The Duxford Air Festival 2017 was the first of the three major air display events to be held at the Cambridgeshire airfield this year. With a strong lineup spanning almost the entire history of aviation, Adam Duffield headed to the Saturday of the two day show for AeroResource. Additional images from Duncan Monk.
An often-levied remark around any Duxford airshow is that the majority of participants are the same and, in some ways, that could be considered a fair statement. However, the May shows over the last few years have seen the home team try to mix up the participants and it could be said that the Duxford Air Festival 2017 represented one of the most varied lineups seen in recent years. With just eight of the 31 participating aircraft being Duxford residents, there were plenty of visiting display items from around the UK and beyond.
The static lineup at Duxford is also a bone of contention for many due to the additional cost involved with getting ‘up close’ – £6 for the Air Festival. With wind coming in from the south, it meant many of the lighter aircraft were positioned in to the wind leaving them tail on for photography – not ideal but understandable especially given the strength of the wind. Although the static line is built up almost entirely of flying display participants, it did see the welcome return for the the United States Air Force CV-22 Osprey of the 7th Special Operations Squadron based at nearby RAF Mildenhall. Joined by the spare Apache AH.1 of the Attack Helicopter Display Team (AHDT) at the fenceline, it was also a welcome sight to see that the public given the chance to look around these unique airframes without having to pay the additional fee for the flight line walk – a major correction to proceedings from the previous years May event.
Weather is often a major factor for displays during the earlier part of the season and although the Saturday of the weekend was graced with beautiful sunshine for the majority of the day, the early afternoon saw winds pick up with strong 35 knot gusts at 1,000ft causing difficult flying conditions. Thankfully, the flying display committee managed to make some minor amendments to the running order to minimise the impact from it. It was however no surprise to hear that the RAF Falcons parachute display team were unable to perform their jump and instead opted for a more traditional landing inside the aircraft at Duxford to greet the crowds. The windy conditions also led to the the Historic Aircraft Collection pulling their Sopwith Pup, which was due to make its display debut following a four year restoration, from the lineup. The final aircraft cancellation of the day was the Dragon Rapide but, with Sunday offering calmer conditions, all three items were able to perform in the display on the second day of the event. Regardless of the above, the display lineup still had plenty of interest for everyone.
One of the most well-known and iconic airframes to call Duxford home is of course the B-17 ‘Sally B’ which took to the skies with a ‘little friend’ in the form of TF-51D Mustang ‘Miss Velma’. After a number of formation passes, the Mustang peeled off to allow the Flying Fortress to take center stage for an evocative solo display. It wasn’t long before Richard Grace returned however to put on an exceptionally powerful effort of his own in ‘Miss Velma’ accompanied by the distinctive Mustang ‘howl’ throughout – a real highlight of the flying display.
Another sizeable and distinctive resident is that of Plane Sailings Catalina. A regular at Duxford shows, it’s a routine seen by many no doubt but still graceful and impressive to watch, especially with the wind catching the type’s impressive wingspan.
The final Duxford residents in the lineup, on the Saturday at least, were a pair of Supermarine Spitfire I’s operated by Comanche Fighters and the Imperial War Museum themselves. When compared to the powerful Mustang display, the Spitfire display, flown by John Romain and Pete Kynsey, was a poetically graceful routine of gentle formation aerobatics followed by a superb tail chase. With the two Merlin engines echoing around the Cambridgeshire countryside, the crowd and commentary team fell silent as they looked on – a perfectly executed way to end the days planned flying display.
Whilst that may have been the planned ending, the aforementioned strong winds earlier in the afternoon led to the Great War Display Team’s slot slipping in the the hope that conditions would improve later in the day. Thankfully, that was to be the case and the team were able to launch as the final display of the day. With eight aircraft present (3 x SE5a’s, 2 x Fokker Triplanes, 2 x Junkers CL1, the BE2c and the Sopwith Triplane) the display was their usual presentation of seemingly organised chaos with activity in every area of the display box during. With the inclusion of pyrotechnics in the display, albeit not to the level of those used by the AHDT, the team really do put on one hell of a show.
