After a series of successful Flying Days, July saw IWM Duxford host its first full airshow since September 2019. Despite a challenging and ever-changing situation regarding the staging of major events in the build up to the show, the Summer Airshow presented a wide range of airshow favourites alongside several Duxford based warbirds.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
For the UK airshow community, IWM Duxford’s ‘Summer Airshow’ may well prove to be a very significant milestone event. Though the Midlands Air Festival held at Ragley Hall in June had an air of normality about it, Duxford’s Summer Air Show was undoubtedly the biggest crowd of the 2021 season so far with up to 8,000 tickets available for each day of the show.
For the Duxford Airshow team, it was not an easy ride in planning the event and trying to satisfy the concerns of the local Safety Advisory Group and health representatives. For a while it seemed the show may well have been restricted to just 4,000 spectators a day. Howver, the passing of Stage 4 of the UK Government’s roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions meant further tickets were released in the fortnight running up to the show and that plans to keep spectators to specific zones could be dropped. The Museum hangars were also able to be opened which was very welcome as for many they are an important part of the day at a Duxford airshow. Another major difference from Duxford’s 2019 events was the lack of the popular hospitality enclosures and grandstand plus a much smaller contingent of traders. On the plus side, there was much more space made available and no doubt some will be hoping that the ‘tank bank’ in particular will remain available for future airshows.
The unfortunate knock-on from the restrictions on the show was that IWM would take less money from the event and that was clearly reflected in the flying display which from first glance looked much smaller than the 2019 Air Festival. It was also without international participation despite the best intentions of the Swiss Air Force Hornet Demo Team who were thwarted from attending by COVID-19 border controls.
Despite the smaller line-up and even the last-minute withdrawal of the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team, Duxford still presented a very enjoyable and full afternoon of aerial entertainment. An added bonus was that the weather stayed kind throughout the flying displays even though forecasts predicted heavy rain on both days though the backdrop on Sunday became increasingly dramatic as thunderstorms passed to the south.
Opening the display with a great deal of noise was the RAF Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 display flown by Flt Lt James Sainty. This was just the second public outing of 2021 for the Typhoon though they have supported RAF Families Day events and performed plenty of ‘In-Season Practices’ at other RAF Stations. The humid conditions meant there was plenty of vapour pouring off the Typhoon as it rolled and pitched over Duxford, particularly on Sunday.
In complete contrast, the Typhoon was followed by the Tiger9 Display Team with their eight de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths and single DH60G Moth Major. While the winds were kind, the warm temperatures meant the air was quite turbulent making the teams impeccable formation keeping that bit more challenging.
The Tiger9 were just one of several visiting acts on the Summer Airshow running order. Chris Burkett and Mike Williams made their Duxford debut with the “Little and Large” act. Their display sees Mike fly his radio-controlled model Extra 300 in perfect harmony with Chris flying his full sized Extra 300S. Their superb routine went down an absolute storm with the Duxford audience which gave them a rapturous round of applause at the end of their sequence.
The Blades Aerobatic Team and the Aerosuperbatic Wingwalkers were two airshow favourites making a welcome return to Duxford having last displayed at the venue in May 2019. In normal times both teams would have very busy calendars, but with all the cancellations in 2020 and the first part of 2021, they have just had a handful of public appearances in the last 18 months. Happily, with the situation in the UK gradually improving both teams are looking forward to more public shows during the rest of the 2021 display season.
Something that has certainly been missing from airshows in the last 18 months has been displays from classic jets. Duxford put that right by inviting NWMAS to display their beautiful pair of BAC Strikemaster Mk82as at the Summer Airshow. Mark Petrie and Ollie Suckling flew a very elegant routine combining close formations, opposite passes and tailchase flying which certainly catch the eye of the spectators.
Duxford’s own operators made some wonderful contributions throughout the afternoon. There was a superb salute to the USAAF 8th Air Force which was opened by a trio of fighters featuring Republic P-47D Thunderbolt ‘Nellie-B’, North American TF-51D Mustang ‘Contrary Mary’ and P-51D Mustang ‘The Hun Hunter / Texas’ Flown by Richard Grace, Dave Puleston and Pete Kynsey, the three fighters performed several passes in a tight vic-formation before Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B took off underneath. All four aircraft then returned for a couple of formation passes before Sally-B performed a solo display.
As a contrast to the set piece displays, Rod Dean gave a wonderful showcase of warbird aerobatics and energy management in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s North American Harvard IV ‘Taz.’ Rod’s display was followed by a Maritime themed sequence which saw the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina ‘Miss Pick-Up’ paired with the Fighter Collection’s Grumman FM-2 Wildcat piloted by Dave Southwood.
No Duxford Airshow would be complete without a Spitfire and the Summer Airshow presented two very different displays involving five based aircraft. Duxford is home to three Supermarine Spitfire Ias with the IWM’s own example N3200 joined by a pair from US based Comanche Fighters – AR213 and X4650. All three were flown together by John Romain, Anna Walker and Pete Kynsey in the classic early war RAF Vic-formation before breaking into a wheeling tailchase over the Cambridgeshire countryside.
The penultimate display of the afternoon presented two of Duxford’s most famous Spitfires. The Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire LFIXb MH434 is perhaps the most famous Spitfire in the world with a fine combat record and an incredible post war history with many airshow appearances in the hands of Ray and Mark Hanna plus many film credits. With Steve Jones at the controls, it flew alongside Spitfire PRXI PL983 flown by John Romain. Both John and PL983 received international attention in the part year thanks to the ‘NHS Spitfire’ project which has seen the aircraft perform flypasts over many hospitals around the UK during 2020 and over £117,000 raised for NHS Charities by personal dedications painted on to the aircraft.
The finale to the show on both days was a display by the RAF Red Arrows. The team had last flown at Duxford during the RAF100 celebrations at the 2018 Battle of Britain Airshow so their long overdue return was highly anticipated. Despite being down to eight aircraft due to Red 9 feeling unwell, the crowd were absolutely captivated by the displays on both days. Sunday’s display even had additional level of drama to it as some spectacular thunderstorms passed close to the southern extents of the display area as the team closed out the weekend.
It was great to see Duxford back with a major airshow and to see such a large crowd enjoying the aerial spectacle. Despite being smaller than usual, it was clear the audience enjoyed being back too with noticeable applause ringing around the airfield after every display – reward not only for the superb flying displays, but also the great efforts of the IWM Duxford Airshow team for overcoming all of the challenges of hosting a major event during a pandemic. We look forward with great anticipation to the Battle of Britain Airshow in September.