With 2014 seeing the 70th anniversary of the D-Day operations in Normandy, it is apt that IWM Duxford, which to many is the home of historic warbird displays, chose to mark the occasion by dedicating their first airshow of the season to the subject. A number of the AeroResource team were present over the weekend to see what the show had to offer.
During World War 2 and in particular during the D-Day timeframe, RAF Duxford served as home to the 78th Fighter Group of the 8th Air Force and their fleet of P-47 Thunderbolts. Flying as fighter escorts during both the build-up and invasion itself, the crews played an important role in ensuring the allied victory during the offensive. Some 70 years on and now just a shadow of its former wartime base, Duxford hosted an airshow with the sole purpose of commemorating the events in the air during the largest single operation of the war. As with all Duxford shows, events in the air are always the focus however there was also plenty to see and do on the ground. The central area of the museum grounds was dedicated to a display from the modern day Army forces with examples of weaponry and vehicles that are in common use along with a static example of the Army Air Corps Apache – a rare opportunity to get up close to the UK’s most fearsome frontline attack helicopters.
Duxford is also known for having period dressed re-enactors wandering the showground to add a taste of history to proceedings and, for this particular show, a significant area next to the flightline walk entrance (which seems to be increasing in price with every show) was given to a display of the 6th Airborne Division living history group. This particular unit was instrumental during D-Day with members of the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry being the first troops on the ground during the assault having landed in gliders to undertake an attack on two strategically important bridges crossing the River Orne and Caen Canal, one of which is now more famously known as Pegasus Bridge after the emblem of the 6th Airborne Division.
In terms of flying display, the show was hosted over two days with little planned variation in participants. However, in much the same way as weather caused issues 70 years earlier, it once again struck on the Saturday of the show with heavy rain and cloud in the morning causing a few alterations to the schedule.
With the Fighter Collection being one of the residents of Duxford, they’re regulars during the flying display with their extensive collection of warbirds featuring prominently and this show was no different. Solo displays from their Grumman FM-2 Wildcat (G-RUMW) and Curtiss Hawk 75 (G-CCVH) were a joy to watch as always, especially the Wildcat (which returned to the skies in 2013) which was resplendent in invasion stripe markings, a theme that was common across the show. Another regular at Duxford shows, Boeing B-17G ‘Sally B’ (124485/G-BEDF), returned to the skies in its first public display of 2014 – a real triumph to the dedication and perseverance of the personnel who continue to keep it in the air through voluntary fund raising.
Providing more sedate displays, the slower but agile pairing of Piper L-4 Cub and Auster Autocrat showed the crowds the unique characteristics that made aircraft such as these invaluable to allied forces. Used as artillery spotters, they were able to fly over German positions and provide target co-ordinates and accuracy information back to the land and sea based gun platforms that were providing support to the troops. Whilst not directly involved with D-day operations itself, the locally based Dragon Rapide, in historically accurate camouflage markings, represented a type that would have been seen in the air above the UK at the time as both troop and civilian transport aircraft.
The BBMF collections are also regulars at Duxford shows and supported this one in a special way. The flights Douglas Dakota (FZ692) provided a solo display and, after completion on the Saturday landed at Duxford leading to a collection of five examples of the DC-3/C-47 type on the ground at a single time – quite possibly the largest single gathering that will happen for a considerable time at a UK airshow and an amazing sight to behold. Despite some technical issues with the planned aircraft, BBMF Spitfire PR XIX (PM631) also performed a solo display that included a rarely seen topside pass from the east end of the airfield much to the excitement and pleasure of many enthusiasts. The crowds on Sunday were also treated to a unique and fitting flypast from the BBMF Spitfire and the 2014 Typhoon solo display. Whilst 29 Sqn from RAF Coningsby have a specially adorned aircraft for the 2014 season, a recently unveiled example (ZK308) carrying invasion stripes was fittingly used for the Duxford show. Representing its namesake predecessor, the Typhoon formed up with PM631 (also wearing invasion stripes) for two well-executed flypasts in front of the crowd before the Spitfire landed allowing the Typhoon to enter its solo display.
Also representing the RAF was a flypast from an RAF C-130J (ZH889) from 47 Sqn based at RAF Brize Norton. With the type rarely seen flying at shows due to operational commitments it was a chance to see the modern equivalent of the C-47 transport aircraft. Rounding out examples from the current forces inventory was the Attack Helicopter Display team of the Army Air Corps Apache (ZJ173). Whilst the British Army played a crucial role during the landings, 2014 also sees the 100th Anniversary of World War 1 and for this year the Apache solo display aircraft carries markings on a port side body panel by the front cockpit position to commemorate this.
