The 8th May 1945 – Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day as it is more commonly known, was celebrated for the 70th time earlier this month. Over the weekend 23/24 May 2015 IWM Duxford held its own dedication to those that fought both in the air and on the ground – The Duxford VE Day 70th Airshow. Duncan Monk reports.
Upon the defeat of Nazi Germany and the unconditional surrender of its Armed Forces on the 8th May 1945, huge celebrations reverberated around the world. In London over a million people took to the streets with thousands squeezing in to landmark areas such as Trafalgar Square and the Mall. King George IV and Queen Elizabeth were joined by Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the Balcony of Buckingham Palace much to the pleasure of the massed cheering crowds. Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) mingled incognito with the ecstatic crowds enjoying the sounds, sights and celebrations.
VE Day continues to be commemorated annually and in this, the 70th year, Duxford pulled out the stops with a spine tingling line up of aircraft both past and present. Along with ground shows and exhibits from the 1940s, the flight line walk was once again available to the public, on payment of a £6 supplement, which enabled you to get up close to many of the flying display aircraft.
Saturdays three and a half hour flying display was split up into themed sections with aircraft synonymous to each era displaying – although Sunday’s display was massaged around with notable differences, due to various aircraft departure requirements, along with the addition of the RAF Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows to close the event.
Although it was disappointing that the Synchro 75 pairing of the specially painted camouflage Typhoon (affectionately dubbed the ‘Hurriphoon’) and Spitfire were omitted from the VE show, (hopefully to appear later in the year during Duxford’s September Battle of Britain show) there was still the chance to see some current Royal Air Force frontline hardware in the form of the Typhoon FGR4 solo display, from 29(R) Squadron RAF Coningsby. In the capable hands of the 2015 Typhoon display pilot Flt Lt Jonny Dowen, the Typhoon opened the show on Saturday – and it was to be the Camo Typhoon FGR.4 ZK349 that was expertly put through its paces in front of an ecstatic crowd. On Sunday the crowds were treated to the sight of another specially painted Typhoon aircraft, this time 29(R) Squadrons red tailed centenary marked aircraft ZK353 used for the display.
After the noise, vapour and burners of the Typhoon on Saturday, the tempo was reduced drastically with the sight of Plane Sailings PBY-5A Catalina running in from the West. It was a much tighter, lower and very spirited display from that which had been witnessed at Abingdon a few weeks back, and certainly raised an eyebrow or two. Leading on from the Catalina, the Bristol F2B, Nieuport 17 and RF BE2 sauntered around the skies together with a very soothing display to an appreciative crowd representing some of the World War One types that still grace the skies of the UK.
Avro Anson WD413 and de Havilland Dragon Rapide G-AGJG formed up to represent two different types that were used during the war for Air Transport duties, and performed a number of formation flypasts. Representing aircraft types used as Air Observation Points for the Army during the hostilities were the Auster Autocrat and Piper L-4 Cub demonstrating their slow speed handling performance which made them so perfectly suited to the task.
The rare sight of a Travel Air Type R certainly gets your attention, in its bright red colour scheme, and it looks like a demented sports car with a huge radial engine adorned on its front. The aircraft was built for air racing in the USA and got its name due to being built in complete secrecy. It was nicknamed the ‘Mystery Ship’ by the local media, and the name stuck. It certainly has a unique shape and sticks out amongst the other types of that era that flew in this section of the display, namely a pair of Spartan Executives and a Beech D17S Staggerwing. A pairing of Gloster Gladiator and Hawker Fury represented some of the last biplane fighters used by the RAF. The Hawker Fury, flown by Charlie Brown, was undertaking its first public display since restoration work was completed and it is the only flying example in the world today.
One of, if not the, highlight of the show was the return to the skies of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Bristol Blenheim. After 11 years of restoration following a landing accident at Duxford, it has once again returned to the display circuit. Now fitted with a shorter nose typical of the Mk1 Blenheim it represents, it flew a graceful pairs display alongside two Supermarine Spitfire Mk1s. It certainly sent a shiver down the spine to see the Blenheim gracing the skies once more with an iconic Spitfire on each wing. Those who were hoping for a dynamic solo display as per the practises prior to the show were to be disappointed though, as the Blenheim was only used for the formation routine – as often seems to be the norm with new aircraft at Duxford. The amount of time and effort that has gone in to restore her to flying condition is testament to the dedicated historic aircraft movement within the United Kingdom, and long may that trend continue.
The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flights sole display for the VE Day show on the Saturday only was that of the Douglas Dakota ZA947 ‘Kwicherbichen’, putting on its usual polished routine with a number of passes, along with a very interactive crewman at the rear door.
An unusual combination saw a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch virtually hovering in front of display centre whilst Mark Davy’s ‘White-100’ Yakovlev Yak-3, in its distinctive light blue colour scheme adorned with a red star, went hell for leather along the display line before zooming up into the clearing skies, coming over the top and down for a number of thunderous fast passes. The display was styled as a representation of what may have happened in 1945 Germany, as the Russian forces moved in and the German military mounted frantic last ditch defences. It was certainly entertaining and showed the distinct abilities of two very different aircraft both in terms of performance and ability. Another seemingly mismatched pairing was that of de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and diminutive LeVier Cosmic Wind. With the Beaver performing slow turns close to the crowd the Cosmic Wind showed spritely performance and aerobatics that wouldn’t normally be expected of an aircraft so small and showed its lineage as an air racer.
