Duxford Flying Day: Commemorating D-Day

Duxford Flying Day: Commemorating D-Day

Falling neatly on to the 77th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings, IWM Duxford’s second flying day of the year was a treat for all fans of the ‘heavy iron’ warbirds. As a showcase of flying, ‘Commemorating D-Day’ really did show off IWM Duxford’s flying displays at their very best on a very pleasant early summer afternoon.

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

6th June 2021 was a notable date for the UK display circuit as it marked the busiest day of airshows since 2019 with three high profile events across the country. Duxford was joined by the final day of the Midlands Air Festival and also the Shuttleworth Collection’s ‘Flying Festival of Britain’ Drive-in Airshow. While despite the pandemic it was superb to see the airshow community come to life to support the weekend, it should also be noted that the combined audience of all three events was a small fraction of what would have been expected to attend airshows on the 6th June 2021 had we been in normal conditions and seen the likes of the English Riviera Airshow take place. Life for the airshow community is improving but is still a very long way from normality.

As with the ‘Standing Together’ in May, the format for this second Flying Day of the afternoon saw a short but punchy flying display just after lunch complemented nicely by some enhanced experiences around Duxford’s hangars. Earlier in the day, a poppy drop was conducted by IWM’s own Spitfire Ia as a tribute to all that took park in D-Day operations.

The main flying display appropriately was opened by Aero Legends Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Pegasus’ flown by Andrew Dixon. Formally of Air Atlantique, this C-47 now wears the colours of RAF Dakota KP220 and is used by Aero Legends to support its experience flights as well as being used for parachute operations for various commemorations. The Dakota is synonymous with D-Day for the part the type played in carrying paratroopers over the channel and towing the thousands of gliders to support airborne operations. Following the landing, C-47s and Dakotas flew re-supply missions and even retrieved airworthy gliders from their landing sites.

Duxford Flying Day: Commemorating D-Day - Image © Paul Johnson/Flightline UK

Another type that played a huge role in the Normandy campaign was the Piper L-4 Grasshopper. The first L-4s were brought to Normandy by sea in 1944 and flown off from the landing grounds to support the ground troops as they fought to build a bridgehead on mainland Europe. Duxford brought together three L-4s for a series of formation passes and a tailchase flown by Tom Turner, Mark Petit and Clive Denny.

The contribution of naval air power was marked by two displays beautifully flown by Pete Kynsey in aircraft from the Fighter Collection. First of these displays came from the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat just after the Dakota had opened the flying. The Wildcat is a very distinctive warbird thanks to its somewhat stubby appearances and the very agricultural sounds from its Pratt & Whitney radial engine. The display was closed by the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair making its second public appearance of the year. A further solo aerobatic display came from James Brown flying Hurricane Heritage’s Noordyn Harvard IIB on only his second public display; the first having been at the Shuttleworth Collection’s Season Premiere in May.

One of the highlights of the programme was a late war dogfighter pitching the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon flown by Paul Bonhomme against the Old Flying Machine Company’s Supermarine Spitfire IX MH434 piloted by Steve Jones and the North American TF-51D Mustang from Anglia Aircraft Restorations with Andy Durston at the helm. The sight of three fighters wheeling their way around the Cambridgeshire was the perfect reminder of just how good such set piece displays at Duxford are and certainly whetted the appetite for the return of Duxford’s major airshows at the end of July and in September.

At the time of the D-Day landings, Duxford was home to the 78th Fighter Group from the United States Army Air Force and no Duxford D-Day event would be complete without a nod to contribution of USAAF fighter and bomber crews to the eventual success in Normandy. Opening the USAAF tribute was Republic P-47D Thunderbolt ‘Nellie B’ flown through a smooth sequence of aerobatics by Jon Gowdy. As Jon completed his routine, Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ’Sally-B’ got airborne captained by Andrew Dixon before the pair joined up for a single formation pass over Duxford. Following a solo display, the B-17 flew off to the west to cap a busy first weekend of airshows for a second appearance at the Midlands Air Festival.

More than any other recent Showcase or Flying Day, the ‘Commemorating D-Day’ event showed off the very best of Duxford flying displays with great aplomb not only to the regular audience, but hopefully some new to Duxford and air displays in general. The next Flying Day is ‘Thank You Dads’ on the 20th June.