Duxford Air Festival

Duxford Air Festival

The Imperial War Museum Duxford opened its 2018 flying display season with the return of the Duxford Air Festival. It was a very varied event with no over-arching theme but did see three different displays from the French Air Force plus the UK display debut of 46 Aviation’s FW C-3605 Schlepp from Switzerland.

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

Duxford has taken up the mantle of hosting the late May Bank Holiday Weekend’s major airshow. 2017 saw this event titled the “Duxford Air Festival” for the first time marking a new direction for the event. Compared to the September show, the Air Festival is a very varied show with some of the best civilian and military displays alongside the historic aircraft that Duxford is so well known for.

The show is very much aimed as a family friendly introduction to the Imperial War Museum and its airshows. On the ground, there were visiting static aircraft such as a de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10 and Pitts S-2B Special alongside the “Family Flight Challenge” area. This saw Channel 4 Television’s resident aviation enthusiast and pilot Arthur Williams present a number of interviews with notable aviation trailblazers. These include Brian Jones who with Bertrand Piccard piloted the Breitling Orbiter 3 around the world, Ademilola Odujinrin who was the first British African pilot in history to fly solo around the world and Richard Meredith-Hardy who is twice World Microlight Champion pilot and the first pilot to fly over Mount Everest. Further ground-based activities could be found in the American Air Museum with an interactive engineering project to build a large-scale model of a B-29 Superfortress.

Since my last visit to a Duxford airshow there have been quite a few layout changes to the airshow set up. A new permanent fence line has been built which almost has got rid of the convex shaped crowdline of past Duxford airshows. The area in front of the airlines has been increased significantly too. The main tarmac area in front of the hangars was more open too with some traders moves west of the American Air Museum alongside the fun fair that always used to be in front of The Fighter Collection’s hangar.

One surprise of the weekend was an appearance by Supermarine Spitfire PRXI PL983 which has just been restored by the Aircraft Restoration Company. Still in its test programme, John Romain took the aircraft for some local flying outside of the flying display allowing some dedicated spectators an early glimpse of this exciting addition to the UK warbird population.

As in 2017, the flying displays were slightly extended for a Duxford show starting at 1pm and closing at around 5.30pm. The flying was opened on both days by a welcome returnee to Duxford, the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt G-THUN flown by Stu Goldspink . For many years this aircraft was a Duxford favourite within the Fighter Collection’s stable. It left the UK in 2004 for new owners in the US but this year returned to the UK under new owners, Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd. It is operated on their behalf by Air Leasing Ltd. It now carries new markings and new represents a machine flown by the 492ndFighter Squadron of the 9th Air Force. That unit still exists today and is part of the 48thFighter Wing based at nearby RAF Lakenheath flying the F-15 Eagle. The Thunderbolt is a very important aircraft to Duxford as the type was based at the Cambridgeshire airfield when it was a base for the USAAF 8thAir Force. The display was book-ended by another Duxford icon, the Supermarine Spitfire Ia. This was the Imperial War Museum’s very own Spitfire, N3200, which was displayed beautifully by John Romain. N3200 is another very special aircraft to Duxford as it was flown by 19 Squadron from the airfield during 1940 and was shot down over Sangatte during the Dunkirk evacuations. The airframe subsequently sunk into the sands and lay undisturbed for years. It was subsequently recovered and N3200 was reborn at Duxford following an extensive rebuilding programme at the Aircraft Restoration Company. The owner subsequently gifted the aircraft to the Imperial War Museum.

The Thunderbolt and Spitfire were joined by very varied selection of big piston powered warbirds with a maritime heritage. The Fighter Collection’s Goodyear FG-1D Corsair opened a display showcasing some of the most powerful naval fighters which also imcluded Anglia Aircraft Restoration’s Hawker Fury II and the Fighter Collection’s Hawker Sea Fury T20. The latter has recently been re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney R2800 Double Wasp and now has a distinctive four-bladed propeller as opposed the normal five blades.

A third example of the Fury took part in the flying with the Navywings Hawker Sea Fury T20 which was put through a beautiful solo display by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke. Pleasingly it was joined by the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish I which was making its first Duxford appearance for many years.

Completing the maritime theme was Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina which flew a solo display marking the role of long range patrol aircraft during the Second World War. Other warbird heavies also appeared the programme.  Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B is always a welcome and poignant sight at a Duxford event. The Duxford May Airshows are traditionally the start of the flying season for Sally-B and often coincide with one of the most important weekends for the B-17 crew and support team. Bank Holiday Monday sees the annual Memorial Day service at Madingley American Military Cemetery near Cambridge and Sally-B always performs a flypast over the site after the service to salute young American airmen that lost their lives during the air campaign.

Another familiar heavy for Duxford is Aces High’s Douglas C-47A Skytrain. The aircraft appearance heralded a taste of what’s to come in 2019 at Duxford as the airfield will play an important role in commemorations to mark the 75thAnniversary of the D-Day Landings. Duxford will host the first leg of “Daks over Normandy” which will bring an incredible collection of DC-3s from across Europe and the United States together to mark the important role of airborne forces during the landings. There will be three days of activities of Duxford as the aircraft gather before the flights over to France and another three days in Caen.

