IWM Duxford’s final Flying Day of the season closed out the 2021 UK Display Season. Dubbed ‘The Best of 2021’ it was in-fact close to a full-on airshow featuring everything from 1930’s fighters through to aerobatic biplanes and modern military hardware. The day also saw the very welcome return of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster PA474 to the display circuit.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The Flying Days at IWM Duxford have proved a very popular addition to the UK Display Season. They offer a more relaxed day out with none of the distractions of a bigger airshow such as traders and ground shows. Instead, there is usually plenty of time to wander around the superb hangars and outside exhibits before and after the flying displays. They also offer members of the air display community such as Display Pilots old and new plus those wishing to be members of a Flying Control Committee the chance to build their experience.
Things however were a little different for this final Flying Day of 2021. Unlike previous Flying Days with their short one-to-two-hour displays, the ‘Best of 2021’ featured a programme running from 1.15pm right through to 4.45pm with not only Duxford based aircraft, but also visiting civilian and military displays. From the flying side, it did to all intents and purposes feel very much like Duxford’s Autumn Airshows of the past. Boosting that nostalgic feeling was the superb autumnal weather with the morning fog burning off to reveal hazy blue skies just in time for the flying displays.
The crowd was also much larger than previous events with all cars directed to the North Car Park usually used only for major air displays. Once inside however it was pretty much a normal flying day with some static displays from based operators and some living history groups but no traders. The only downside of this not being a full airshow was found on exit from the car park at the end of the day which really did need more coordination from the parking contractor to keep traffic moving.
A very unusual aspect to this final flying day of 2021 was the involvement of Royal Air Force displays. The RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team had been scheduled to appear at Duxford’s Summer Airshow in July but were forced to withdraw from the event due to covid. They made amends for this earlier cancellation by opening the Flying Day jumping from their Dornier Do228. 2021 has seen the team mark their 60th Anniversary and their display is very different from previous years with the return of one of the manoeuvres from that first season, the Carousel.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight have had a busy display season despite the loss of so many events. However, they have been without their flagship, Avro Lancaster B1 PA474, as for much of the year it under-went some major servicing with the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford. It eventually returned to Coningsby in September but some further engine problems meant it still missed the final few major air displays of the season. It did however return to full airworthiness in time for the bomber crews to regain currency in time for the BBMF Members Day held at Coningsby in late September. It was therefore a delight to see the Lancaster lead the flights Supermarine Spitfire IIa and Spitfire XVIe for a final flourish at Duxford which was also the last display for OC BBMF Sqn Ldr Mark Discombe before he hands over to Sqn Ldr Mark Sugden ahead of the 2022 season.
The Royal Air Force also closed the Flying Day with Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 solo display flown by Flt Lt James Sainty from 29(R) Squadron. James’ powerful display in the Typhoon has been the highlight of many events this year and no doubt was the major attraction for many in the see-out crowd. He was however without the distinctive ‘Blackjack’ display aircraft and instead performed in a standard grey jet.
Some superb aerobatic displays added to the variety of the afternoon. Alex Harris was a new face on the display roster and gave a very fine display of competition style aerobatics in his Pitts S-1D Special. Further classic aerobatics came from Pete Kynsey and Anna Walker who flew an eye-catching combination display with their Le Vier Cosmic Wind ‘Ballerina’ and Bϋcker Jungmann. They opened their sequence with Anna flying their Jungmann inverted down the full length of the display while Pete barrel rolled around the smoke!
Rod Dean opened a sequence of displays by Cold War training aircraft with a virtuoso display in the Slingsby T-67M Firefly. His display was followed by an unlikely combination of de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10 and Yakovlev Yak-52 which performed a series of interlaced sequences of flypasts and aerobatics.
A new and very unusual display that broke on to the circuit this year is the ‘Last Dogfight Display Team.’ The display recreates an extraordinary action that took place in April 1945 that saw the crew of a Piper L4 Grasshopper bring down a Luftwaffe Fiesler Storch using their Colt pistols. The display sees Andrew Bendkowski in his L4 Grasshopper chase down Sam Whatmough flying a Stepcev Storch. The Stepcev Storch is a scale replica of the famous German spotter aircraft built in Serbia and powered by rotax engine.
Alongside the visiting displays was a stellar cast from Duxford based operators. Over the 2020 and 2021 seasons both de Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide G-AGJG and North American Harvard IV ‘Wacky Wabbit’ have been regulars at the Flying Days and made solo appearances during the afternoon. Two of Duxford’s growing number of Hawker Hurricane Is also took to their air with Neil Oakman flying Hurricane 501’s V7497 and James Brown completing his first public display in R4118.
Though the full compliment of the Ultimate Fighters team was unable to attend, there was a superb close formation routine from Jon Gowdy and Andy Durston flying the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt ‘Nellie-B’ and North American TF-51D Mustang ‘Contrary Mary.’ As well as looking incredible with the silver fighters contrasted against the blue skies, the mix of Pratt & Whitney radial and Packard Merlin V12 engines produced an awesome sound that reverberated around Duxford’s buildings.
The Fighter Collection finished their 2021 season on a high with four of their aircraft taking part. A surprise late addition to the flying line-up was TFC’s Hawker Nimrod I. The aircraft made some engine runs on the day before the Flying Day and was taken up for an air test just prior to the main flying display. It was flown in the main flying display by Pete Kynsey and was the first display in the UK by a Rolls Royce Kestrel powered aircraft for over two years. Adding to the naval theme, TFC’s powerful Grumman F8F Bearcat was put through its paces by Brian Smith.
The big formation of the afternoon reflected the allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch, in November 1942. The formation brought together TFC’s Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 and Supermarine Spitfire Vb with the Spitfire Vb from the Historic Aircraft Collection and Spitfire Vc from Anglia Aircraft Restorations. After an initial pass together, Stu Goldspink flew a punchy solo display in the Hawk 75. After the Hawk the three Spitfires flown by Dave Southwood, Dave Harvey and Alex Smee, performed a series of flypasts before breaking into a classic Duxford tailchase.
The final warbird display of the afternoon was the Aircraft Restoration Company’s beautiful Westland Lysander III flown by John Romain. The Lysander missed the main Battle of Britain Airshow as it took part in the Goodwood Revival. At the Revival deservedly took second place in the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Concours.
‘The Best of 2021’ Flying Day capped off a superb summer season of flying at Duxford despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic. Duxford has contributed many highlights to the 2021 season, not least the superb Flying Evening in August and the incredible Battle of Britain Airshow a month later. We can’t wait to see what the IWM Airshow Team produce in 2022.