2015 is a busy year for major Second World War anniversaries with May marking the 70th Anniversary of VE Day. At the forefront of airshows marking VE Day was Duxford with it’s opening event of the season, the VE Day Anniversary Air Show. It was a highly significant airshow for the Warbird restoration world with two major public display debuts, plus some very unique formations alongside some fine displays from the modern UK military and civilian acts. The show also saw a fond farewell to a military unit making its final public appearance at its local show
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author with video highlights from PlanesTV.com.
The airshows hosted by IWM Duxford are amongst the jewels in the crown of UK Air Displays. While Flying Legends may be a stunning occasion for piston powered heavy metal, the two other shows at the historic Cambridgeshire airfield more than hold their own as season highlights, particularly when allied to significant historic themes. Flying Display Director Jeanne Frazer always gathers together many wonderful aircraft to display, but also tell particular stories and this was more than evident with the VE Day Anniversary show which managed to capture many of the significant moments in the in the build up to the Second World War and some of the vital operations that led to victory in 1945 without forgetting the war in the pacific still raged on. This was supported by the superb commentary of Ben Dunnell that really made the set-pieces in the air come alive.
However, the VE-Day “Party” experience was in evidence throughout Duxford. The centre area between the hangars acted as a venue for a street party with bunting tied between lamp-posts picnic bench seating, gatherings of classic cars and military vehicles and live music.
The story of VE Day appropriately started with the First World War without which the 1939-45 war would started. Throughout the display, many of the aircraft featured at Duxford connections this was very true of the First World War section. Duxford was a training aircraft at the time and the RAF BE2e was one of types used in the role thanks to its very stable design. The BE2e in the flying display was one of the two operating by the World War One Aviation Heritage Trust currently based at Bicester Airfield and built by the New Zealand based The Vintage Aviator Limited. It flew with the Shuttleworth Collection’s Bristol F2b Fighter. Post war these were used by Cambridge University Air Squadron while it was based at Duxford. Completing the line-up was Rob Gauld-Galliers Neuiport 17 replica.
The inter-war years played a crucial role in the development of military aircraft and re-armament. One of the big driving forces in the development of aircraft were civilian requirements for speedy executive transport and air racing. This provide an opportunity for Duxford to present a very unique combination of inter-war types with the Fighter Collection’s Beech D17S Staggerwing leading the two Little Gransden based Spartan 7W Executives along with a replica Travel Air Type-R Mystery Ship racer. The latter is certainly a very eye-catching and lively perform in its black and blood-red racing livery.
Completing the inter-war scenario were the military aircraft. A familiar but always welcome sight at Duxford is the Shuttleworth Collection’s Gloster Gladiator, but it was rather upstaged by its flying companion, the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Fury I which was making its public display debut in the hands of Charlie Brown. It looks and sounds exquisite and was beautifully displayed. It wears the famous checkerboard markings of No 43 Squadron when based at RAF Tangmere in Sussex.
The early war years provided opportunities for more debuts. The Historic Aircraft Collection’s venerable Hawker Hurricane XII made its first public appearance in the markings of No 303 (Polish) Squadron as P3700 RF-E flown by P/O M Feric in September 1940. Following on was perhaps the most exciting debut of the day, that of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Bristol Blenheim. Now fully restored following a landing accident in 2003, the Blenheim has been reconfigured as a Blenheim 1F of the 1940 period with an original nose section. The nose section survived as it was converted into a homebuilt electric car post war! ARCo found, recovered and identified the nose structure for the restoration. The Blenheim has been finished in the original markings of the aircraft from which the nose section originates and is an outstanding restoration. Alongside the Blenheim were the two wonderful Supermarine Spitfire Ias operating by the Aircraft Restoration Company flown by Cliff Spink and Lee Proudfoot. Both are destined for new owners later this. P9371 will be auctioned by Christies in London with all the proceeds going to the RAF Benevolent Fund while N3200, which wears the markings of a Duxford based Spitfire, is being gifted to the Imperial War Museum.
Many different themes were covered during the Second World War period. Two periods of flying were dubbed “With the Armies and Navies” covering some of the more unusual missions undertaken by aircraft. Both the de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide and Avro Anson are often overlooked, but played an important role throughout the war supporting a variety of operations. They were brought together for an unusual pairing with Mark Miller leading in his outstanding Dragon Rapide and Ben Cox following in the Classic Air Force’s Avro Anson T21. Plane Sailing’s PBY-5A Catalina representing RAF Coastal Command and the USAAF Air Sea Rescue efforts too with a lovely solo routine on both days.
One of the outstanding displays of the days saw two incredibly different machines in a recreation of Berlin in 1945 when the commanders of the Third Reich were trying to evade capture. Peter Holloway’s Feisler Storch re-enacted the daring rescue mission with saw famous German aviatrix and test pilot Hanna Reich land a Storch in the streets of Berlin as the Soviet forces shelled and advanced deep in to city. Over the top Richard Grace flew a tremendous routine of low passes and soaring vertical figures in M Davy’s Yakovlev Yak-3M trying to down the very slow and agile Storch. So often the Soviet role in the final victory over Nazi Germany is often overlooked in Western events marking the war, yet is was so significant not least because it ultimately shaped the post 1945 world.
