With a varied line up and some of the best predicted weather of the 2012 airshow season, the Duxford Airshow 2012 looked like a promising event. Adam Duffield attended the Saturday display for AeroResource to see if it could live up to its potential.

Every year Duxford plays host to a number of airshows and events with the main IWM organised show being a two day event early in September. Despite clashing with a number of events around the UK over the same weekend such as the Victory Show at Cosby and Norwegian Wings over North Weald the pre-show line up was still strong with some very different displays to most other shows this year. The flying displays over the two days were also subtly different with a few of the main acts only flying once over the weekend leaving enthusiasts some difficult decisions on which day to attend.

The morning of any Duxford show is always dominated by a few arrivals and the flight line walk. With most of the aircraft having arrived the day before or actually based at Duxford only the Gnat team, KLM Liveried  Dakota of the Dutch Dakota Association and a search and rescue Sea King from Wattisham (on active standby duty) were left to fill the gaps on the grass. The static display included all the display aircraft along with a few other notable items. Having recently been placed on the museums aircraft disposal list, the Junkers JU-52 was on the flight line after many years tucked away in the hangers. Also present was the F-86 Sabre which has suffered this year with engine issues that have kept it off the display circuit and a Canadair CT-133 Silver Star that has recently been acquired from the Canadian Air Force by the Norwegian Air Force Historic Flight. With only enough time to replace the roundels and remove the Canadian markings, the aircraft was due to display but following some technical issues on start the display was cancelled and the only chance to see it in the air was as it departed back to North Weald at the end of the day.

The flying display was opened by a rare flypast from the US Airforce based at RAF Lakenheath. Originally scheduled to be a pair of F-15E’s it was changed just prior to the event to a four ship flypast of F-15C’s from the 493rd Squadron. The high, single pass was certainly a rare sight but was sadly over just as quick as it had started.

As can be expected with a display of this size, the RAF were in attendance with a number of their 2012 display teams both in static the display and air. The Hawk and Tucano displays were executed with the usual level of precision that has become accustomed of them and both aircraft looking stunning in their standout paint schemes in the blue skies present over Duxford for the entire day. Also attending, but not operating from the airfield due to other display commitments, was the Tornado Role Demonstration this year provided by 15(R) Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth. Due to limitations of the airfield, the use of the pyrotechnics that normally accompanies the demo was prohibited which left the commentator the tough job of describing the scheme without the visual aids that help focus the attention. Whilst the two aircraft, including the million hours special scheme jet, performed the energetic and captivating routine complete with low, loud and fast passes brilliantly it’s hard not feel that the lack of pyrotechnics left some of the public who may not have seen the routine before confused as to what was happening.
After a break of 4 years, Saturday saw a return of Vulcan XH558 to Duxford for one day only. At the hands of Martin Withers for the display, the iconic ‘tin triangle’ looked magnificent as it banked around the Airspace hanger for the start of its performance and had everyone watching the sky. With the only thing keeping the aircraft flying being public donations and potentially only one more season left for displays then any opportunity to see it perform should be welcomed however the display did seem somewhat held back when compared with those witnessed this year at other events.

With the Red Arrows only displaying on the Sunday, there were only two display teams on the schedule for the Saturday. The six Yak-50’s of the Aerostars team, in their differing colour schemes, displayed a very slick routine despite one of their aircraft being out of service and having to use a replacement with an inferior smoke system which was most evident during the heart manoeuvre where only one aircraft had a working system. The other display team were the Gnat pair who are rarely seen at many shows. The two aircraft, one in flight training school colours and the other in an early red arrows scheme, showed off the small jets very well and the parachute brake landing gave those at the tank museum end some different photo opportunities. With a third jet being readied to join the team in the near future this is certainly a display to keep an eye out for.

Regular acts at Duxford, the B-17 “Sally B” and Catalina performed their usual routines with the Catalina in particular looking stunning in the bright sunlight. With the BBMF Dakota having engine troubles in the week leading up to the airshow and therefore being unable to make it, the sole flying Dakota was that of ‘Drag em oot’ of Dakota Heritage Ltd which put on an amazing display that pushed it to some incredible angles.

Duxford shows have a rightfully deserved reputation for warbirds and this show provided some really unique formations and displays. The ‘Big Biplane’ formation of Dragon Rapide, Swordfish and An-2 was impressive and the Swordfish and An-2 went on to perform solo displays. To see an aircraft the size of the An-2 fly so slowly is certainly an impressive sight and the Royal Navy Historic Flights Swordfish looked good even on the static display line early in the morning with wings folded back. Not quite of the same scale but much more energetic was Anna Walker’s display in the Bücker Jungmann with its highly topical Olympic rings paintwork.

The Flying Legends show this year saw the first flight of SNAFU – the Fighter Collections newly restored P-47 Thunderbolt. Flying in formation with P-51D Mustang “Miss Velma” really showed off the sized of the Thunderbolt which was being publicly displayed for only the second time. TFC also displayed their Grumman Bearcat and Pearl Harbour surviving Curtiss Warhawk both of which were displayed with typically polished routines. Radial Revelations also displayed their T-28 Fennec with its distinctive paint scheme.

For many, the highlight of the show was always going to be the unique WW1 reproductions that had recently arrived in the country from New Zealand. Manufactured to incredible levels of detail by The Vintage Aviator Ltd the Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 and Albatros DV.a are only scheduled to appear at a very small number of airshows before being retired to the RAF Museum at Hendon. Having made their debut the week before at Shuttleworth in the hands of legendary pilots Gene De Marco and Kermit Weeks, the same pilots flew the aircraft alongside a Fokker Dr1 and Nieuport 17 in a display sequence that is likely never to be repeated after the weekend. Whilst these aircraft may not be originals, this was for many a once in a lifetime chance to see them fly and it is such a shame that their time in the air will be limited to only a few weeks.

A Duxford show would never be complete without the sound of a few merlin engines filling the air and the shows finale provided just that. A beautiful pair of Hispano Buchon’s started by performing a number of tight formation passes and tail chase sequences followed by a Spitfire Mk1a and Hurricane pair. A trio of Spitfires completed the section and left the final, and quite possibly the best, display of the day to the return of the Mk1a Spitfire. Piloted by John Romain it was truly a wonderful display and showed off the Spitfire in a way very rarely seen with low and fast passes that really demonstrated the performance of the aircraft and filled the air the wonderful merlin engine sound that so many know and love.

With the Sunday show line up including the Red Arrows and a unique formation of two Norwegian F-16’s and Vampires it’s fair to say that no matter which day you attended the show had something for every aviation fan. Some people complain at the entry cost for what is perceived by them as the same aircraft displaying over and over again at Duxford but, whilst some of the regular acts were obviously present, there were plenty of displays that are less common on the airshow circuit. It’s also important not to forget that Duxford shows aren’t just about the air displays. With 7 museum hangers to walk around, Classic Wings providing pleasure flights, a mass of stalls and even talks from retired Blackbird pilot Colonel Richard Graham there is plenty more to see than the packed 4 hour air display. The perfect weather, unique aircraft and stunning displays all combined perfectly into a wonderful show and the Duxford organisers will have to work hard to beat it next year.