Set on the grounds of a former Eighth Air Force heavy bomber base, Old Buckenham Airshow 2016 made a welcome return in late July with two days of flying action. Whilst the 2016 show may not have had Hollywood royalty attending like the previous year, there was a promise of more horsepower on show than ever before.
One of just two official airshows to be held within Norfolk, Old Buckenham airfield is normally used to a steady stream of General Aviation visitors and onlookers however, for one weekend a year the airfield aims to bring some of the best aircraft displays around to the area. Operating as a two day event since 2013, the format for this year remained unchanged with the Saturday being a much more relaxed affair of just seven displays whilst the majority of the ‘big ticket’ items were lined up for the main event on the Sunday. Whilst this may seem strange, the Saturday does give a good chance for the public to take to the air in one of a number of aircraft (Robinson R-44, Stearman or Cessna 172 were available this year) which is not so easy during the much busier Sunday show.
As with a number of smaller events such as this, it’s not all about the flying side of things with plenty of ground based activities to look around. A wide range of classic cars were on show (although the definition of ‘classic’ for some may have been slightly tenuous!) whilst the ever popular military vehicles were also there in force. It is also worth mentioning the food at the show – one of the few attended where generic burgers and bacon rolls are replaced with much more appetising ‘street’ style food.
This years show also saw an important milestone for a new, permanent feature at the airfield that formally opened in March. Although the building structure was in place for the previous year’s show, the 493rd Bomb Group Museum now holds a key role in telling the story of the airfield and the flyers based at it during World War Two with a wide range of items and information boards being displayed.
With 11 acts down to display on the Sunday it gave a display just shy of three hours compared with the seven acts and just over an hour display on the Saturday. Local pilot Matt Summers has been a regular at the show over the last few years and returned once more with his two displays seen in previous years. In his home built Vans RV-8 (G-RVPL) he flew a smooth display of aerobatics complete with an intermittent smoke system adding to the visual effect. His second display in a very different aircraft, Jungmann G-WJCM, saw more sedate aerobatics flown. This particular machine may wear a German scheme that represents the type’s usage during the Berlin Olympics in 1936 but the aircraft was actually built during the 1950s by CASA of Spain and used in service with the countries Air Force for some years before finding its way in to private hands.
At smaller airshows, it can be quite rare to see large, multi-engined aircraft due to the expense of booking them – especially when ever tightening budgets need to considered. However, for the 2016 show, the organisers managed to secure not one, but two excellent displays from some bigger types. Making the relatively short journey from Duxford (like a number of the weekends items) was Plane Sailing’s Catalina (G-PBYA) and the instantly recognisable Boeing B-17G ‘Sally B’. Despite the short crowdline, both aircraft seemed right at home with their routines and appeared to be crowd favourites and, in particular the inclusion of the Flying Fortress was of huge historical significance with the airfield – given its USAAF links it was an especially welcome return for the bomber after an absence of over ten years.
Wildcat Aerobatics are no strangers to the airfield with it being the team’s home base. Flying a pair of Pitts S-2B in distinctive blue and white liveries, Al Coutts and Willie Cruickshank flew a routine consisting of both formation and opposition work in some challenging gusty conditions requiring Wildcat 2 pilot Willie to work exceptionally hard to stay in close formation.
Another Duxford resident making an appearance was a last minute booking of the Historic Aircraft Collection Hawker Nimrod II K3661 (G-BURZ) following technical issues forcing the cancellation of the Beechcraft Staggerwing which had been due to perform. Filling the gap, this rarely seen outside of Duxford biplane, was a real treat for enthusiasts as pilot Charlie Brown displayed it with gusto.
The final display act from Duxford came from Spitfire IX MH434, one of the most famous – if not the most famous – examples around and making a welcome return to the airfield. For smaller shows, just the addition of a single Spitfire display can make a big difference with the public due to the iconic nature of the type and the roar of the mighty Merlin engine which powered pilot Steve Jones through the sky to put on a typically polished display.
Whilst the Spitfire may be one of the iconic British fighters, the P-51 Mustang represents the same for the Americans. Norfolk is lucky to be home to two of the finest examples in the UK thanks to the presence of Hardwick Warbirds and it was from that stable that Maurice Hammond brought ‘Janie’ to the display lineup. A very different display sequence to that of the Spitfire, the Mustang was flown in a graceful aerobatic sequence, which included plenty of that glorious Mustang howl!
Slowing things down (to an almost walking pace at times) was a very tight display from Kevin Hale in Auster AOP6 TW536. An aircraft marking 70 years since it was built, it may have significantly less power than the rest of the lineup but still impressive especially when keeping the display within the airfield boundary.
Nigel Wilson is another Old Buckenham regular and was back once more for his exceptional Yak 52 display. Years ago, it seemed that there were numerous displays of the type on the scene but now they and their Vedeneyev 9 cylinder radial engine’s distinctive sound are somewhat rarer. Nigel also had an important part to play earlier in the day with the ‘Ted Devils’ parachute drop taking place prior to the main flying display. As Nigel flew circuits of the airfield, a back seat passenger launched a number of teddy bears at a target, each one being sponsored by a different local school. Far from the most entertaining display for the hardcore enthusiast but a brilliant way to help engage children in aviation at an early age.
The overall highlight of the show must go to Chris Burkett and Mike Williams flying the ‘Little and Large’ Extra duo. Having first performed together at the Little Gransden in 2013 this rarely seen display involves Chris flying his Extra 300 through an aerobatic routine whilst Mike flies a 40% replica remote control version of the aircraft alongside – mirroring every move. Formation flying can be challenging at the best of times however with one pilot on the ground, the skill and control of both pilots is exceptional – Chris calling all of the maneuvers from the air. A unique display on the UK circuit and one worthy of the attention that it brings!
Looking back on the show, the one thing that still struck is how relaxed the feel of the viewing area is. Perhaps it’s the Norfolk way of life but all those attending seemed to enjoy themselves even when the weather closed in later on the Sunday afternoon. It is far from the largest or longest flying display list on the calendar but securing items such as the B-17, Extra Duo, Spitfire and Mustang really does go a long way in attracting visitors. That said, whilst the show has a two day format there is certainly more value for money to be had by attending the Sunday with the longer flying display and far more to enjoy on the ground. In a difficult year for shows around the UK, it’s important for these smaller venues to keep striving for success in order to help inspire younger generations, and hopefully Old Buckenham will continue to do so in the years to come.