Duxford Air Festival

Duxford Air Festival

The late May bank holiday weekend saw the first of IWM Duxford’s major airshows of 2019. The Duxford Air Festival is aimed at families with a diverse afternoon flying display and a number of ground attractions brought together to inspire the next generation into aerospace, engineering and aviation history. The show also marked the 75th Anniversary of Jet powered aircraft entering service with the Royal Air Force.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the Author.

There have been many changes at IWM Duxford recently. The three main airshows at the Cambridgeshire airfield have been augmented with many other aviation themed events. Already in 2019 there have been a handful of aviation showcases which have seen small three item  flying displays taking place during normal museum days plus the General Aviation Safety Day which is an event that looks set to be expanded in 2020. There are also plans for some very different aviation events throughout the season with the “Vintage Evening” on 22nd June showcasing the work of the Historic Aircraft Collection and the Daks Over Duxford event in the lead up to the D-Day 75th Anniversary commemorations.

Behind the scenes Duxford is also increasing its involvement with the display industry through the British Air Display Association and also in the training of new personnel involved with the planning and execution of flying display. Aviation and Display flying will remain and become an even more important part of Duxford’s future.

Duxford’s new direction is perhaps most noticeable in its airshows which have been re-branded since 2017. The Flying Legends Airshow organised by the Fighter Collection remains but the May show became the “Duxford Air Festival” and the September show the “Battle of Britain Airshow.” The latter focuses more on commemoration and heritage whereas the Air Festival is very much aimed at inspiration and a younger generation.

The marketing for the Air Festival is certainly very different with social media videos involving presenters from Red Bull and 4Music. While this may not enthuse some of Duxford’s more traditional audience, if they succeed in attracting a new, young audience to Duxford and other airshows then that can only be positive outcome for the future of Duxford and display flying.

With no overriding theme to the Duxford Air Festival, the event had a very broad range of attractions in the air and on the ground. The conservation portion of the AirSpace hangar was opened up for a small and diverse exhibition which included contributions from Rolls Royce, Jessops, National Air Traffic Services and the Civil Aviation Authorities “DroneSafe” scheme. The area also included Beatboxer Randolph Matthews who gave some aviation inspired performances throughout the day.

The flying display brought together a very diverse range of aircraft new and old. Opening Saturday’s display was the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 flown by Flt Lt Jim Peterson for the second consecutive season. It is rare for a RAF solo display pilot to return for a second season and Jim has really developed his display for the new season which is great to see. He was joined in the display by Flt Lt Neil Owczarkowski flying the Grob Tutor T1. Neil’s display is completely different and involved a lot of complex rolling manoeuvres and really kept the flying in tight to the display line. The Boeing Chinook HC6A display also returned to Duxford. This year 18(B) Squadron has taken over display duties led by display captain Flt Lt Jim Turner. Though the display has changed little from previous years, the Chinook remains an impressive sight in a flying display.

There was significant involvement from the Army Air Corps. Their history was celebrated by the Historic Army Aircraft Flight with their unique four-ship display of Agusta/Bell Sioux AH1, Westland Scout AH1, Taylorcraft Auster AOP9 and de Havilland Canada Beaver AL1. Bringing the story right up to date were the AgustaWestland WAH-64D Apache AH1s on static display and in the flying. 2019 sees a welcome return for the Attack Helicopter Display Team which was off the circuit in 2018. Their display is a mix of role demonstration and general handling ably supported by the superb pyrotechnic team from Event Horizon.

If there was a prize for the most inspiring display of the afternoon, it had to go the Bader’s Bus Company Display Team who were making their public flying display debut at Duxford. The team comprise of three pilots who all have various disabilities and are the first such team in the UK. Though many will scoff at the thought of a display of three Piper PA28 Cherokees, their display is so well presented through the combination of their flying, their story and the especially commissioned music that it deserves attention. The idea for the team came from a joint project between Aerobility and the Douglas Bader Foundation. Pilots Mike Wildeman, Barry Hobkirk and Alan Robinson were selected by the charities and have trained for over two years to perfect the art of formation display flying. Much of their training was overseen by experienced display pilot John Beattie and they were issued their Display Authorisations earlier this year. Though Aerobility and the DBF sought advice from the Civil Aviation Authority, there has been no exemptions or exceptions for the pilots and the aircraft they fly are currently drawn from Aerobility’s training fleet based at Blackbushe. Their display is complimented by a piece of music produced by Charley Bickers, Douglas Bader’s grandson. It is a beautifully composed piece that would not be out of place in any Second World War based movie epic. The team draw their name from the nickname given to Bader’s wing based out of RAF Tangmere which conducted fighter sweeps across Northern France – Bader’s Bus Company.

