In 2020, the Aero Legends Battle of Britain Airshow was just one of a handful of airshows to take place on mainland UK outside of the Shuttleworth Collection or the Imperial War Museum Duxford. Delayed until the last weekend in September, the 2020 event had to battle some pretty unpleasant autumnal conditions. Sadly, the 2021 faced further challenges with the weather despite returning to its normal mid-summer slot. However, on the Friday and Saturday the audience was treated to some wonderful warbird displays from the home team and a number of visiting aircraft.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Weather has been an issue at UK shows throughout much of June and sadly the 2021 Aero Legends Battle of Britain Airshow at Headcorn didn’t escape. The opening day saw some very low cloud to start the day while Sunday was a wash-out with misty conditions and outbreaks of rain preventing any flying at all. That poor weather sadly precluded any display flying by the headline act of the show, the RAF Red Arrows, who were schedule to open and close the weekend. It was a great shame as the prospect of the Reds performing over such a photogenic venue was one to savour.
However, Friday and Saturday did see pretty much a full show from the rich selection of home based and visiting aircraft gathered to mark the Royal Air Force’s finest hour. Saturday also saw a surprise appearance by the Goodyear Zeppelin NT ‘Blimp’ on its way to tour the skies of London and the British Touring Car Championship being held nearby at Brands Hatch.
The bulk of the flying displays came from Aero Legends or displays closely associated with Headcorn Aerodrome. Opening the display was the ‘Biplane Balbo’ featuring the aircraft of the Stampe Formation Team plus Aero Legends own pair of de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths plus a Thruxton Jackaroo. The combination made a number of passes in front of the crowd before the Stampe Team took centre stage. It has been a sad start to the season for the Stampe Team with the loss of team pilot Angus Buchanan just a few weeks ago. The team paid tribute to their team-mate with a missing man formation featuring four Stampe SV4s to open their sequence before they continued with a three-ship routine. The finale to the Stampe Team’s display was a virtuoso aerobatic solo display by the team’s leader, Chris Jesson.
Further biplane aerobatics came from Headcorn based pilot Michael Pickin flying a Bucker Jungmann owned by his family. Michael is well known on the display circuit whether displaying on his own or as part of various other display teams. This year he had formed a brand-new team called The Starlings with fellow aerobatic champion Tom Cassells. The Battle of Britain Airshow was the first major display for the new team which sees Michael fly his Mudry CAP232 and Tom at the controls of a brand new Extra 330NG. Their display is an exciting mix of close formation flying and some scintillating precision solo aerobatics and will be seen more once the events industry recovers over the next year or so.
One of the outstanding highlights of the flying was Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’ flying with the pair of Douglas C-47A Skytrains from Aero Legends saluting the contribution and sacrifice of American forces during the Second World War. Such combinations of the ‘heavy’ warbirds are a rare sight at airshows which is a great shame as they really do capture the crowd’s attention with their sheer presence and sound. The three aircraft performed a tailchase routine wheeling over the Kentish countryside before the stage was left to B-17 Sally-B for a solo display.
The C-47s also flew their own duo routine later in the afternoon as well as forming the backbone of the big Aero Legends formation with the North American T-6G Texans and Supermarine Spitfires from the company. The Texans flown by Gavin Ashdown and Sam Whatmough also had their own unique display flying an aerobatic tailchase and close formation passes.
However, it was the Second World War fighters that were the stars of the afternoon with no less than 11 Spitfires gathered at Headcorn alongside Bygone Aviation’s Hawker Hurricane I and the Hispano HA-1112M1L Buchon from the Aircraft Restoration Company. On Saturday, the first Spitfire action came from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with Sqn Ldr Mark Discombe and Flt Lt Andy Preece flying Spitfire XVIe TE331 and Spitfire Vb AB910 in a pairs routine.
The finale to the displays on Friday and Saturday started with an airfield attack by the Buchon flown by Steve Jones. The attack was repelled by Antony ‘Parky’ Parkinson in Aero Legends’s own Spitfire IX TD314 and as the Buchon retreated over the horizon Charlie Brown got airborne in Spitfire IXT NH341 ‘Elizabeth.’ There was then the magnificent sight and sound of the remaining eight fighters taking off in stream from Headcorn’s grass runway to form a balbo away from the airfield while two Aero Legends Spitfire cavorted in the overhead. The balbo was led by Jon Gowdy in IWM’s Spitfire Ia. He was joined in the leading section by John Romain flying MaxAlfa’s Spitfire VIII, Jim Schofield in Spitfire IX RR232 and Brian Smith at the controls of Spitfire IX MH434. The second section was led by the Hurricane I piloted by Stu Goldspink with Matt Jones flying ‘The Silver Spitfire’ G-IRTY on its public display debut, Martin Overall in ARCo’s Spitfire PRXI and David Ratcliffe flying ARCo’s Spitfire IXT PT462. With the Aero Legends pair continuing to fly some gentle barrel rolls and formation passes in the overhead, the balbo made a handful of curved passes for the near silent crowd with the sweet rumble of merlin engines reverberating around the Kentish countryside – a simply outstanding and emotive end to the show.
Sunday’s washout was a great shame but the organisers have offered free 2022 tickets to all Sunday ticket holders which is a very generous gesture. However, both Friday and Saturday presented some truly excellent and unique flying displays despite the grey skies. Hopefully 2022 offers Headcorn some better and more summery conditions when the event returns over the weekend of 24th-26th June.