The IWM Duxford Airshow Team have been very busy this year with two major airshows taking place alongside a series of several flying days in difficult circumstances. Over the August Bank Holiday they added another string to their bow with the first Duxford Flying Evening with contributions from several home-based and visiting operators.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
A sunset display at Duxford featuring a selection of the home-based warbirds is something I’ve been waiting a very long time. Previously Duxford has hosted evening displays as part of a Flying Proms, but this was the very first dedicated evening Flying Display. The IWM Duxford Airshow Team couldn’t hoped for better weather for their inaugural event with the grey clouds parting just as the evening opened bathing the airfield in a golden light right up to the sun disappearing below the horizon.
On the ground, the central part of the airfield was turned into a small garden party with a very relaxed vibe supported by a ‘Vintage DJ’ alongside a Bar and catering. The hangar doors of the AirSpace hangar were opened up for the evening with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster B1 illuminated by coloured lights. Also opened for the evening were the Air and Sea collection and the American Air Museum was illuminated as darkness fell after the flying had concluded.
The flying got underway at 6.45pm with series of warbird displays opening with a trio of United States Army Air Force aircraft. First to display was Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B which looked simply majestic against the cloud dappled backdrop. It has been great to see Sally-B’s season get busier as the summer has progressed having looked rather quiet in the spring.
Sally-B was followed by one of the stars of the evening, the public display debut of the Supermarine Spitfire XVIe G-PBIX operated by Suffolk Spitfire. This aircraft isn’t new to the UK having been restored and operated by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar but it now under new ownership. It wears the colours of ‘Porky II,’ and aircraft that flew with the 309th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Group based in Italy in 1943. It was put through a series of flypasts by Clive Denny. The USAAF sequence was closed by Stu Goldspink in the Fighter Collection’s Curtiss P-40F Warhawk. The sand camouflage of the P-40F really ‘popped’ illuminated by low sun against the dark blue and grey sky.
The evenig saw several interesting formations starting with a Battle of Britain themed three-ship combination. Steve Jones led the trio in Air Leasing’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon ‘White 9’ flanked by the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Supermarine Spitfire Vb BM597 and Bygone Aviation’s Hawker Hurricane I P3717. While all three have been regulars on the display circuit I recent years, it was a significant appearance for the HAC Spitfire which was displaying for the first time since its winter repaint into the colours of 303 (Polish) Squadron. Alongside HAC’s Hurricane XII, the Spitfire forms part of the Polish Heritage Flight honouring the history of Polish servicemen who fought alongside their British counterparts between 1939 and 1945.
Another Duxford resident making a rare flying appearance was the Fokker Dr1 replica from Vintage Flying and piloted by Paul Ford. Paul built this stunning replica of Baron Manfred Von Richthofen’s infamous Red triplane himself and it is often seen on static display during various events held at Duxford but is only flown in perfect conditions.
Duxford had hoped to host a big celebration for the centenary of de Havilland during the 2020 season. Alas, that never happened but it was more than made up for with a brilliant de Havilland set-piece at this event. The combine featured the four de Havilland Canada Chipmunks from the Red Sparrows display team flying together with the DH83 Fox Moth flown by Mark Miller and the Aircraft Restoration Company’s DHC-2 Beaver piloted by Stu Goldspink. All six aircraft made a series of passes in two vic formations to open the sequence before the Fox Moth and Beaver flew their own tailchase display. The Red Sparrows then rounded off the display with some four-ship formation passes in the most golden skies.
The penultimate display of evening returned to the heady days of 1939 and 1940 with the pairing of the IWM’s own Supermarine Spitfire Ia and Hurricane 501’s Hawker Hurricane I. It was perhaps the most evocative display of the evening with the dying embers of light silhouetting the early war fighters against the onset of twilight accompanied by the sweet burble of their Merlin engines.
The finale to the flying was a complete contrast to all the flying before with Brendan O’Brien’s pyrotechnic spectacular in his Schweizer S300C ‘Otto.’ With the skies now an inky blue, Brendan filled the sky with colour and light with his smoke turned into a fiery orange by spotlights and over 1000 shots of fireworks pouring off the side of the helicopter! An awesome finale to perhaps one of the best events and experiences to be hosted at IWM Duxford this year. I very much hope it will be repeated in the future.