During the invasion, along with numerous other operations throughout the war, the use of glider borne forces allowed the allies to insert troops behind enemy lines whilst retaining an element of surprise. Although not always going perfectly to plan, unpowered aircraft such as the Waco, Horsa and Hamilcar proved their worth and were critical to the success of many operations. Unable to represent these types at the show, instead a large selection of varying gliders took to the sky to symbolise their wartime ancestors. Ranging from the older, open cockpit Slingsby Prefect and Cadet up to the more modern Pilatus B4 and Grob G109 motor glider, the sky was filled with gliders and their tugs in a series of flypasts before detaching and landing back on the airfield. Of particular note was the tandem tow of an MDM-1 Fox and Letov Lunak LF107 behind a Piper Pawnee. Both gliders are fully aerobatic and after disconnecting from the tug aircraft performed various manoeuvres before landing, something that is always amazing to see from unpowered aircraft.
A true highlight of the show was the warbird tail chase routine followed by the Old Flying Machine Company Mustang and Spitfire formation display. Comprising of Hawker Hurricane Mk XIIa (Z5140/G-HURI), a pair of Hispano HA-1112 Buchon ( ) and four Supermarine Spitfires – a MkV (EP120/G-LFVB), pair of MkIXT two seat examples (PV202/G-CCCA and ML407/G-LFIX) and Mk IX (MK912/G-BRRA) – the group of warbirds took to the skies together before the sequence started with the Hurricane flying in solo. A few passes later, the Buchons, masquerading as ME109’s, were soon on the Hurricanes tail as it tried to escape its pursuers. Help was at hand however as the four Spitfires came to save the day and split into pairs to tackle the two enemy fighters, eventually seeing them flee. Full of non-stop action this was one of the best tail chases sequences that has been seen at recent Duxford shows and was truly incredible to watch the mass of aircraft battling it out in the skies. Just as impressive was the OFMC pairing of Spitfire MH434 and Mustang P-51D ‘Ferocious Frankie’ flown by Alistair Kay and Nigel Lamb. An incredibly tight display with little separation between the two aircraft during the whole routine it showed just how good these two pilots are.
Representing France, the national display team of Patrouille de France made their first UK appearance of the year basing out of Cambridge Airport for the weekend. Flying eight Alphajets their display for this year appears to be busier than in previous years with a couple of new moves and almost constant action in front of the crowd.
The shows grand finale was certainly something that will hold in people’s memories for a long time to come. The Douglas C-47 Skytrain was a true workhorse during the war providing not only transport for personnel and equipment but also acting as a paradrop platform and glider tug. Whilst there are a few examples of the type in the UK, Duxford managed to secure two aircraft from the United States to take place in the show meaning a total of four D-Day veteran aircraft were in the sky at the same time. From the National Warplane Museum at Geneseo, New York, came ‘Whiskey 7’ (330652/N345AB) whilst making the slightly longer journey from Oxford, Connecticut was Tradewind Aviations ‘Union Jack Dak’ (224064/N74589). Both aircraft made the long and difficult trip across the Atlantic in order to take part in the numerous D-day events both in the UK and France and, joined by the UK based C-47s of Aces High (2100884/N147DC) and Dakota Heritage (Drag ‘em oot 2100882/N473DC), performed an awe inspiring display. Whilst ‘Whiskey 7’ went through a series of solo passes, the remaining three aircraft climbed to height in formation before the Parachute Regiments Red Devils Parachute team jumped just like their forbearers 70 years prior. The four aircraft then formed for a series of flypasts before breaking to land, bring the show to a close.
The events of 6th June 1944 marked a turning point of the war in Europe and the sacrifices of the many involved in the air, on the ground and in the sea are something that should never be forgotten. Whilst veterans of the operation itself are becoming fewer it is important to still remember the events marked by the D-day landings and Operation Overlord. IWM Duxford managed to put on an exceptional show that really encapsulated some of the aircraft types that took part whilst still retaining one eye on the current forces. Whilst at the fence line, an older gentleman remarked to this author that it wasn’t since the war he had seen so many Dakotas in the air and how wonderful a sight it was to see them again. Many of us can only imagine such sights as would have been seen 70 years ago, but the D-day anniversary show at Duxford tried its hardest to encapsulate this and give us all a chance to taken back to those days.