Three other display teams were also on the lineup for the event and all had something very different to offer. Piloted by ex-Red Arrows team members, The Blades aerobatic team performed their first UK display since returning from China where they won the inaugural Formation Aerobatics Championships. Like many others the team displayed during early afternoon’s strong winds, but despite this they put on a solid display although it did seem to lack some of its usual ‘punch’ during some sections. Also seemingly affected by the windier conditions were the Breitling Wing Walkers. With the two girls bravely strapped atop the wings in their debut display season, the display routine looked to have been restricted due to the weather resulting in many of the loops and rolls understandably omitted.
However, the final team appeared to defy the conditions and put on a precise and punchy display of the highest caliber. The Trig Team, piloted by Richard Grace and Dave Puleston in their Pitts S-1Ds, seem to have been less active over the last year or two but their performance was second to none on the day as they put the pair of diminutive biplanes through a routine that switched seamlessly between formation and opposition moves throughout.
Making its UK display debut at the show was a Noorduyn Norseman operated by the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation. Flying alongside Duxford’s resident de Havilland Beaver it was a chance to compare the similar designs of the aircraft which were both intended to operate from unprepared and often small airfields. The Norseman itself wears its ‘in-service’ markings from its time operating with the Norwegian Air Force during the late 1940s and almost all of the 1950s as part of the countries fleet of 24 aircraft.
With the Dragon Rapide unable to join it in the air, the Biggin Hill Shipping and Airlines de Havilland Dragonfly was left to fly a solo display. Whilst very similar in design, the Dragonfly is somewhat smaller and designed with luxury in mind. A beautiful looking aircraft in a glistening red scheme, a gentle but short display fitted perfectly with the other ‘30s era aircraft on show.
The last few years has seen the Bronco Demo Team apply special markings to their OV-10B aircraft and for 2017, these are the most extensive so far. Commemorating the First World War, the top side surfaces are emblazoned with the words ‘Lest We Forget’ and ‘1914-1918’ whilst a splattering of poppies run down the tail boom – all in support of peace and reconciliation whilst remembering those who sacrificed their lives some 100 years ago.
Making a rare appearance away from their Shuttleworth home were a trio of former air racers – a pair of Percival Mew Gulls (one original and one replica) accompanying the collection’s stunning de Havilland Comet for which the Duxford Air Festival represented the first landing away from Shuttleworth following its latest return to flight in the autumn of 2014. Starting with the Comet leading the Mew Gull pair, the trio split for their own routines. Those who are more used to seeing the at their usual display haunt would have immediately noticed the increased distance from the crowd line at Duxford but despite this, it was still great to see them supporting other shows and a potential sign of other aircraft from the Shuttleworth collection making future appearances elsewhere.
Over the last few years, Peter Davies and his Calidus Autogyro display has become a firm favourite at shows around the country. With an incredibly tight routine that kept him within the airfield boundary at all times, the nimble handling of the design was demonstrated perfectly in some of the days most blustery conditions. Whilst an Autogyro cannot technically hover, when Peter pointed the machine into the gusting 35 knot wind he appeared motionless as if to mimic this true rotary characteristic. Fantastic stuff indeed!
Making the comparatively short journey from their home base at AAC Wattisham, the Attack Helicopter Display Team in their Apache AH.1 is certainly a display that will catch your attention. Flying a single aircraft once again with for the 2017 season it was great to see them the inclusion of the pyrotechnic element for their Duxford display that helps visualise the operational maneuvers being presented. By far the highlight of their display (and an element that has been missed at previous Duxford displays) was the wall of flame ‘grand finale’ which caught many by surprise as it erupted on show centre.
Although Duxford displays tend to have a strong leaning towards warbirds it is normal for a small number of jet types to grace the lineup although, with five individual display acts representing machines from the cold war to modern frontline ones, Duxford Air Festival 2017 may be one of the strongest jet lineups in recent years.
