No one can accuse Duxford of failing to recognise it’s own history and indeed the history of aviation in the United Kingdom. Spring 2013 represented a key anniversary, marking 70 years since the 78th Fighter Group arrived at RAF Duxford – which the Imperial War Museum rightly used as the centrepiece for their Spring Airshow.
The Spring Airshow at Duxford marks, for many, the start of their yearly airshow season – and with weather forecasting showing a Bank Holiday weekend that would for once (bizarrely) be warm and bright, the 2013 display drew in very large crowds.
The anticipated highlights for many were The Eagle Squadron, and the first display of 2013 by the Red Arrows – flying as a full 9 aircraft formation after they were reduced to 7 aircraft for the 2012 season, following the loss of Flt Lt Egging and Flt Lt Cunningham during the 2011 season.
The Eagle Squadron
The Eagle Squadron, comprised of P-47G Thunderbolt, Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1 AR213, Hawker Hurricane Mk.1 AE977 and North American P-51C Mustang 43-25147 “Princess Elizabeth” opened the show at 2PM, with a Missing Man formation in commemoration of those American airmen who flew from the UK during the Second World War and never returned. It was a shame that whilst the flypast was intended to lead into a 1 minute silence (and was well publicised via the commentary), there were still plenty who chose to abstain.
The Hurricane and Spitfire in the formation have received new paint schemes as Eagle Squadron aircraft especially for the display, all four warbirds also wore the Eagle Squadron insignia on the port side under the cockpit. The four ship conducted graceful flypasts before splitting down into pairs (Spitfire/Hurricane and Thunderbolt/Mustang) for some more vigorous flying. This display also marked the first time that Razorback versions of the Thunderbolt and Mustang (i.e. – aircraft without the later bubble canopy) have flown together in the UK since the end of World War Two. The formation ended with a final flypast in the company of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” – a formation not to be seen elsewhere this year and likely to be one of this season’s definitive “moments”.
North American P-51C Mustang “Princess Elizabeth”
Painted to commemorate 42-106449 Princess Elizabeth (but displaying the airframe’s own code 43-25147 on the tail), the Mustang of 1st Lt William T Whisner who flew with the 487th FS, 352nd FG, as it appeared at the time of the D-Day invasion of France complete with D-Day stripes. The aircraft wears the blue nose of this Squadron, nicknamed ‘the Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney’. It carries squadron coding ‘HO’ to represent the 487th, and the individual aircraft letter ‘W’ sits on the tail.
The original Princess Elizabeth only wore her D-Day stripes for one day, as the aircraft was shot down by ground fire on 6 June 1944 over France. Another pilot, Lt Robert Butler, was flying her that day. He parachuted safely behind Allied lines and soon returned to duty, but the aircraft was lost.
Curtiss P-47G Thunderbolt “SNAFU”
G-CDVX is painted as SNAFU, the mount of 1st Lt Severino B Calderon of the 84th FS, 78th FG. Coded WZ-D, it carries the checkerboard nose markings used to identify the 78th FG and the writing SNAFU, alongside the artwork of War Eagle (the name & art applied by the previous pilot).
Supermarine Spitfire MkIa AR213
AR213 has received a new paint scheme for the Eagle Squadron display, to represent the mount of Pilot Officer William R Dunn. AR213 is coded XR-D for No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron, North Weald – XR the squadron code, and the D for Dunn! The paint scheme is the 1941 RAF day scheme. Usually the spinner and identity band would be painted sky color, but the Eagle Squadrons painted theirs white for ease of identification.
Hawker Hurricane X AE977
Especially for the Eagle Squadron display, AE977 has received a temporary paint scheme transforming it into P3886 with coding UF-K, which was a Hurricane of No. 601 (County of London) Squadron. American airmen Billy Fiske and Carl Davis both flew P3886, with Carl Davis using the aircraft to destroy 2 Junkers JU-87 Stukas on 18 August 1940.
The Eagle Squadron – Monday Flypast
On Monday 27th May, The Eagle Squadron – accompanied by Boeing B-17G “Sally B” and P-51D Mustang “Miss Velma” carried out flypasts over several of the key USAAF bases in East Anglia, commemorating the many American airmen who fought and died whilst based in the United Kingdom during World War II.
