With a participation list that promised one of the best shows for a long time, the Spring Airshow looked to be a fantastic start to the 2010 season at  IWM Duxford. Ben Montgomery and Phill Loughlin report for Aero Resource on what turned out to be a great weekend.

This year’s Spring Airshow was different from other years, in that it was preceded by another event on the Saturday before the show – “The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and Royal Air Force Today”. The whole weekend was the first event by Duxford to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and Royal Air Force Today

The idea of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the RAF Today was to enable visitors to see the legendary aircraft of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, including the Lancaster, Dakota, Spitfires and Hurricanes. It was also a chance to let the public get to talk to RAF pilots and ground crew and to have the opportunity to chat with Battle of Britain veterans, whilst experiencing life during the Battle of Britain through various re-enactments.

Arriving at Duxford early on Saturday morning, we discover that the BBMF aircraft, as well as Duxford’s Typhoon, were being moved into position on the Jet dispersal to allow the public access later in the day. This was a great touch by the Imperial War Museum and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, allowing the public to get far closer to these iconic aircraft than they normally would. The flightline “mini-walk” was open until 3:30PM, but the Battle of Britain themes didn’t end there.

The hangars and museums were all open and it was clear to see a huge effort had been made, with various costumed re-enactors on hand to give visitors a feel for what life during the Battle of Britain, and World War II would have been like. Back outside the arrival of the BBMF Lancaster, PA474, was eagerly anticipated. She immediately broke into a display, in bright sunlight. On her final pass, she lined up for the runway, with wheels down, before breaking away at the last moment due to the crosswind being out of limits. A real shame, as it would end up to be her only chance over the whole weekend, but it was great to see her gracing Duxford once more, if only for a fleeting visit.

On the parade square, there was a squadron of the Air Training Corps (126 (City of Derby) Squadron) being reviewed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Moran, Commander In Chief Air Power, who had flown in for the day to review the events. It must be said that the Cadets performance was a credit to themselves and the ATC.

Around the edges of the parade square were vehicles and equipment from RAF Wittering, with the RAF Bomb Disposal unit drawing huge interest. It was fantastic to see the level of interest that the public were showing to some of the less well known trades in the Air Force. The displays put on throughout the day (including demonstrations of the Logistics vehicles) were of great interest and went down very well with the public.

Throughout the day several more arrivals and practise displays occurred, including those of the Black Cats with their Lynx helicopters, Hunter “Miss Demeanour” and TF-51 “Miss Velma”. These are not covered in great detail here, as they flew as part of the airshow on Sunday, which is covered below.

The finale of the day was a “Sunset Ceremony” on the parade square, which was taken by ACM Sir Christopher Moran. Starting off with the band of the Royal Air Force, they gave a fantastic marching band performance, which soon attracted a huge crowd. As soon as they had concluded their performance, they marched off to the side of the parade square and halted. On came the Queens Colour Squadron, whose performance (in time to the RAF Band’s stirring music) was jaw-droppingly good! At the end of the parade, the BBMF put up a Spitfire and Hurricane, who performed a break over the airfield at exactly 5PM, bringing an end to the official activities, of what was a fantastic day for the public, the media and the RAF.

Duxford Spring Airshow

With a weather forecast that was promising rain for the afternoon, it was great to arrive at Duxford in perfect blue skies on Sunday morning. Of course, as always happens with airshows in the UK, this didn’t last, and by the time the Flightline walk commenced, the skies had completely clouded over.

Among the highlights on the ground were the RAF Hawk and Tucano display aircraft – in previous years although 2 aircraft of each type have attended, it is quite common that only one of each will be the display scheme aircraft. It was therefore a nice surprise to see that both Tucano’s and both Hawks were the display schemed aircraft.

As always with Duxford shows, there was a fantastic line up of classic aircraft. The participants included Spitfires and Hurricanes from the BBMF and other private operators, the B-17 “Sally B”, TF-51 “Miss Velma” and the TFC Sea Fury T.20. Despite the dull morning weather the crowds were not put off from paying to go out onto the flightline, indeed the marshals were kept busy with a constant stream of guests eager to get up close to these legendary aircraft.

With the flying starting at 2PM, and the flightline walk open from 10AM-1PM, there was a lot of spare time. Luckily the hangars are all open during the airshows. If you have never been, it is worth a trip to Duxford just to go around the museum and restoration hangars – there are some fantastic aircraft and stories there.

As everyone started to get settled down for the flying display, lunch was undertaken by many, with the inevitable erection of windbreaks and tents along the crowd line! Shortly before the flying display, there came a bit of news that everyone had been dreading. The threat of the ash cloud had been present all day, and at 12:30, there was an announcement that the RAF Typhoon display was to be cancelled, unable to fly out of Coningsby due to the threat of ash. Later, the Hawk and Tucano were also announced as no longer flying.  You could feel the disappointment among the huge crowd.

And so we all waited in limbo slightly, as the organisers frantically tried to juggle the flying display around to make up for these cancellations (luckily the BBMF were still flying). We didn’t have to wait for long, and at 13:55, a Spitfire and Hurricane pair launched to start the Duxford 2010 season. Another added bonus was that the weather had cleared up nicely, and the flying display started in sunny blue skies. After conducting a few flypasts as a pair and as singles, the two warbirds landed to make way for a much more modern, albeit slower formation.

A team from Marshalls Cambridge Aero Club, flying three Cessna 172s and an Extra 200 took off from the grass strip next, and performed several formation flypasts as well as a bit of display flying from the Extra. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, as it was not “high-octane” flying, but I thought it was great to see some flying from the General Aviation Community.

