The 10th July 1940 is the recognised start of the Battle of Britain and to mark the occasion, Aero Legends based at the picturesque Headcorn Aerodrome hosted its Battle of Britain Airshow. The event was a chance to see some of the ever-expending Aero Legends fleet in action as they do not often appear on the wider airshow circuit. There were also a handful of invited guest aircraft brought in to commemorate the Battle and also the D-Day Landings.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Kent used to host many major air displays each year. Its position at the forefront of the Battle of Britain meant it has strong links with the Royal Air Force and a rich aviation history. Events at West Malling (Great Warbirds Airshow), Folkestone (Shepway Festival), Herne Bay, Margate, Manston, Lydd and Woodchurch have all disappeared from the calendar leaving just Biggin Hill and Headcorn in 2019.
Aero Legends are one of a number of organisations within the UK offer unique aviation experiences with a growing fleet of historic aircraft. Leading their fleet are a pair of Spitfires which includes a two seater, but they also operate two Dakotas, a de Havilland Devon, Percival Prentice, Harvard and more. Though Headcorn is their main base, they have recently expanded in North Weald and often operate from other airfields around the UK. Considering how busy they are with their core business, their aircraft are rarely seen on the wider airshow so the best chance of seeing them in action is their own annual ‘Battle of Britain Airshow.’
Headcorn Aerodrome is one of the UK’s most famous general aviation airfields thanks to a long association with the Tiger Club which recently moved to Damyns Hall. Formerly RAF Lashenden, Headcorn currently houses a number of private aircraft, a very busy parachute school and Aero Legends. As well as the Battle of Britain Airshow, it hosts some other major events during the summer months including the Combined Ops Military Vehicle show and the Southern Model Show.
Headcorn is a welcoming airfield throughout the year with fields alongside the runway often open for visitors to view the movements as well as visit the on-site museum and café. For the Airshow, these fields become the showground with the car parking moving to other fields on the other side of the main access road. On the Saturday the car park looked rather chaotic on arrival, but to be fair it did not take too long to get out after flying had finished. Another small admin niggle was that despite tickets being sold online, the gate staff had no way of checking or validating tickets – certainly those e-tickets presented on a phone or printed at home! You can’t help thinking the whole system was rather open to abuse and would be so much faster had they been able to scan tickets properly!
The showground was long and thin with a single row of traders and caterers stretching the full length of the crowd-line. It was good to see the event attract a decent crowd, though human nature meant areas nearer to the main show entrance did get quite crowded. There was a small fun fair, a small collection of classic cars and a military vehicle ‘camp’ as side attractions to the flying display. People could also sit in the cockpit of Spitfire IX RR232 or look around the Lashenden Air Warfare Museum.
The afternoon flying displays were all very relaxed with a few gaps around each display slot. The displays covered many different types of historic aircraft from basic training aircraft right through to frontline fighters and bombers.
Saturday’s display was opened by a balbo of biplanes which was reminiscent of the big formations often staged by the Tiger Club over the aerodrome. For the show, the Stampe Formation Team were joined by Aero Legends’ own Thruxton Jackaroo and a pair of de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths for some formation passes before the Stampes performed their own display. The Stampe Formation Team were particularly impressive at what was effectively their home show flying a series of formations, a really pleasing tail-chase and a dramatic solo from team leader Chris Jesson.
The training theme was continued later on the afternoon with a display from a pair of North American T-6 Texans (Harvards) both wearing the bright yellow training schemes of the United States Air Force and Air National Guard. Leading the pair was Rob Davies in his own machine while Aero Legends’ T-6 was flown by Sam Whatmough.
Amongst the latest aircraft to join the Aero Legends fleet is Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Drag em oot.’ The aircraft recently played a leading role in the 75th Anniversary commemorations of the D-Day Landings in Normandy dropping static-line parachutists. These were repeated at the show by 11 members of the International Pathfinder Round Canopy Parachuting group who jumped at various points across the weekend. While they still need light winds, the parachutists do have some control over their chutes and were able to direct their fall onto the fields close to or on the airfield.
The C-47A also joined up with Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’ on both days of the show for some impressive formation passes before solo displays. ‘Sally-B’ has long been a favourite at many Kentish airshows, not least the Great Warbirds Air Display held at nearby West Malling. Great Warbirds was organised by Elly Sallingboe and always featured an impressive array of historic and modern aircraft.
It was however the fighters that were the stars of the show. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight added to the impressive collection of fighters with Supermarine Spitfire Vb AB910 and Spitfire IX MK356 flown my Sqn Ldr Mark Discombe and Flt Lt Andy Preece. It was a busy weekend in Kent for the pair who were not only supporting events at Headcorn, but also the annual Battle of Britain Memorial Day Commemorations at Capel-le-Ferne.
Aero Legends’ own pair of Supermarine Spitfires were kept bust throughout the flying display. There was a superb scramble and dogfight sequence which saw Steve Jones attack Headcorn in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon. His attacks were fended off by Tony ‘Parky’ Parkinson who scrambled in Spitfire IX TD314 ‘St George’ who went to perform a ‘victory’ solo routine. Later in the programme Parky and TD314 were joined by Charlie Brown, Aero Legends Chief Instructor pilot, flying Spitfire IXT NH341 ‘Elizabeth’ for a pairs routine of formation passes and tail-chase.
The centrepiece to the afternoon was a formation bringing together a collection of Spitfires and Hurricanes. The Aero Legends Spitfire pair led the sequence and were joined by the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Supermarine Spitfire Vb BM597 and Hawker Hurricane XII ‘P3100’, Bygone Aviation’s Hawker Hurricane I P3717, Hurricane Heritage’s Hurricane I R4118 and on the Sunday Hurricane 501’s Hurricane I V7497. Seeing a formation of Spitfire and Hurricanes flying over Kent is an emotive experience and was a fitting finale to Saturday’s flying.
It was a shame that some of the Aero Legends fleet were unavailable for show weekend. However, the Aero Legends Battle of Britain Airshow did offer some really high quality flying displays in beautiful, photogenic surroundings in a very relaxed atmosphere.