There have been many celebratory airshows in this 70th Anniversary year of the Battle of Britain – but none so spectacular as the Duxford Battle of Britain show. Ben Montgomery was present for AeroResource.
Duxford is an airbase steeped in history, no small part of which is the relationship of the base to the Spitfire, and the Battle of Britain. In 1938, No.19 Squadron RAF was the first Air Force unit to be equipped with the new Supermarine Spitfire – an aircraft that, alongside the Hawker Hurricane – would be pitted in a struggle for the defence of the nation in the summer of 1940. With Netherlands and France falling to German forces, Duxford was placed at readiness for the possible invasion of the UK. 19 Squadron was moved to the nearby satellite airfield of Fowlmere, whilst 310 Squadron RAF, comprised of Czechslovakian pilots, arrived, along with their Hurricanes. Later in the summer, 242 Squadron and their Hurricanes transferred from RAF Coltishall.
As such, it seems only appropriate that Duxford should stage an airshow commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and what an event it turned out to be.
Many visiting aircraft were secured by the airshow – from a variety of nations that took part in the Battle. Some of the more interesting “modern” items were the De Havilland Vampire T.55 from the Norwegian Air Force Historical Flight, and a Belgian Air Force SF.260. The Royal Air Force also sent their Tucano Display, alongside the Red Arrows and the Typhoon (neither of which can land at Duxford).
Of course, the centre piece for this airshow had to be the vast array of Spitfires and Hurricanes in attendance, with 17 Spitfires (and Seafire), and 4 Hurricanes. In addition to these, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also provided another example of each, but on the Sunday of the show (of which the author was able to attend), neither landed. As well as the aircraft that are based at Duxford, visiting Spitfires came from overseas, including a rare visitor from Stichting Koninklijke Luchtmacht Historische Vlucht, – The Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight.
Many people choose to visit the airshow via private aircraft, with 34 booked to arrive on Sunday (only 28-29 turned up in reality). One aircraft that is a regular “private” visitor is the DC-3 of Martins Air Charter, which flies from Holland bringing over enthusiasts. The aircraft is often seen up to 3 times a year at various Duxford airshows. A huge thank you must go to the crew of the aircraft, for taking the time to explain what they do, and for providing a taxi ride to the far side of the airfield – giving a rather different view of the flightline walk!
The airshow unusually started a few minutes late – unusual in so far as the opening act were the Royal Air Force Red Arrows. Despite their slightly delayed arrival, the Reds provided a thoroughly polished performance. For the Saturday display, they were down to 8 aircraft, but back to the full complement of 9 for Sunday. Usually the star of most airshows, on this occasion the Red Arrows merely set the bar for later acts.
In a similar fashion to Flying Legends the next few acts comprised of Sally B, a pair of Mustangs and the TFC naval fighters – the Bearcat and Sea Fury (with others still being grounded). As always the Sea Fury and Bearcat were flown (the former by Pete Kynsey whilst Stephen Grey was at the controls of the Bearcat) very aggressively, and at low altitude – at times the two seemed to be faster than some of their jet powered counterparts!
Providing one of only two oppurtunities to get your “reheat fix” at this show, the Belgian Air Force F-16 Display was a welcome addition, with the aircraft flying from nearby RAF Mildenhall. (FA-110 provided the displays at Duxford, whilst last years display aircraft, FA-131, was used as a backup airframe). As has already been commented this season, the Belgian display is very dynamic, with lots of fast flying, and even more vapour. Although the F-16 is unable to land at Duxford, the display started from a “wheels down” position, as if the aircraft had just launched, and ended with a vigourous wing wave – a nice touch from the pilot.
The other fast jet display was, as previously mentioned, from the Royal Air Force Typhoon. 2010 is widely reckoned to have been one of the best years for the Typhoon display – with the aircraft being put through its paces to a greater extent than in previous years. Jack should write about this, as it was not there on Sunday.
