After what seems to have been the usual British summer of rain and cloud, Duxford’s September Airshow managed to bring in the sunshine, the crowds and most importantly the flying! AeroResource’s Ben Montgomery was present on a scorching Saturday….
Duxford’s September show usually has a rather good line up, including a solid variety of overseas acts and static displays. This year was no different, with such static highlights as a Polish M-28 and Italian C-27 (which unfortunately later cancelled) being announced, whilst the star flying item had to be the USAF Air Combat Command F-15E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team, on their only European display of the year. There were also the huge line up of warbirds that characterise Duxford Airshows.
The first day of the show (from which this review was created) was certainly blessed by fantastic weather. A very cloudy start broke up by midday, and provided wall to wall sunshine for the rest of the afternoon, with only a few bursts of cloud (that luckily never seemed to go through during the photographic opportunities of the show!). With the weather came the crowds, and by the start of the flying program at 2PM, the field was very crowded – although not quite the same level as for a Flying Legends show. There was still a strong contingent of viewers in the fields opposite the museum, despite new “No Admittance” signs being put up – drawn in by the blue skies and great line up no doubt!
As already mentioned, the undoubted highlight for many was the F-15E Strike Eagle. Flown by the ACC Demo Pilot, Major Mike “Cash” Maeder and WSO Captain Stephen “Buda” Bofferding, from the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, the display was one of the best in the UK this year – a thought echoed by many of the audience at Duxford. Flying a borrowed airframe from the 48th Fighter Wing at nearby RAF Lakenheath, Major Maeder provided a crisp display, making great use of the smaller airspace available to Duxford – whilst at the same time providing the topside passes, vapour and burners that everyone wanted to see. The USAF Demo teams like to use variations of Rock music to accompany their displays, which causes some criticism – but the Strike Eagle managed to drown a lot of this out (so much so that the reviewer doesn’t actually know what song was used!) with its twin Pratt and Whitney F100 turbofans running at full thrust for most of the show! Ending with a vertical rolling climb up to 2 miles, the display left a lot to live up to from the rest of the acts (although comparing other displays to a Strike Eagle demonstration is unfair as they are in a category of their own). On the Sunday show, the severely damp weather only enhanced the display, with the Strike Eagle creating its own weather system for much of the display!
Aside from the Strike Eagle, there were also several other current military displays, from the British and French Military. Opening the show on Saturday was the French Air Force Alpha Jet solo display. After practising in a standard aircraft, it was great to see a specially painted aircraft marking 50 years of “Ecole De Chasse”, or Fighter School. This display has previously won awards at large shows such as RIAT, and again it was an outstanding demonstration of the aircraft’s capabilities. Unfortunately being the first item meant the sun was still in the wrong position for photographs, a real shame given the fantastic paintwork on the aircraft.
Back to the UK, Duxford saw displays from the Royal Air Force King Air, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and Sea King HAS.3, whilst the Army Air Corps was represented by the Apache AH.1. A first for Duxford, the King Air display (flown by Flight Lieutenant Leon Creese) has become somewhat reknowned for the “Blue Sky Moment” – it’s display at a damp RIAT 2009 to ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” created a stunning 10 minute window of sunshine. Happily with the weather at Duxford, no ELO-induced rain dances were required, and Leon displayed the aircraft in perfect sunlight. Another interesting movement came from the BBMF – regular supporters of Duxford shows, they finally managed to land the Lancaster at the field, after aborting several times on previous shows. The aircraft was parked on the Jet Pan, and was a great bonus for Sunday’s Flightline Walk. Whilst the Apache demonstration has been seen at a few of the larger shows this year, the Sea King is not quite so common on the circuit. Flying in from nearby Wattisham, the aircraft (from B Flight, 22 Squadron) performed a Search and Rescue demonstration, rescuing a young Pilot Officer from certain doom on the treacherous Duxford grass. The aircraft was also thrown around a bit, much to the satisfaction of the photographers at the M11 end (who couldn’t see the SAR demo in the centre of the field).
A strong civilian representation was also present (excluding the warbirds) – with displays from the SWIP Team, The Aerostars and The Red Hawks. On Sunday, Jonathon Whaley displayed Miss Demeanour, whilst there was also a demonstration of trailer top landing by O’Briens Flying Circus.
Finally, the warbird component of the show. A strong showing from “The Home Team” with displays from B-17G “Sally B”, Historic Flying Ltd’s Buchon, two Hawker Nimrods, a trio of Hawks (two P-40s and a Curtiss 75 Hawk), OFMC’s Spitfire LF.IXb MH434 and a two ship of T-28 Trojans. Unfortunately HAC’s Hawker Hurricane cancelled at the last minute due to serviceability issues.
As well as these local aircraft, also displaying at Duxford for the first time were the Vampire Pair from the Royal Norwegian Air Force Historic Flight – a T.55 and FB.6 model. The T.55 was present for the September show in 2010, but September 2011 marks the first display by this pair of classic aircraft. Some very tight loops and formation passes made this a clean, but slightly distant, debut – hopefully they will return next year!
As the show was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Supermarine Spitfire, it was rather fitting that it should end as September shows often do – with a mass flypast of Spitfires and ensuing tail chases. This year’s show sported 7 Spitfires in the air, whilst newly restored to flight Spitfire Mk.1A G-MKIA was also present on the ground. This tally does not quite reach the impressive 16 Spitfires that performed at the 2010 September show, but is still fantastic in its own right. The tailchase was made up from 5 aircraft (including 4 twin stick Spitfires!), whilst the remaining two aircraft performed fast passes, and formation loops and rolls closer to the crowd.
On a warm and sunny September evening, there was no better way to celebrate what could be Britain’s most iconic aircraft. Hat’s off to Duxford for once again providing a fantastic airshow.