Displaying next was the BBMF Dakota, ZA947. This aircraft had in the morning flown to Coningsby to transfer the crew for the Lancaster, and returned before the flying started. This was somewhat of a good decision, as the Lancaster was unable to launch due to ash, and if the Dakota had been at Coningsby, it theoretically would not have been able to either.

The next item was another RAF aircraft, but one which most people would generally not associate with an Air Force, The Grob 115E Tutor T.1 display, from 115(R) Squadron at Cranwell. It was fantastic to see such a small aircraft, usually reserved for giving experience flights to ATC Cadets, showing off what it can do, even if the distance of the display and size of the aircraft meant photography was difficult.

Staying with the training theme, but moving back on the RAF timeline, next up were a Provost Pair, composed of a Percival Piston Provost, and a Jet Provost, of Cooke Aviation. Several formation flypasts were conducted by this pair, before breaking up into interlinked, but separate displays. It was a great idea to have two developments of the same design in the air together, as it helped to show the changing face of aviation.

Going back even further in time, the Shuttleworth pair were up next. comprising of a Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a, and a Bristol F.2b Fighter. They had arrived in the morning in time (after flying at the Shuttleworth Evening Show the night before) for the Flightline Walk, an addition which I’m sure was appreciated by a great many enthusiasts.

One of the attractions of Duxford airshows is that there is always a good chance of some rather impressive mixed type classic aircraft flypasts, or, as was the case for the next item, multiple aircraft of the same type. Taking to the air were a trio of Hawker Hurricanes LF363, a MkIIc from the BBMF, joined by Z5140, The Historic Aircraft Collections Mk.XIIa and the R4118, a MkI owned by Peter Vacher. They should have been joined by PZ865, also of the BBMF, but this was stuck on the ground with a minor maintenance issue. Three Hurricanes though is still not something to be sniffed at, and was one of the show defining displays.

Throughout the course of the day, the public were kept guessing as to what would appear next, due to the changes due to the ash cloud, with eager faces peering to try and see what was getting ready to display. It was therefore with some confusion that a rather brightly coloured White, Red, Black and Blue aircraft taxied out – the 2010 RAF Hawk Display jet. Helpfully at this point an announcement came through on the tannoy that the Hawk had been cleared to display again, and would be getting airborne momentarily. Excellent news! High spirits all round, and with them, came the sunshine. Flt Lt Tom Saunders managed to display in quite possibly the best light of the day – what a treat after not expecting to see him fly.

Sticking with incredibly bright aircraft, up next was one of the most beautiful British jets ever designed, the Hawker Hunter. This one, “Miss Demeanour” is in quite possibly the least historically accurate scheme around, which is possibly what makes her so amazing. Rolling hard to port in a trademark takeoff, Jonathon Whalley put the Hunter through her paces in a brilliant display, with lots of loud noises, fast passes and photo opportunities.

Back to the modern RAF again, for the next display. Although it was not really a display as such, but a Sea King HAR.3 performing what could be called a “Role Demonstration”. A casualty (simulated by some of the Sea King crew) was waiting on the ground to be picked up by the winchman, as would be typical in a standard sortie. The pickup was done very quickly, and was very impressive to watch, if a bit far away (although the people in the centre of the display line would have had a fantastic view!). Coupled with a few passes along the crowd line before landing, this was a welcome addition to the Duxford lineup, as well as being something a little different.

In the next half hour, the skies were graced by the presence of yet more ex-RAF aircraft, namely the Percival Pembroke, De Havilland Dragon Rapide, De Havilland Tiger Moth, North American Texan IIa, and the Hawker Sea Fury T.20.  Unfortunately, the weather was starting to close in, and apart from a few passes from the Pembroke, and the takeoff of the Rapide/Tiger Moth formation, the other displays were carried out under the cloud (or at least out of the sun).

Another un-cancelled RAF Display was up next, with Flt Lt Tom Bould taking the Tucano T.1 up for a display. This particular aircraft, ZF317 has been called the SpitAno, with it’s wingmate, ZF171 being termed the TucFire. In case you hadn’t guessed this is due to the display paint scheme for this year being in the colours of 92(F) and 66(F) Squadrons, who fought during the Battle of Britain. ZF317 is coded QJ-F, the code of R6098, of 92(F) Squadron, and flown by Group Captain B. Kingcombe DSO DFC(and Bar). Unfortunately, the Tucano displayed in possibly the worst light of the day, which was a massive disappointment, although we have to be thankful that the aircraft even made it into the air at all!

Taking a break from the RAF, the next item was the famous Royal Navy Black Cats from 702 NAS, on their first public display of the year. This year, Black Lead is flown by Lt Becky Frater in the Lynx HMA.8, with Lt Chris Chambers in the Lynx HAS.3B. As usual they perform a very dynamic display, with plenty of crossing wingovers, head to head flying and other various formation manoeuvres.

By now the weather had closed in and the light was all but gone, but we still had time for one last display. That item being a display by the F-86 Sabre, of Golden Apple Operations. At the September 2009 display, this display had coincided with the departure of Jonathon Whaley and “Miss Demeanour”, leading to a fantastic flypast. This happened again for the Spring Display, to the evident delight of the spectators. Miss D and the F-86 performed two flypasts and a break across the airfield, before Jonathon headed for home, and the Sabre broke to perform the last display of the day.

All in all, this year’s Spring Airshow more than lived up to expectations, even after being hit by the ash cancellations. The display directors must be applauded for adapting and overcoming such adversity, and providing the crowd with a feast of flying. Aero Resource would like to thank the Duxford Media Team who accommodated us fantastically over the weekend; your help was greatly appreciated!