The Storch also flew in a salute to all the Army Co-operation types alongside Mark Millers Auster 5J1 Autocrat and Jeanne Frazer’s Piper L4 Cub brilliantly flown as ever by Dave Puleston. An additional item during Saturday’s display was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Douglas Dakota III which is a type that was vital to the war effort on all fronts during the Second World War.
The end of the war saw the jet age and also a resurgence in civilian flying. Classic Air Force’s Gloster Meteor T7 was displayed by Jon Corley to represent the early jet in a wonderful routine of sweeping passes which on the Saturday at least were performed under lovely sunny skies highlighting the post war silver training markings worn by the aircraft. The civilian post war flying section mirrored that of the interwar periods with aircraft representing transport and sporting aviation. This saw a routine involving the Aircraft Restoration Company’s de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver and Pete Kynsey’s Le Vier Cosmic Wind F1 racer flown by Richard Grace.
Civilian display teams added to the more celebratory flying. Saturday saw Alister Kay and Andy Hill of the RV8tors perform their wonderful routine of fast paced and smooth formation aerobatics. Both days also saw a rare performance by the Red Bull Matadors. With the Red Bull Air Race World Series firmly back on the sporting calendar, both champion air racer Paul Bonhomme and series flying director Steve Jones are less available to fly their amazing duo routine in the Xtremeair XA41s. Their display on Sunday was particularly impressive as they flew their display despite a light rain shower passing through Duxford right in the middle of their display!
No commemoration of VE Day would be complete with representatives of the modern day armed services. The Army Air Corps Attack Helicopter Display Team début-ed their 2015 routine which now incorporates a pair of AgustaWestland Apache AH1s. Sadly the layout of Duxford does not lend itself to the incorporation of the supporting pyrotechnics but nevertheless the pair gave a typically menacing routine of combat manoeuvres that were employed in recent operations in Afghanistan and Libya.
Another modern military rotary display marked a sad occasion, the final public displays from a RAF Search and Rescue Westland Sea King HAR3A from 22 Squadron’s flight based at Wattisham Airfield. The Squadron will disband in July alongwith the other military SAR units as their role is taken on by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Bristow Helicopters. Wattisham’s SAR Sea Kings have so often supported the events at Duxford so it good to see them one final time at this show before disbandment.
Also performing the first public displays of their 2015 were the RAF Typhoon Display Team with Flt Lt Jonny Dowen giving a powerful solo routine of the RAF’s current frontline fighter. It is a brand new display profile for 2015 containing several new figures showing off the incredible performance of the Typhoon right through the speed range and in different configurations. While Saturday saw Jonny fly the camouflaged Typhoon representing the Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane of Flt Lt Nicolson VC, Sunday saw the first public display involving the specially marked Typhoon which celebrates No 29[R] Squadron’s own centenary.
The display weekend was closed appropriately by the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows. It was the first weekend of public displays for the team which this year sported the new tail markings based on the Union Flag. 2015 sees a new leader for the team with Squadron Leader David Montengro taking over from Jim Turner as Red 1. It is good to see a new Red 1 bringing new in some new ideas and formations which include the nine-ship “whirlwind” and the “Blackbird”formation.
But it was the VE Day and VJ Day Salute formations of the warbirds that provide the show with fitting finale for Saturday’s show. While VE Day was celebrated in Europe, the allies were still involved in the final stages of the pacific campaign. The Fighter Collection provided three american fighters, all of which took part in the pacific theatre, the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat flown by Dave Southwood, the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair flown by Brian Smith and Curtiss P-40F Warhawk flown by Carl Schofield. Arriving in formation each fighter performed a solo display as a much larger formation of warbirds got into the air underneath. It was very reminiscent of the Flying Legends airshow and the build up to the Balbo, albeit on a smaller scale. As the Wilcat and Warhawk finished their solo routines, they departed to join the larger formation as Brian Smith filled the “joker” slot in the Corsair.
That larger formation was the VE Day Salute. It was led by Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress and formed up in full view of the crowd on the south side of the airfield. On each wing she had the Wildcat, Warhawk and three North American P-51D Mustangs. Following on was a second formation of some of the larger types with the Catalina joined by Aces High’s Douglas C-47A Skytrain and Phil Dinnington’s Beech 18.
Not only was this a formation to mark VE-Day, it was also a celebration of B-17 Sally-B’s 40th year on the UK display circuit and being based at IWM Duxford. It is also coincidentally Sally-B’s 70th Anniversary having rolled off the Lockheed Vega production line in 1945.
Following on from the formations, the three Mustangs put on a highly spirited tailchase. The Fighter Collection’s TF-51D Mustang Miss Velma flown by Pete Kynsey and OFMC’s P-51D Ferocious Frankie flown by Steve Jones were joined by the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s distinctive RAF shark-mouth P-51D Mustang flown on Saturday by Lars Ness and Sunday by Eskil Amdals . This particular airframe in no stranger to Duxford having been part of the Scandinavian Historic Flight as “Old Crow.” The aircraft has been subject to a lengthy refurbishment, part of which took place at Shoreham Airport and is great to see a Mustang appear in a new and very different colour scheme. Following the Mustangs, the VE and VJ segement of the flying was closed by an emotive solo display from B-17G Sally-B.
Duxford always producing great events, but the VE Day Anniversary Air Show really captured the spirit of the theme both in the air and the ground. The wonderful story telling through flying displays, supporting commentary and archive material made for a memorable event with many standout moments including several debuts, notable firsts and a very fond farewell.