The Imperial War Museum Duxford reopened to the public on 1st August 2020. Just a few days later, the IWM hosted its first public flying event of 2020 with a Showcase Day. This is a chance for the public to see some display flying as part of normal Museum day without the extra costs of a full airshow event and to get close of some of Duxford’s resident warbirds on the ground.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
IWM Duxford is just the second venue to host a full public air display in 2020 following the coronavirus crisis restrictions. Unlike the Shuttleworth Collection, IWM Duxford is permitted to allow visitors to walk around the great expanse of museum site during event days which allows for a more normal experience. There are however a number of social distancing measures in place such as one-way systems, plenty of information signs and hand sanitiser around the hangars and outdoor exhibits.
For the public, Showcase Days add a few extras to a normal Museum experience. As well as the two hours of flying, some of the based operators also have static displays of their aircraft out on the airfield and their support stalls. However, the Showcase Days also offer the air display community several benefits. IWM Duxford uses the Showcases to offer experience for new Flying Control Committee members, Flying Display Directors as well as to new and experienced display pilots. As such they are helping to keep air displays at Duxford and elsewhere sustainable.
Amongst the aircraft outside on the ground were the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Airco DH9, the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Supermarine Spitfire PRXI and Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. However perhaps the aircraft gaining most attention from an airing outside of the hangar were the pair of Mustangs from Comanche Fighters. North American P-51B Mustang ‘Berlin Express’ and P-51D Mustang ‘The Hun Hunter / Texas’ has been resident in Europe spending much of their time at Duxford for a few years now. Both have appeared at different Flying Legends events though the P-51B’s appearance in 2017 was rather short lived after its Malcolm Hood canopy shattered during its opening display. It has now been repaired and hopefully both can make some further airshow appearances in the UK soon.
As well as normal day-to-day Duxford operations, the first showcase day also hosted a fly-in of vintage aircraft including several from the Shipping and Airlines fleet at Biggin Hill. There were also some Spitfire experience flights throughout the day from Aerial Collective plus also the regular Dragon Rapide and Tiger Moth pleasure flights by Classic Wings. Early arrivals would have also seen Anglia Aircraft Restorations Hawker Fury flying. The Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s Hawker Sea Fury T20 also flew a couple of sorties during the day. Sadly their final flight of the day ended in a forced landing away from Duxford but fortunately both pilot and passenger escaped with just only minor injuries.
As with the Showcase held last October, the two hours of flying were split into two sections split with a short break. Opening the displays was the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s North American P-51D Mustang ‘Warhorse’ which has recently been repainted into the colours of USAAF Colonel Donald Blakeslee who flew with the 4th Fighter Group based at RAF Debden in Essex. Eskil Amdal put on a very spirited display in the Mustang showing its speed and power to great effect.
Sports flying seemed to a sub-theme of the flying displays. Air Racing was represented by a pair of Formula 1 racing aircraft in the form of the Cassutt IIIM racer and the highly aerobatic Le Vier Cosmic Wind flown by Pete Kynsey. Aerobatic displays came from a Yakovlev Yak-50 and the Extra 300L. The Yak-50 was flown by Peter Kuypers who is more often seen flying in Boeing B-17G Sally-B, the Dutch based B-25 Mitchell or various versions of the DC-3. The Extra was flown by James Hepnar who was completing only his second public display having made his debut at Old Warden during the weekend before the Showcase.
The Duxford based North American NA-64 Yale ‘3349’ paired with T6 Harvard Aviation’s North American Harvard IV ‘Wacky Rabbit’ for the first of three themed display slots which brought the showcase flying displays to a close. The ‘Trainers’ display saw both North American aircraft perform some formation passes before spitting into their own solo routines with the Yale flying some low passes alongside the grass runway while the Harvard flew an aerobatic routine overhead.
Perhaps a highlight of the themed display sections was a salute to the Centenary of de Havilland. This was marked by the Aircraft Restoration Company’s de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, a de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10 plus David and Mark Miller’s DH89a Dragon Rapide. The three aircraft flew a very nice three-ship formation sequence before splitting for a solo from the Dragon Rapide and a synchronised display from the Beaver and Chipmunk. The fly-in at the second showcase will also highlight the centenary with a large gathering of different de Havilland types.
The finale to the flying displays saw a ‘Battle of Britain fighters’ theme with the IWM’s own Supermarine Spitfire Ia N3200 flying alongside genuine battle survivor Hawker Hurricane I R4118. Flown by John Romain and David Ratcliffe respectively, the pair of 1940’s fighters were an absolutely fitting end to the day with their purring early Rolls Royce Merlins.
With the lack of larger events, the Duxford Showcase Days are a welcome chance to see some of the based historic aircraft as well as some interesting visitors in action. Overall, despite the COVID-secure measures brought in by IWM it was a very pleasurable day in relaxed surroundings. The next Showcase Day takes place on the 19th August.