The Army Air Corps showcased their inaugural 2015 pairs display of the Attack Helicopter Display Team (AHDT) at Duxford, now utilising two Apache WAH-64D Helicopters and sporting new ‘Gunship 1 & 2’ decals on the nose of each aircraft. Although this was a non pyrotechnic display (pyro’s will be used at RAF Cosford, RNAS Yeovilton and RIAT) the display was both dynamic and invigorating, whilst the crowd was given an informative commentary to explain what the aircraft were doing tactically. Based at AAC Wattisham, this is the team’s first display as a pair using the battle proven Apache, and the display does seem to work much better as a two ship – both as a representation of recent operations in Afghanistan and for the crowd, with a lot more going on to watch and enjoy.
In its final year of military service, the venerable yet dependable (not to mention iconic) yellow Sea King HAR.3 made a welcome, but brief return to the display at Duxford. Belonging to B flight of 22 Squadron and based out of AAC Wattisham, the crew put on a SAR role demonstration much to the delight of the crowd. However, it was to be the Wattisham unit’s final public display and will be sorely missed, not only by the crews that flew and maintained them once they retire for good, but each and every person that has been saved by the Military SAR Sea King over the years.
Two Aerobatic teams showcased their talents with very different performance aircraft. The Red Bull Matadors (Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones ) in their powerful XtremeAir XA41 aircraft gave a very polished performance with plenty of aggressive fast manoeuvres, utilising their smoke to good effect and battling the worst of the weather on the Sunday. The RV8tors in their Vans RV-8 lightweight aircraft were not to be outdone on the Saturday, once again providing tight formation aerobatics that have become their trademark. Despite the smaller less powerful aircraft, they are no less pleasing on the eye and provide a good contrast to the more powerful Matadors, proving that size doesn’t matter!
The Gloster Meteor is no stranger to Duxford airshows and the gleaming T7 example which belongs to the Classic Air Force based at Coventry Airport had the best of the weather on the Saturday. WA591/G-BWMF, flown by Classic Air Force chief pilot John Corley, stood out in its bare metal/silver scheme against the blue sky with a lovely flowing and swooping display which was equaled on the Sunday – but in much duller conditions.
Representing the VJ day theme, the P-40F Warhawk, FG-1D Corsair and Grumman FM-2 Wildcat of The Fighter Collection were put up and displayed as a three ship initially, before splitting for individual displays. It’s hard to say which was the better display as each pilot flew their aircraft energetically showing off their respective mount’s unique sound, shape and attributes with meticulous precision.
Another stunning highlight was the tail chase display involving three North American Mustangs. Initially led by TFC’s TF-51D ‘Miss Velma’ followed by the stunning Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s shark mouthed P-51D with the Old flying Machine Company’s P-51D ‘Ferocious Frankie’ in the rear, it was an impressive sight to see three examples of Mustang in close nose to tail action beating up the Cambridgeshire countryside. The pilot of ‘The Shark’ did a sterling job and stuck to Miss Velma’s tail like glue leaving Frankie languishing at times. It was one of those displays where you really had to put the camera down and just admire the sound and spectacle of men and machines in perfect harmony, a truly breathtaking display.
Closing the display on the Sunday only was the Royal Air Force aerobatics team The Red Arrows returning once more to Duxford for one of the first public displays of 2015. Featuring a new tail design for this year along with a couple of new manoeuvres the team never fail to disappoint with their close formation aerobatics. The Reds displayed just as the weather started to clear, and were able to smoothly convert their initially flat/rolling display to the full display as the cloud base improved.
One of the things Duxford does incredibly well is producing set pieces featuring mixed mass formations and the VE Show was to be no exception. Closing Saturdays show, and featuring early on Sunday was a VE day salute led by the infamous B-17 Flying Fortress ’Sally B’ which, is itself celebrating 40 years of flying in the hands of B-17 Preservation Ltd.
The salute consisted of two formations – the first led by the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B, followed by the three North American Mustangs plus TFC’s P-40F Warhawk. This was then followed by a three ship of twin engined types – Plane Sailings PBY-5A Catalina, Aces High Douglas C-47 Skytrain and privately owned Beech 18. Filling the skies with a cacophony of sounds, the two formations filled the skies with two separate passes before breaking to land individually.
Duxford has a habit of pulling something unique out of the hat at most shows and 2015, it seems, is still on form. The sight of the mixed fighter formation’s led by B-17 Sally B will be remembered for a very long time, as will the incredible three ship of Mustangs ripping up the skies in an invigorating tail chase. But the highlight was surely seeing the Bristol Blenheim back displaying in the skies above Duxford flanked by two Spitfires. With the charismatic Ben Dunnell once again providing his seamlessly informative and flowing style of commentary to the public and piecing the show together, the organisers should deservedly be patting themselves on the back for a job well done.
The biggest thank you though has to go out to all the aircrew, engineers and volunteers who gave up their previous time to produce this incredible show for the public. BZ.