A highlight of the warbird action of the weekend was a sequence of flying to mark the 80thAnniversary of the North American Harvard entering RAF service. To mark the occasion air display coordinator Rod Dean and AVM Cliff Spink put together a lovely sequence which saw eight examples of the famous trainer fill the skies over Duxford. The aircraft came from The Fighter Collection, the Aircraft Restoration Company, T-6 Harvard Aviation, Air Leasing, Mark Levy, Classic Wings and Richie Piper. It was a classic Duxford piece of aerial theatre with three different elements. A formation of four performing some sweeping passes over the runway axis, a three-ship section performing a tail-chase on the nearside and Anna Walker flying a solo aerobatics routine above. The T-6’s successor, the North American T-28 Trojan was also included in the flying display with an aerobatic solo display from Group Fennec’s T-28S Fennec flown by Dave Southwood.

Two team displays celebrated some de Havilland’s finest trainers for the RAF. The DH Moth Club’s Tiger9 Display Team are always an eye-catching sight with their large formations. For their Duxford appearances, the team flew eight de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths and a very rare DH60G Moth Major. A newcomer to the displau circuit in 2018 is the Fourchips Display Team unsurprisingly flying a quartet of de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10s. For long time airshow goers, the sight of a Chipmunk display team is very nostalgic as there were a number during the time the Chipmunk was in service with the last being the Army Air Corps’ Grey Owls.

One of the highlights of the historic line-up was the UK display debut by 46 Aviation’s Farner Werke C-3605 Schlepp. 46 Aviation are a Swiss based operator who have an eclectic range of aircraft old and new in their collection. The company is led by pilot Emiliano Del Buono who displayed the Schlepp at Duxford and he supported by wife Danielle who is a highly skilled wingwalker and performed with Emiliano with 46’s Boeing Stearman. The C-3605 is a very unique looking aircraft and is a development of the EKW C-36 with a Lycoming T53 turboprop replacing a piston engine. The C-36 design first appeared in 1942 and was a rugged ground attack aircraft. The C-3605s were all converted from existed C-36 aircraft and as the T53 was much lighter than the piston engine, the nose of the aircraft was elongated to maintain the centre of gravity with a third tailfin added to add directional stability. The C-3605 was used by the Swiss Air Force from 1971 as a target towing aircraft (Schlepp translates as “tug”) until the Pilatus PC-9 entered service in 1987. It is an incredible performer for such a large single engined aircraft with impressive agility and power which was so well demonstrated by Emiliano.

The Great War Display Team brought seven aircraft to Duxford remembering the air war over 100 years ago. As well as the familiar RAF SE5a, Sopwith Triplane, RAF BE2c, Fokker Dr1s and Junkers CL1 it was good to see the team joined by Matthew Boddington’s Avro 504K replica. Their display was supported by some very impressive pyrotechnics adding to the spectacle of their swirling dogfights.

As well as the historic machinery, there was a splash of colour from a couple of popular airshow acts. The AeroSuperBatics Wingwalkers made their UK debut display in the colours of “The Flying Circus.” The team have had a busy winter supporting events in Asia with a first time visit to the Philippines and a return to China. Duxford was also the first display for the latest member of the team, Kirsten who joined fellow wingwalker Katie and pilot Dave Barrell and Martyn Carrington.

The virtues of the classic Pitts Special were ably demonstrated by the TRIG Aerobatic Team pairs routine. The display performed by Richard Grace and Dave Puleston is a full on fast pace mixed of close formation and synchronised flying. They were joined by the Global Stars who flew a mix of more modern aerobatic types including the Extra 260, Extra 300L and Mudry CAP232. The Global Stars perform at events around the world and had just returned from China so were flying a colourful mix of their own and loaned aircraft.

Saturday saw the only Royal Air Force participation at the event with the first display of the year for the RAF Chinook Display Team. This year sees the team display the Chinook HC6A for the first time which is the latest version of the heavy lift helicopter to enter service. As always, the Chinook is an impressive sight and sound in the sky though the display is slightly more measured compared to previous years.

However, it was the French Air Force that were the star turn of the Air Festival with three different acts in the display. Making their first appearance in the UK for many years were the French Air Force’s Competition Aerobatic Team, l’équipe de voltage de l’armee de l’air (EVAA) who are celebrating their 50thAnniversary in 2018. The EVAA presented a solo aerobatic routine on both days in one of the team’s Extra 330SC aircraft which wear a very attractive Blue, White and Red colour scheme. Capitaine Alexandre Orlowski shared the honours over the weekend with Lieutenant Florent Oddon. Both pilots put on incredible solo routines of flowing precious aerobatics that used all of the Extra’s performance. It is certainly not hard to see why the French continue to dominate the World Aerobatic Championships performing at such a high level.

The Dassault Rafale C solo display was a welcome returnee to Duxford having much a strong impression in 2017. This year saw Capitaine Sebestian “Babouc” Nativel take over as display pilot with a new routine and a new special scheme adorning the display jet. French solo jet displays are always a showstopper and Babouc’s display does not disappoint showing off the jet’s agility and power at both high and low speed.

Sunday’s display saw the only UK appearance this year by La Patrouille de France flying eight Dassault-Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jet Es. Under hazy blue skies, the team performed a mixture of their full and intermediate displays to suit air traffic restrictions from nearby Stansted Airport but as always, it was an elegant and extremely photogenic routine. One thing that always marks the Patrouille’s display out from the other top teams is their artistry with the smoke trails. As one of the final acts of the Air Festival, the team’s performance was part of a fitting finale to the weekend.

The exceptionally good weather (and a little bit luck which saw some big thunderstorms avoid Duxford) certainly helped make the Duxford Air Festival a very enjoyable weekend. Duxford’s events do come at a premium, but few venues have a world class museum or the pulling power to attract three French Air Force acts and a rare and unusual aircraft from Switzerland.