The third IWM Duxford Showcase Day closed out the truncated 2020 Display Season in mid-October. With the cancellation of the Battle of Britain Weekend in September, this final showcase event was a chance for the Duxford to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain with a sizeable formation of Spitfires and Hurricanes. Other displays came from a very varied and interesting range of aircraft from Duxford operators and visiting aircraft.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
IWM Duxford is no stranger to hosting the final significant flying display of the display season. The Autumn Airshows were always popular events as was last year’s October showcase. With so few flying displays in 2020 it was little surprise the event sold out in the days leading up to the even, particularly after displays planned for the week after at Old Warden and Weston Park were cancelled and the audience capped to just a 2,000 capacity.
As well as the showcase flying, the day also saw some select ground exhibits around the hangars and control tower. The contribution of Polish pilots to the Battle of Britain was marked by the Laguna Spitfire Legacy. Named after Wing Commander Piotr Łaguna the group tells the story of Spitfire I P8331 and that of the 18,000 Polish pilots and crews that participation in the Second World War. The Battle of Britain theme was also marked by a recreation of an Observer Corps post.
Several of Duxford’s operators moved their aircraft out of the hangars for the Showcase static displays. The Fighter Collection brought out their Supermarine Spitfire Vb, Curtiss Hawk 75A and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair for a welcome airing outside Hangar 2. At Hangar 3, the Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire LFIXb MH434 was on show alongside the Historic Aircraft Collection’s beautiful Hawker Fury I. Vintage Flying are a relatively new operator at Duxford and showcased their replica Fokker Dr1 and RAF SE5a alongside a bazooka equipped Piper L4 Grasshopper next to the Control Tower. There was also a nod to de Havilland with Amanda Harrison’s ‘Round the World’ de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth and a DH83 Fox Moth parked alongside Mark Miller’s DH89a Dragon Rapide on the flightline.
For various reasons including the possibility of some heavy afternoon rain showers, the showcase flying was condensed into a single 90-minute period in the early afternoon. The displays were opened by James Hepnar flying the World Aero Extra 300L. It has been great to see both Duxford and Old Warden host displays by James helping him to build display experience and to bring on the next generation of display pilots despite the challenges of the COVID-affected season.
Another very welcome visiting display aircraft was Agusta-Bell AB-47G OO-LPL. This classic helicopter is normally kept at Sanicole Aeroclub in Belgium by pilot Peter Kuypers and is a former French Army machine. With B-17 Sally-B remaining in the hangars during the 2020 season, Peter has kept his display currency flying his Yak-50 at the August showcase days as well as the Aero Legends operated C-47A Skytrain at Headcorn.
There were some unusual combinations from the Duxford based machines. The legacy of big American radial engines was marked with a three-ship display consisting of the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, North American NA-64 Yale and a North American Harvard IV. Led by David Ratcliffe in ARCo’s Beaver, the noise of a Wright Whirlwind and two Pratt & Whitney Wasps reverberated around the hangars as the three aircraft performed together in formation. The combination closed their display with a tail-chase from the Beaver and Yale while the Harvard performed aerobatics over the top.
Winning the prize for the most unusual duo display of the year must go to de Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide which was paired with Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. The Rapide led the combination which saw it dwarfed by the huge wingspan of Catalina chasing it through the dramatic autumnal cloudscape. It is always so impressive to see such different aircraft flown together and it was great to see something different by two of the ‘regulars.’
The highlights of the afternoon were two set-piece warbird displays that Duxford is so famous for. The first of these saw the ARCo’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon piloted by Paul Bonhomme lead a ‘dogfight’ tail-chase with North American P-51D Mustang ‘Miss Helen’ and TF-51D Mustang ‘Contrary Mary’ flown by John Dodd and Andy Durston. Following a topside formation pass the Buchon flew a short solo sequence over Duxford before being ‘bounced’ by the American fighters. The Mustangs were of course victorious and celebrated seeing off the enemy with close formation passes to close their routine.
The finale to the flying was a little taste of what should have been seen a month earlier at the 80th Anniversary Battle of Britain Weekend. Duxford’s September shows have become well known for their massed formations of Spitfires so to mark the 80th Anniversary a five-ship of three Supermarine Spitfire Is and two Hawker Hurricane Is was brought together for a memorable close to the showcase flying. Leading the display was Pete Kynsey in Comanche Fighter’s Spitfire Ia AR213 (marked as P7308) with Anna Walker flying Comanche’s other Spitfire Ia X4650 and Martin Overall in the IWM’s own Spitfire Ia N3200. Stu Goldpink and Dave Harvey flew the pair of Hurricanes which included Hurricane I R4118 and the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hurricane XII which now wears the colours of Czechoslovak pilot Josef František who flew with 303 (Polish) Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Following some formation passes the aircraft split into a traditional Duxford tail-chase wheeling across the farmland to the south of the airfield. The sequence was closed by a short solo by Pete Kynsey in AR213 as the other fighters landed on.
The Battle of Britain fighters display was the perfect way to bring a close the 2020 Display Season. It was followed by a scramble to get all the display aircraft back in their hangars as quickly as possible before the poor weather struck – a scene reminiscent of many Duxford Autumn Airshows! 2020 may have been a challenging and disappointing year for the IWM Airshow team, but they at least ended it on a high with a short but very enjoyable sequence of flying displays. Hopefully 2021 will see a return to a more substantial display season at Duxford and across Europe.