is less common to see any of these classics away from Old Warden. From the same era, Dan Griffiths flew Shipping and Airline's Biggin Hill-based DH90 Dragonfly on both days, joined by Mark Miller in D & M Miller's Dragon Rapide in Sunday's kinder wind conditions.
Strikemaster and Jet Provost
There was plenty of family flying entertainment, too. The most polished display came from the impeccable Trig Team of Richard Grace and Dave Puleston in their striking yellow and black Pitts S-1D Specials. Their close-formation aerobatics are always a treat to watch but even anyone who is not a fan of light-aircraft aerobatics must surely have admired the skill of this pair, especially in the gusts on Saturday, which would have kept many teams on the ground.
Other light aerobatic displays came from the Blades, who did their usual thing; the Breitling Walkers who laid their normal smokescreen through which it was sometimes possible to see newbies Gina Marshall and Katie Hobbs atop the wings of their respective Stearman biplanes, and Peter Troy-Davies in the Rotorsport Calidus Autogyro. There is no doubting the skill of the pilot nor the flexibility of his autogyro, but we have to question whether a venue such as Duxford, with its long crowd line, is best suited to such a diminutive aircraft. The commentators, control tower and people in the posh seats were able to appreciate its gyrations, but it was a distant wonder to anyone beyond the central element of the crowdline.
Most of the aircraft were also on static display for a couple of hours before the flying started, so for £6 there was a chance to get really close to them in the flightline walk. Also on static display was a Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey, based at nearby RAF Mildenhall. Although there was no flying display, this huge tiltrotor did demonstrate its capabilities to those who happened to be in the right place at the right time and was in a spacious exhibition area where its crew were able to explain its flexibility as a vertical or short take-off, long range, high-altitude, high-speed blend of helicopter and turboprop aircraft.
Exhibited nearby was the Army Air Corps' AgustaWestland WAH-64D Apache AH1 supporting the first public appearance in 2017 of a flying display by the Attack Helicopter Display Team. As last year, the AHDT display was a solo but very impressive nevertheless, beginning with a role play in which the Gunship destroyed an enemy position in support of ground troops, sliding into an exhibition of the Apache's capabilities and ending with their signature 'hover in front of a wall of fire' finale - which you had to be crowd-centre to appreciate. On Sunday the display Apache developed a technical fault, but after a short delay the second example from the static display was pressed into service and the display went ahead.
The army were also a bit luckier than the RAF with the weather when it was their turn to demonstrate the service's parachuting skills on Sunday. The Parachute Regiment's Freefall Display Team, the Red Devils, jumped from a Britten-Norman Islander at 4,500 feet, not to a central point, but to various landing spots along the crowdline to give more people a chance to see them. During the display Cpl Mike French jumped with the Regimental Flag and LCpl Chris Sharman descended with a 2,000 Sq Ft Union Flag. But one of the most important deliveries was an engagement ring, with which the IWM's Executive Director, Graeme Etheridge, proposed to Catherine. She accepted.
|Flying (tap / hover over icon for more detail)|
||Rafale Solo Display (French Air Force) |
||Great War Display Team. Eight of the GWDT WW1 types displayed|
|Breitling Wingwalkers (pair)|
||Bronco Demo Team|
||Strikemaster pair Mk 82A G-SOAF (NWMAS) paired with Jet Provost XW324 |
|Sea Vixen (Saturday only)|
|DeHavilland DH88 Comet|
|Percival Mew Gull|
||Percival Mew Gull Replica|
||DeHavilland DH90 Dragonfly G-AEDU|
|B-17G 'Sally B'|
|RAF Falcons (Due Saturday but too windy to display)|
||Mustang TF-51D Miss Velma|
||Red Devils (Sunday only)|
|Dragon Rapide (Sunday only - too windy on Saturday)|
||Sopwith Pup (HAC) Sunday only. Wind above the threshold of 5KTS on Saturday|
|MiG-15 (Saturday only. Off-site traffic incident prevented display on Sunday)|
| x2||Spitfire Mk 1a x 2 (N3200 and X4650)|
|DHC-2 Beaver G-DHCZ|
|Most of the aircraft in the flying displays are also on static display and can be seen on the flightline walk before the show. Additionally, there will be static aircraft that will not take part in the flying display including:|
| US Air Force CV-22 Osprey |
In the absence of the Falcons on Saturday, the RAF's sole appearance was the first public display by the new Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 display pilot, Flt Lt Ryan Lawton. The Typhoon display evolves each year and Ryan's has built on Flt Lt Mark Long's 2016 display, keeping it in a tight space in front of the crowd yet still demonstrating the agility and responsiveness of the UK's primary swing-role combat aircraft.
As well as the flying, there were living history re-enactments, sounds of the era including live music and access to all of the museums on site. A bonus this year was a chance to see the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, designed and built in the UK, which is destined to achieve over 1,000 mph in a world land speed record attempt in South Africa and due to make its first ground run this coming October.
The pattern of the show this year was a departure from earlier Spring airshows at Duxford, which have followed various themes but have relied heavily on resident aircraft. This year the popular locally-based warbirds were certainly not forgotten: favourites Sally B, accompanied by Anglia Aircraft Restorations' Mustang 'Miss Velma'; Plane Sailing's Catalina and the Museum's Spitfire Mk 1a 'N3200' flying alongside Comanche Fighters' Mk 1a 'X4650' represented the Duxford-based contingent and its historical links with the US and Royal Air Forces; but the balance between resident and visiting aircraft was reset in favour of visitors.
The extent to which the audience appreciated this change will inevitably have varied. It should have answered those critics of spring shows in earlier years who have suggested a sense of deja-vu: same planes different order. On the other hand it will have disappointed fans of the classic aircraft that were invisible in hangars whilst family favourites commanded the airspace.
We think the organisers got it right. The flying list was available in good time for all to see, so those who wanted to see more of the resident warbirds will have known what to expect. There were still gems such as the Noorduyn, Sopwith Pup, Comet, Sea Vixen and Rafale to enjoy. If that was not enough they could save their energy for Flying Legends. Those local people who find it less easy to visit seaside shows will have appreciated the family displays. Either way, the 'same old ...' label could certainly not be applied to the 2017 Festival. With aircraft from most eras, including the first war, the second war, inter-war, cold war and modern; with no fewer than six jets on the agenda and several débuts, variety was the name of the game. It may not have pleased everyone but it was truly an air 'Festival' at Duxford.
The programme for the event was a rather hefty £8. It was well produced and very informative but one has to wonder how high the cost of a programme will go and how many more would be sold if it returned to the price levels of recent years. Add the cost of parking (£5), £6 for the Flightline Walk and the premium prices for refreshments, and this is certainly not a low-price venue.
Nevertheless, with flying stretched to the best part of five hours each day and plenty else to see around the museum site from early in the day until an hour or so after the last display, shows at Duxford may not be low cost but they do offer excellent value.