Operating from Duxford for the 2017 display season and with a number of dates around the UK planned, the Norwegian Historic Flight’s MiG-15UTI was the earliest of the jet displays on show. With the silver ‘RED 18’ scheme representing Yuri Gagarin’s MiG-15 glinting in the sun, it can’t help be wondered what could have been had Duxford’s longtime resident F-86 been still present at the airfield to re-enact what would have been a common sight in ‘MiG Alley’ during the Korean War.
Many will be familiar with the Strikemaster solo display with Mark Petrie at the controls however new for 2017 is the Strikemaster pairs display. Whilst the second Strikemaster was not quite ready in time for Duxford, Ollie Suckling flew Jeff Bell’s immaculate Jet Provost T5 alongside the grey Strikemaster for their first official display of the season. With a number of formation passes before splitting for some opposition work, it was a good start for the team offering something different in civilian operated classic jet displays in the UK at this time.
A jet with rich heritage, Navy Wing’s de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 should need no introduction and was no doubt top of the list for many to see especially given its last display at the venue was 16 years ago! Although missing a few planned displays earlier in the month as engineering work overran, Duxford Air Festival saw an impressive return to the skies with a well thought out display routine showing every angle and demonstrating just a small fraction of the Sea Vixen’s power. Unfortunately, just a short time after the display, Cdr Simon Hargreaves was forced to perform a wheels up landing at its home base of RNAS Yeovilton following hydraulic issues. Whilst expertly handled by the pilot, it looks like the Sea Vixen could be be away from the display circuit for up to 2 years whist repairs undertaken. The importance of this classic jet should not be underestimated and we would urge everyone to consider donating to the ongoing fundraising in any way possible so that it can once more grace the skies at displays around the country – https://www.navywings.org.uk/support-us/sea-vixen-appeal-2017/
The remaining jet displays in the lineup gave a chance to witness two of the most advanced frontline fighters in the world operated by both the Royal Air Force and Armée de l’Air (French Air Force). Displaying early in the afternoon the RAF Typhoon display, flown in 2017 by Flt Lt Ryan Lawton, is one that needs little introduction around the UK. With cuts over recent years to RAF displays, it is now their only remaining fast jet display on the circuit and this year sees the return of a ‘standard’ operational grey schemed jet – it certainly set the bar for its French counterpart.
In a scheme that couldn’t be further from standard, the French Air Force Rafale C solo display aircraft really is a sight to behold. Its announcement as part of the display lineup was a pleasant surprise to many and a rare opportunity to catch it in the UK. In the hands of Capitaine Jean-Guillaume Martinez, the display simply eclipsed that of the Typhoon – and in fact, many fast jet displays seen in recent times – in all aspects. And it it is easy to see why with reheat engaged pretty much used throughout the entire routine as the jet whipped itself very tightly around the display area – the absolute highlight of the days flying.
Following the new display regulations introduced last year, Duxford has lost one of the most well-known photographic locations on the airfield – the Tank Bank. Although it could be said that this should only influence a small minority of visitors, the simple assumption is that the remainder of the crowd line should become more crowded. However, as with the same show last year, it just didn’t feel as busy as it should of. Trader stands no longer lined both sides of the main walkway instead confined to just the one side although extended slightly between the American Air Museum and Tank Museum. Prime fence line locations directly in front of the airliner collection, which is now crowd center, still had plenty of space throughout the afternoon especially towards the end when some were seen electing to leave early rather than wait for the shows tremendous ending of Sea Vixen, Rafale and Spitfire pair. The ‘advance ticket only’ debate is often cited as a potential cause but, with tickets still available online up until the night before the show, it really can’t be that much of a valid reason. The lineup of the Duxford Air Festival by all rights should have seen the airfield feeling a lot busier but, for those that did attend, they were treated to an excellent afternoon of displays covering almost every aspect of aviation.