Old Buckenham Airshow made a triumphant return with its largest ever line-up in recent memory. As well as the traditional mix of warbirds and top civilian display teams, the show also welcomed the RAF Typhoon Display Team for the first time which was just one of the reasons the show was a complete sell-out with 16,000 spectators enjoying the air displays over two days.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Old Buckenham has always been one of the most charming airshow venues on the display calendar. Built on the threshold of the former United States Army Air Force Base which housed the 453rd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, Old Buckenham is today a thriving centre for General Aviation. The USAAF links are celebrated throughout airfield with its US style road signs plus two on-site museums. The airfield’s café is named ‘Jimmy’s’ after Hollywood star Jimmy Stewart who was based at the airfield during the Second World War.
As well as supporting current General Aviation, Old Buckenham is also playing an important role in the development of future of light aircraft, The NUNCATS project has recently been revealed to the world at Old Buckenham with electric-powered Zenith CH701 Skyjeep. While it is not the first electric powered aircraft, it is the first to be charged by solar power and is intended to support operations in areas such as Africa which is reliant on aviation to support local communities. NUNCATS has developed a small solar hangar to support the aircraft which can be built quickly at any number of small dirt air strips allowing the aircraft to be re-charged after every flight. The aircraft is yet to make its first flight but its development has also seen Old Buckenham become the first airfield in the UK to be fitted with the first dedicated electric aircraft charging point.
Old Buckenham Airshows have always been varied affairs with a Garden Party atmosphere. This year however, the display was expanded to 18 items on both days of the show drawing in plenty of Duxford based warbirds and an incredibly varied selection of top civilian aerobatic acts from around the UK.
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B has become the star act of recent Old Buckenham Airshow remembering the sacrifice of all American aircrews during the Second World War and in particular, the B-24 crews of the 453rd BG. Her appearances over Old Buckenham are always emotional as she flies over the concrete left by the former USAAF base with the distinctive low rumble of her radial engines. Elly Sallingboe’s efforts in keeping the B-17 in the air have been marked at Old Buckenham with the naming of ‘Sallingboe Avenue’ on the airfield. Elly was also the guest of honour for this year airshow and we hope to see her and Sally-B at Old Buckenham for many years to come.
Alongside Sally-B came a whole host of other Duxford based warbirds. The 76th Anniversary of VE Day was marked by the ‘Victory Formation’ featuring John Romain in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon dicing with North American P-51D Mustang ‘Miss Helen’ piloted by John Dodd. The Battle of Britain was remembered by solo displays from Clive Denney in the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane XII and Martin Overall flying the Imperial War Museum’s Supermarine Spitfire Ia N3200. Further Spitfire action closed by the main flying display with another Old Buck favourite, Spitfire IX MH434, performing an emotive solo routine in the early evening light.
The 101st anniversary of the de Havilland Aeroplane Company was also celebrated in the flying with two acts. Opening the show were the ever-impressive Tiger9 flying eight DH82a Tiger Moths plus a DH60G Moth Major. The team are probably the largest display act to operate from Old Buckenham and their stream take-off into their display was the most impressive opener to the flying. The Red Sparrows brought the de Havilland story into the post war era with a delightful formation routine from a trio of DHC-1 Chipmunks including the newly restored Royal Canadian Air Force example.
Anglian Warbirds pilot Nigel Wilson had a busy afternoon flying two displays in ‘Big Radials.’ In the opening section of the flying display he flew a spritely routine in his own North American AT-6 Harvard which he bases at Earls Colne Airfield and is available for training and experience flights Later in the afternoon he gave a very elegant display in one of the two airworthy Beech D17S Staggerwings that are based at Old Buckenham.
But, by far the most engaging ‘historic’ display came from the Last Dogfight Display Team. Relatively new to the display circuit this year, the team recreate an extraordinary tale of the last dogfight of the Second World War which saw the pilot of USAAF Piper L4 Grasshopper down a Fiesler Storch with his only armament being his service revolver! While the team have a genuine Piper L4 Grasshopper for their display, the role of the Storch is portrayed by a Serbian produced Slepcev Storch which is a ¾ scale replica of the original. Once the poor German pilot had been forced to land after the twisting dogfight, he was greeted by a very keen party of allied soliders much to the entertainment of the crowd around central buildings.
Complimenting the historic displays was a fine selection of aerobatics displays. Rod Dean gave a lyrical display in the Redhill based Slingsby T67M Firefly while James Hepnar made his Old Buckenham debut with a display of advanced aerobatics in an Extra 300L. There was also the elegent SIAI Marchetti SF260 flown by Paul Freeland and an eye-catching display from Christophe Simon in the Tiger Club’s Mudry CAP10. The ‘Little and Large’ Extra Duo of Chris Burkett and Mike Williams also made a very welcome return with a really astonishing display with the full sized Extra 300S matched with its ‘mini-me’ radio-controlled model. Adding to the fun-time flying were the always colourful and entertaining Tiger Club Turbulent Team.
It was however two aerobatic duo displays making their Old Buckenham debuts that added some star quality to the display. The Fireflies Aerobatic Team of Jon Gowdy and Andy Durston presented a really sharp routine of formation and synchronised aerobatics in their Vans RV4s which captivated the Norfolk crowd throughout their display. They were joined by Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones of the Matadors Aerobatic Team flying their pair of XtremeAir XA41s. Their aircraft may have lost their Red Bull colour schemes, but there is no other display quite as sensational with extremely close formation flying, their trademark formation slide and some breath-taking solo aerobatics.
The civilian flying at Old Buckenham was truly exceptional, but the slightly odd 2021 Display Season had one more gift in store for the show in the form of the Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. You could hear a pin drop as the Typhoon ran in for its display and all eyes were skyward throughout Flt Lt James Sainty’s display which on Saturday at least enjoyed enough clear airspace for his full routine. It was a stunning addition to Old Buckenham display and capped off a really superb show that surely made everybody smile after the most difficult of times.