Accompanying the flypast in the backseat of “Miss Velma” was Colonel Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson, a World War Two Triple Ace who flew with the 357th Fighter Group “Yoxford Boys” from Leiston Field. Colonel Anderson achieved 16 1/4 victories, and was the leading ace of his Squadron, the 363rdFS. To commemorate this, Nordic Warbird’s P-51D Mustang wears the markings of “Old Crow”, Bud’s mount – an aircraft which saw him towards 116 successful missions. Bud flew for a local flight during the airshow on Sunday and spoke about his experiences with the commentary team, before taking to the air again on Monday with the rest of the Eagle Formation. “Miss Velma” departed the formation overhead and Leiston to land, and return Bud to his wartime base. At 91 years of age, Bud Anderson is still an active pilot – a true aviator in every sense of the term.
The formation took off shortly before 1200 and formed up for a single pass over Duxford departing the area to follow the route below. The details of this route are of the intended route, and are provided by Eagle Squadron Ops. It had been intended to perform the Eagle Squadron display over Duxford on the formation’s return, but this was sadly not possible.
CAMBRIDGE AMERICAN CEMETERY
The Eagle Squadron flew over Cambridge American Cemetery at 1200. Home to the UK’s only American WWII cemetery, the site near the village of Madingley provides a final resting place to more than 3,800 war dead, with a further 5,126 names listed on the ‘Tablets of the Missing’. For this section of the flypast, the Eagle Squadron was joined by Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B”. For more information visit:
One of only two active United States Air Force flying stations in the United Kingdom, and home to the 100th Air Refuelling Wing who currently fly the KC-135R. The 100th are the only permanently based USAF air to air refuelling squadron in Europe, and trace their heritage back to the 100th Bomb Group, or “Bloody Hundredth“, who flew with the 8th Air Force during World War II.
BODNEY – USAAF STATION 141
Situated in Norfolk, Bodney was established as an RAF base in 1940. The USAAF took over the field in May 1943 and laid steel PSP matting over the grass runway. It became home to the 352nd FG Mustangs. Other than the derelict control tower and a memorial, little evidence of Bodney’s past remains.
HALESWORTH – USAAF STATION 365
Purpose built in 1942, this Suffolk airfield was still under construction when the 56th FG’s Thunderbolts arrived in July 1943. Just a few miles from the coast, it later provided an ideal site for the 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron to pick up downed airmen from the North Sea in OA-10A Catalinas, warweary P-47s and specially adapted SB-17s. Halesworth’s concrete runways were torn up recently, but an active airfield museum & memorial remain. For more information visit:
Halesworth Airfield Museum
LEISTON – USAAF STATION 373
Just a few miles from Halesworth, RAF Leiston was allocated to the USAAF in 1942. Initially home to the 358th FG’s P-‐47s, it later hosted the 357th & their P‐51s. Col Bud Anderson flew his Mustang ‘Old Crow’ from Leiston and is looking forward to catching sight of his old base from the air once more. Returned to agriculture post-‐war, some concrete remnants survive including two hard stands (one of which was Colonel Bud’s!) that now house a caravan park. Visitors can pay respects at a nearby memorial, looked after by the Friends of Leiston Airfield. For more information visit:
DEBDEN – USAAF STATION 156
RAF Debden in North Essex was activated in 1937. Hard runways were laid in 1940 and the airfield was central to Battle of Britain ops, as an 11 Group sector airfield. From May 1941 to September 1942 Debden hosted the American pilots of No’s 71, 121 and 133 Eagle Squadrons. On 22 September the Eagle Squadrons were formally handed over to the USAAF, becoming the 334th, 335th and 336th FSs of the 4th FG and the first official American Squadrons on British soil. Debden is currently home to Army bomb disposal experts, the 33rd & 101st Engineer Regiments. Thanks to its military residents, the site is well preserved with many original buildings and intact runways. For more information visit:
Built during WWI, North Weald was an important station during the Battle of Britain. It also housed two of the three American Eagle Squadrons in the early war years, including Bill Dunn’s No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron. It remained in RAF hands throughout the conflict. Some of the original hangars remain standing, as does the Officer’s Mess. There is a small memorial and an airfield museum. For more information visit:
North Weald Museum
DUXFORD – USAAF STATION 357 (DX)
Located south of Cambridge, and dating back to 1918, Duxford is the best preserved airfield on the route due to its occupancy by the IWM in the late 1970s. Proving itself pivotal in the latter half of the Battle of Britain, Duxford was handed over to the 78th FG in April 1943. Home to three of the Eagle Squadron aircraft, IWM Duxford hosts the UK’s premier collection of vintage aircraft and will be the final destination on the flypast route. The fighters will arrive at 1331 and will finish the flight with an aerial display. For more information visit:
Imperial War Museum Duxford
As well as the Eagle Squadron, there was plenty of additional flying from USAAF warbirds – as one would expect from a Duxford show. Both resident P-40s flew during the display (presumably to be joined by the Curtiss Hawk 75, which had to abort on the ground). Whilst many do not give much stock to the recent Pearl Harbor film, it’s soundtrack is exquisite. It was a perfect companion to the P-40B display, the example on show being the oldest survivor of it’s type and one which was present during the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Visiting for the show (as well as for filming of “Monuments Men”, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon) were two Douglas C-47 Skytrains, and a pair of Piper L-4 Grasshoppers. Both types flew respective pairs displays – with the Skytrains making impressive formation takeoff and departures. The Grasshoppers, owned by Robin Roberts and FrazerBlades had the distinction of being the only aircraft in the display to conduct their entire display virtually within the airfield boundary – aptly demonstrating the performance which made them such effective observation aircraft.