Fast paced formation aerobatics came from the Blades Aerobatic Team flying their four Extra 300LP aircraft. The team have undergone a few changes from last year with the introduction of Mike Ling into the Blade 3 position plus a few new manoeuvres. Perhaps the most striking of these is “revolver” which sees Blade 1 complete a rolling turn while Blades 2 and 3 barrel roll around his smoke. Also joining the team for 2019 is TV presenter Arthur Williams who rose to fame as a presenter during the 2012 Paralympics Games and for his highly watchable aviation documentaries. His enthusiasm for aviation and the Blades in particular shone through during his first commentary for the team.

Alongside the Blades, more colourful flying came from the Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers with eye-catching orange and while Boeing Stearmans plus the technicoloured formation of nine de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths from the Tiger9 Display Team. The Tiger Moths harked back to the glory days of British aviation of the 1930’s and that theme was continued by a delightful display by three products of the Miles Company. The trio was led by the Miles Gemini which was flanked by a pair of Miles Messengers and was beautifully presented to the crowd both in formation and opposing tail-chase passes.

Compared to previous events, there were only a handful of Duxford based displays in the afternoon. Both the based World War Two heavies that are based at the airfield display with some quite punchy flying from the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina while Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B gave some elegant flypasts on each day.

Some of Duxford’s most iconic fighter aircraft from its operational history were recalled by three fighters. The flying display was closed on each day by the Imperial War Museum’s own Supermarine Spitfire Ia flown by Martin Overall. This aircraft, N3200, entered service with 19 Squadron at Duxford and was the mount of Geoffrey Stephenson. During the Dunkirk evacuations, N3200 was damaged and force landed on the French beaches were the wreck remained under recovery some 60 years later. N3200 was restored by Duxford based Historic Flying and the Aircraft Restoration Company and subsequent donated to the Museum.

Later in the Second World War, Duxford became a base for the United States Army Air Force and was used by P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs. This period was marked by a pair of fighters operated by Air Leasing Ltd which is based at Sywell but also often uses Duxford’s hangars to store its expanding fleet of warbirds. For the Air Festival they presented a beautiful aerobatic duo display of Republic P-47D ThunderboltNellie-B’ flown by Richard Grace and North American TF-51D MustangContrary Mary’ flown by Andy Durston. It was a beautiful demonstration that saw both aircraft remain in close company throughout their routine. Sunday saw the pair open the display performing a flypast with two McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles from the 492nd Fighter Squadron, 48th Fighter Wing. The flypast marked the enduring relationship between the 48th Fighter Wing, the United States Air Force and the East Anglian region plus the United States Army Air Forces role in the D-Day Landings.

The 75th Anniversary of Jet engine aircraft entering service with the Royal Air Force was marked by a number of classic jets in the air and on the ground. The first frontline jet to enter RAF service was represented by Martin Baker’s Gloster Meteor T7 test aircraft on static display. Martin Maker operate two such machines and currently they are only two Meteors airworthy in the UK.

A subtheme of the classic jet flying was the 65th Anniversary of the Percival Jet Provost training aircraft. The introduction of the Jet Provost and the transition from piston engine training aircraft to jets was marked a formation of CCF Harvard III from the Aircraft Restoration Company and a BAC Jet Provost T3 flown respectively by Rod Dean and Jon Corley. Following an immaculate formation pass the two aircraft split into their own solo displays highlighting the many differences between piston and jet powered types.

Rounding off the classic jet sequence were the pair of BAC Strikemaster MK80/82 aircraft from North Wales Military Aviation Services. Mark Petrie and Ollie Suckling have developed a very elegant sequence of formation and synchronised in the two Royal Air Force of Oman marked jets which was very well received by the Duxford crowd.

Duxford Air Festival also welcomed back the Breitling Jet Team after several years absence. Unlike other major jet teams, the team’s six Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros jets operating from Duxford adding some extra spectacle to their appearance. The team have plenty of gallic flair and fly a beautifully choreographed routine of different formations, synchronised flying and opposition passes accompanied by a very well-chosen soundtrack. But their big party piece and a guaranteed crowd pleasing is their pyrotechnic finale to their displays either as a big bomb burst in clear skies or as on the Sunday a sweeping formation pass. Duxford was just the first of a number of UK appearances for the team who will also be flying at RIAT, Blackpool, Eastbourne and Jersey during the 2019 season.

It was a great start to the airshow season at Duxford with some very enjoyable flying from a highly diverse range of aircraft that reflected all facets of aviation. That may have disappointed some warbird fans but it must be said that all of the displays were very well received by the crowd who showed their appreciation to all the various displays as they taxied back in. While the Saturday saw near perfect conditions through, Sunday was not so lucky with a stiff breeze and some nasty rain showers rolling through. Despite that the full line-up was seen on both days which is a great credit to the participating pilots.