Billed as Norfolk’s premier airshow, the Old Buckenham Airshow returned on the first weekend of August to the small airfield in central Norfolk. Known for its friendly atmosphere, the show promised a 3-hour flying display including some items not seen at many other shows. Adam Duffield made the short journey to his local show to report for AeroResource.
Old Buckenham was a busy airfield during the war when it was home to the 453rd Bomb Group flying B-24 Liberators. Now, some 70 years after United States forces left the airfield, the theme for the show was set to remember those airmen that served alongside our own forces.
The layout of the airfield and available space means that ground aircraft displays are very much limited to space in between the display aircraft on the flight line. It was therefore down to non-aircraft related attractions to try to bring the American flavour to the ground area with large numbers of classic American cars (alongside many others) and substantial military vehicle displays that all enhanced the theme.
Of the small number of non-display aircraft though, one in particular stood out more than others did. In 1964, the James Bond film Goldfinger was released with Honor Blackman playing the role of aviatrix Pussy Galore. During the finale, the film has Miss Galore delivering an atomic bomb to Fort Knox using a Hiller UH-12 E4 helicopter. Following restoration work, this Hiller is now in the hands of a UK owner and was a central attraction alongside an Aston Martin DB.5. On the Sunday, Honor Blackman herself attended the show to be reunited with the Hiller for the first time since the filming had taken place and, prior to the main display, was treated to a flight around the local area. On landing and chatting with the pilot and owner, she even then took the time to sign one of the aircraft panels leaving a permanent reminder of the helicopters movie legacy.
Once again, the show occupied both days of the weekend with the Saturday offering a cut-down display lineup of eight acts as opposed to Sundays twelve . That is not to say that the first day was any lower quality than the second, but it gave a perfect chance for those wanting to avoid the much busier crowds of Sunday and still see the majority of the displays at a reduced cost.
Matt Summers is a local pilot based at Old Buckenham and performed two displays on both days of the weekend with very different aircraft. First using his Vans RV-8, which he displays under the name Vortex Aerobatics, Matt showed the capabilities of this homebuilt kit aircraft off very well with the intermittent smoke system enhancing the display. In stark contrast to the modern lines and performance of the Vans, his routine in the Bücker Jungmann showed that despite being a 1930’s designed basic trainer, it is an aircraft capable of much more.
Another pilot displaying multiple types was Nigel Wilson. His Yak-52 displays are often seen at shows around the UK and his yellow and white aircraft stood out brilliantly especially against Sunday’s blue skies. After stepping out of the Yak, Nigel also displayed and aircraft often referred to as one of the most beautiful biplanes ever built and the Boeing Staggerwing’s display, with curving top side passes, showed off its sleek lines perfectly. When parked before and after the display and the cabin door left open, a glimpse of the 1930’s opulence could be seen, with the full leather interior clearly showing the executive transport qualities it was designed for.
At the other end of the scale of 1930’s elegance was a real highlight of the display lineup – the Travel Air Mystery Ship. Designed for air racing and all out speed, it may not have the executive qualities of the Staggerwing but it is still an amazing looking aircraft from all angles. With typical American ‘muscle’ style design, the pilot’s cockpit view was clearly secondary to the airflow qualities that made it slip through the air at maximum speed – something that is clearly visible when on approach to land with the pilot having to lean to the side of the cockpit in order to gain a view of the runway.
With the show theme intended to honour America and the airfield’s wartime links to the country, there was a clear focus on American aircraft types. Simon Wilson, a Royal Navy Wildcat instructor and RN Historic Flight Pilot, displayed another basic trainer in the form of the Boeing Stearman. After climbing to height, the display showed its aerobatic abilities before slowly descending to give the crowds a closer view. With another example providing passenger experience flights (both before and after the show) it was a very good way of demonstrating its more advanced abilities. Also in the display was a beautiful Piper L-4 Grasshopper carrying the nose art ‘Miss Norah’ showing just why it was such a success as an artillery spotting aircraft with its slow speed handling ability.
Topping the list of many attending, based on the responses from the commentary team when asking visitors, was the appearance from two iconic and, for many, instantly recognisable warbirds that graced the display on the Sunday only. Making a low and curving fast pass, P-51D Mustang ‘Ferocious Frankie’ certainly didn’t hold back on making its presence known when opening the show. With Alister Kay at the controls, a highly energetic and aggressive display ensued that not only pleased the eyes but the ears too with plentiful amounts of the characteristic Mustang ‘howl’. Later in the day, Spitfire MkIX MH434 also made an appearance flown by Steve Jones with a similarly polished performance. The addition of these two aircraft alone is often enough to attract large numbers of general public visitors and their displays certainly pleased.
Also making an appearance on the Sunday only were displays from the RV8tors and Phil Burgess. With Alister Kay refreshed from his Mustang display and joined by teammate Andy Hill some super tight formation aerobatics ensued with fluid formation changes as has become the standard for this well-known team. Phil Burgess however may not be a name that airshow regulars recognise but the newly crowned British Advanced Aerobatic Champion was certainly one not to be missed! Flying a DR.107 One Design (G-RIHN), the display was full on and showed exactly the type of manoeuvres and precision that helped him gain that title and his appearance at Old Buckenham was also in tribute to a lost friend and aerobatics competition rival.
On April 22, 2015, during the airshow’s media launch event David Jenkins, a member of Wildcat Aerobatics, as well as a well-known aerobatic competition pilot and multiple time champion in the discipline, was tragically killed in an accident during a practice display. That day a husband, father and teammate was lost along with a friend to many around the country and beyond. David was a regular at Old Buckenham, not only through his work with the Wildcat’s but also training numerous pilots in the art of aerobatics in his role as a mentor. One of the nicest people you could meet, it was a mix of emotions for many as the airshow paid tribute to his life.
Whilst a minutes standing applause was observed by the crowd on Sunday, the Wildcat Aerobatics team flew alongside a third Pitts and a Mudry CAP-10 to perform a missing man formation flypast in their own aerial tribute to a lost friend and teammate. A touching sight accompanied by the continued applause from the crowd – it was a fitting tribute to a much loved man.
It was then down to Wildcat Aerobatics to perform their full display routine, no doubt a tough job following the flypast on the Sunday. With the team based at the airfield, this home show is a chance for them to display in front of many of their local fans. For the 2015 season, the team have returned to a formation pair’s display of Pitts S-2Bs, beginning with the two aircraft glued together in pair’s moves, they then split into opposition passes before rejoining for the Wildcat heart.
Given the circumstances earlier in the year, it would have been easy for the organisers to cancel the airshow. However, with the backing of David’s family, the event continued as planned and served not only to honour his life, but also continue to represent the historic American link to the Old Buckenham airfield. The display lineup may not involve the fast jets, large formations or high profile items that other shows boast, but it should not take away from the quality of display acts that are gathered. In fact, it’s quite refreshing in some ways to sit back and watch some more relaxed displays that focus on the ability and finesse of the pilot more than the amount of noise and speed that can be generated by the aircraft. The Old Buckenham airshow is an excellent family day out and, if in the area, certainly worth a look.
The author would like to dedicate this article to the memory of David Jenkins.