Also making a welcome return to the airshow scene for it’s first display in well over a year was Golden Apple’s North American F-86A Sabre, the world’s oldest airworthy jet aircraft and the only airworthy example of the “A” variant. The Sabre had it’s first test flight in the hands of Cliff Spink at the end of February 2013, prior to which it had not flown for more than 18 months whilst the engine was overhauled. The display was, as with the aircraft, highly polished and included enough fast flypasts and smoke to keep the photographers happy. It also showed off the versatility of the aircraft – the clear blue skies accentuating the smoke trails from the engine when power was applied.
The only other jet action of the day (bar the Red Arrows) was from a Hawker Hunter T.7, flown from North Weald Airfield in Essex. The Hunter, WV372 (G-BXFI) has recently changed ownership, having previously flown with Hunter Flying, as well as being part of Team Viper for a short period (memorably during 2011 for the Hunter 60th Anniversary celebrations at RIAT and Kemble). The aircraft still retains II(AC) Squadron markings, with whom it flew after spending time at RAF Jever and Gutersloh.
Whilst Duxford shows would normally benefit from Royal Air Force displays such as the Hawk, Tutor and Tucano, the Spring show was devoid of all three – the former two as they are not being fielded this year and the latter as the Public Display Authorisation could not be issued in time for the show. Happily, the display Tucano was flown down from RAF Linton-on-Ouse, giving the public their first view of the 2013 display scheme. We look forward to seeing it in action later this year! Happily, the RAF were able to send the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – including Hurricane PZ865, now repainted in the colours of 34 Squadron, South East Asia Command.
Filling in the gaps left by RAF participation were a trio of teams now familiar to the UK Airshow circuit – the RV8tors, TRIG Team and the Breitling Wingwalkers. Duxford is probably on the upper edge of showgrounds they may be suitable for – their small and slow (relatively!) aircraft being better suited for smaller venues, but all three teams made the most of the weather and performed well honed flying routines. The Breitling Wingwalkers only sent a single PT-17 to the show, but were a crowd favourite as always being the only wingwalking team in the country.
And so it was left to the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team to finish the show. However, there was one more Eagle Squadron tribute left in stock, as the four fighters launched to form up and flypast the field in formation with the Red Arrows, who had similarly recently departed from Cambridge airport – a sight not seen since a similar formation with the BBMF at the 2007 Royal International Air Tattoo. Any act or flypast that can bring applause from a large percentage of the spectators must surely be something special indeed – and it certainly was. Having completed the flypast, the Reds headed off into a holding pattern whilst the Eagle Squadron recovered and shut down.
Duxford always has slight issues with the Red Arrows display, being close as it is to the Stansted airspace – and indeed whilst full clearance was initially given, this was later restricted to a lower level of clearance leading to the first half of the display being the “rolling” routine only. Happily, the airspace then cleared allowing the Reds to complete their display with the full routine.
As Duxford Airshows go, this was certainly one of the best of the last few years – good weather, paired with some varied and impressive flying drawing in large crowds. For those who missed the Eagle Squadron display this time round, it is anticipated that they will fly again at Flying Legends in July – what more excuse do you need to visit?
AeroResource were unable to attend the flypasts themselves, and so would like to offer their thanks to David Mackey, and to all those involved with making this article possible – in particular Rachel Morris (Eagle Ops) for providing the background information and to Esther Blaine of the IWM for arranging the access to The Eagle Squadron.