The Aero Legends Battle of Britain Airshow has become a highlight of Headcorn Aerodrome’s annual series of events. In the year we mark the 80th Anniversary of the Battle, it was always due to be that extra bit special. However, in a year when so many public events marking the anniversary have fallen by the wayside due to COVID-19 restrictions Headcorn became much more significant. The event as always was centred around Aero Legends’ growing fleet of warbirds, but also featured a select group of visiting warbirds to commemorate the Battle.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Being flexible is often key to success in aviation and airshows. As COVID-19 started to bite the airshow season, Aero Legends were one of the few organisers to reschedule their main event from its traditional mid-summer date to late September. With reduced limits on crowd numbers (1,000 on the Friday and upto 4,000 each day on the Saturday and Sunday), expanding the event to three days, opening up more space plus a raft of other measures, the organisers managed the navigate the restrictions placed on outdoor events assuring both national and local authorities that the Airshow was ‘COVID-secure.’
It was unfortunate that the move to September also meant the show had to ‘battle’ some very autumnal weather with strong winds blighting the eastern side of the UK throughout the weekend. That sadly meant the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were unable to take part but remarkably the rest of the planned displays were all able to take place with very few changes.
For visitors, the experience of visiting the airshow was little different to usual. The main entrance area was enlarged and the showground fields opened up more with more stewards on hand ensure there wasn’t any crowding. Boxes had also been painted across the showground to facilitate social distancing and the ‘premium flightline viewing’ area expanded to near the full length of the crowdline. In reality the latter seemed a little unnecessary. For the most part this worked well but on the Saturday the majority of the audience (in both the standard and premium areas) seemed to stick to just the eastern field of two that made up the showground. Perhaps this could be solved by spreading out both the dead and air side attractions at future events.
Opening Saturday’s flying programme was Headcorn based pilot Michael Pickin flying the Mudry CAP232. Despite the blustery wind Michael put on a superb showcase of unlimited aerobatics in the CAP with a flowing routine of flick rolls and gyroscopic figures under the clag.
The Stampe Formation Team was one of the standout displays of the weekend adding some much needing colour to the grey skies. The strong gusty winds experienced across the weekend were quite challenging but the team put on two different displays with great aplomb. They followed Michael on the Saturday with their familiar four-ship routine flying a mixture of formations and tail-chases before an aerobatic solo display from leader Chris Jesson. The reprised their display later in the day filling the gap left by the BBMF with an excellent five-ship display filling the sky with their colourful biplanes.
Aero Legends don’t just offer Spitfire experiences and many of the other aircraft from their fleet were on show. Sadly, it was just a bit too rough for the Tiger Moths and the Thruxton Jackaroo. However, Sam Whatmough and Michael Pickin did display the pair of North American T-6G Texans. Both aircraft have long been Headcorn residents and wear the colourful markings of the California Air National Guard and the United States Air Force.
Two of the most recent additions to the Aero Legends fleet have been a pair of Douglas C-47 Skytrains or Dakotas. ‘Drag Em Oot’ has been a stalwart of UK airshow scene for many years and in 2019 was joined by former Air Atlantique aircraft G-ANAF which now wears the markings of RAF Dakota KP220 ‘Pegasus.’ Both aircraft were used by Aero Legends during 2019’s D-Day commemorations to drop parachutists in Normandy. The Battle of Britain airshow saw the two aircraft reunited for the first time since those commemorations with Peter Kuypers and Jon Corley putting on a memorable duo display of the ‘heavies.’
The centrepiece of the display was a Battle of Britain dogfight re-enactment and balbo. The sequence was opened by John Romain ‘attacking’ Headcorn in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon. After some low passes and a barrel roll, Anthony ‘Parky’ Parkinson scramble to intercept the intruder in Aero Legends’ Supermarine Spitfire HFIXe ‘St George’ before a tail-chase ensued over the aerodrome. As the dogfight developed, more fighters scrambled including Supermarine Spitfire IXT NH341 ‘Elizabeth’ flown by Charlie Brown, the IWM Spitfire Ia N3200 piloted by Martin Overall and Hawker Hurricane I R4118 with David Ratcliffe at the controls. After a couple of final passes with the Buchon leaving a smoke trail behind all the fighters formed up for the balbo. This was led by the three Spitfires and Buchon with the Hurricane following on behind. The sight of five Second World War fighter aircraft wheeling their way around the Kent skies is always emotive and perhaps even more special in this very strange year when the chances to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Battle have been so few.
The finale to flying was another balbo, but this time featuring all of the Aero Legends aircraft that had took park in the flying. It was led by an ‘American’ formation of C-47A Skytrain ‘Drag em oot’ leading the pair of T-6G Texans while a ‘British’ formation of Douglas Dakota ‘KP220’ leading the pair of Spitfires. Following several passes over Headcorn the formation broke to land leaving the pair of Spitfires to bring the day to a close with a very elegant tailchase. Friday’s finale was notable for Charlie Brown has he passed his 1500th flying hour on Spitfires which is a remarkable achievement.
It would have been incredibly sad had the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain passed without some sort of major public event. Full credit must go to Aero Legends and the local authorities in working though all the obstacles to put on a safe event enjoyed by the relatively small but very appreciative audience. The team managed the flying displays and all the participating pilots also deserve a huge round of thanks for presenting some really great flying in some trying weather conditions.