One of the first “special” displays of the day was from four Hurricanes, and the Buchon (of which a second example appeared in a static only role). The Buchon performed a solo display before the Hurricanes took over for some formation flypasts, with the Buchon eventually breaking back in for a tailchase – with the Hurricanes being chased, which was a refreshing twist to the tailchase! Finally there was a solo Hurricane display, before the last aircraft landed. It was rather special to see four Hurricanes flying together, quite possibly the most for many years. It would have been even more amazing had the BBMF examples been able to join the formation – but 4 is still nothing to be sniffed at!
As well as the Red Arrows, the Battle of Britain Airshow also attracted two more display teams – the Aerostars, flying their Yak aircraft, and the Patrouille de France, who were only able to display on the Saturday show (due to commitments elsewhere on Sunday). The Aerostars were superb as always, and their display really suits a venue like Duxford – not too big or too small, the routine seems to fill the whole crowdline.
As with all Duxford shows, there were the regular mix of different classic displays – with aircraft such as the Gladiator, Harvard, Dragon Rapide and Catalina taking to the air, to name but a few. Another one of these individual displays was the RAF Tucano display. The paint scheme for this years aircraft has been widely commented on, and was very appropriate for this airshow. The two aircraft (ZF171 and ZF317) are painted in the colours of 92(F) and 66(F) Squadrons, which were both Battle of Britain squadrons. It would have been very nice to see a Spitfire in formation with one of the Tucanos, a sight that seems to have only been performed for RAF photoshoots, but not for public airshows.
Two more RAF acts took part in the Battle of Britain commemorations – the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the Hawk formation from 19(F) Squadron. The BBMF were fantastic as always, and the display (as with most displays at this airshow) seemed more vigorous than many seen before – especially the hard banking pass from the Lancaster at the start of its solo display. The Hawk display item has been seen previously as part of the Battle of Britain commemorations at RIAT, but was seen at Duxford as a standalone piece, as part of the lead in to the Finale. Five Hawks were expected to take part, but only 4 flew on the Sunday – a T.2 leading 3 T.1s, all from 19(F) Sqn. The formation performed several flypasts, and on the final one, a single T.1 pulled out high as a “missing man” tribute.
As the Hawk pulled out, there was a minutes silence (which was not well observed at the M11 end of the airfield – perhaps due to the lack of a speaker at the end to announce it). It seems that in other areas of the airfield it was better observed. After the minute, there was a mass launch of the Spitfires, which had been prepping during the Hawk flypasts and during previous displays. As with many parts of the coming display, there was little choice but to put the camera down and watch the spectacle.
Whilst the Spitfires formed up on the far side of the airfield, the Bucker Jungmann and Jungmeister displayed, but it seemed attention was firmly fixed upon the distant fighters. After the biplane duo had landed, the finale began with a mass flypast of all 16 aircraft, in 4 diamond formations. The four sections then peeled off and flew past again in line astern, before breaking down into different sections. 5 of the aircraft (including three T.8 models and the Dutch Historic Mk.IX) flew up and down the flightline, with hard breaks at each end. A two ship flew along the flightline slightly farther out, looping at the end, before returning in the other direction to do the same. Whilst these were going on, the remaining aircraft were in the distance performing continuous infinity loops. As mentioned earlier, trying to photograph this display was almost impossible, as the sky was filled with Spitfires, and viewing the performance through a Camera viewfinder severly limited your awareness of what was happening.
As the mass formation finally came to an end (too soon it seemed – the scheduled 19 minutes disappeared in a flash), a single Spitfire came forth to perform a solo display. There was only one aircraft that could be used in this role – the legendary MH434. By this time the sun, which had refused to fully break through during the full display, had come out, providing a fantastic end to the evening.
On reflection, Duxford has managed to pull of possibly the best tribute of the year to the Battle of Britain, trumping earlier efforts by some of the larger shows such as RIAT. Formations of Hurricanes and Spitfires performing mass flybys and aerobatics was a perfect display – and the history of Duxford made it all the more poignant. A huge well done to all the Duxford team, for producing an almost perfect display.