Old Buckenham Airshow 2022

Old Buckenham Airshow 2022

The 2022 Old Buckenham Airshow marked the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the 80th Anniversary of the arrival of the United States Army Air Force in the UK. It was also the airfield’s own 80th Anniversary and the airshow not only marked the airfield’s past, but also its future with a look at the latest generation of electric powered aircraft.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

2022 was the 10th airshow held under Old Buckenham’s current ownership. Those ten years have seen the airfield not only develop into a thriving centre for general aviation, but also as a unique heritage centre marking the airfield’s close association with the United States Army Air Force and in particular, the 453rd Bombardment Group. Airfield construction started in 1942 and the 453rd BG was based at Old Buckenham with Consolidated B-24 Liberators from 1943 through to April 1945. Following the departure of the USAAF, the airfield passed to the Royal Air Force which used it as a satellite maintenance base until it closed in June 1960.

The American history now pervades the modern-day airfield site with its roads and infrastructure named in honour of US links and heritage. The airfield’s café is named ‘Jimmy’s’ after actor Jimmy Stewart who was group operations officer at Old Buckenham in 1944. Further heritage links can be found in the two museums based on the airfield as well as a memorial garden.

Over the past two years the scale of the airshow has really grown. It used to be a short afternoon flying programme of two to three hours, but in 2022 it featured over 18 items which a display lasting four and half hours – impressive for a “local” airshow!

 

The display opened with the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team. Their display was part of a memorial service marking the arrival of union flag to join that of the United States, the US 8th Air Force, the US Prison of War Missing in Action Flag and the Ukrainian Flag in the memorial garden. The ceremony was closed with the arrival of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’ following the national anthems of the UK and the US. As the flying memorial to the 79,000 Allied airmen who lost their lives in Europe during the Second World War, the display by the B-17 was the perfect and a very poignant way to start the flying displays.

Equally poignant given the current war in Ukraine was the display by three Duxford based Yakovlev aircraft. Called the Flying Comrades, the fly a formation of Yakovlev Yak-18T and two Yak-52 training aircraft the team fly a very pleasing routine of formation passes and solo displays in their powerful cold war era training and touring aircraft. Their display was dedicated to the people of Ukraine, particularly those serving in the Ukrainian Air Force who well may have training on similar aircraft.

 

As well as the Yaks, Old Buckenham hosted many other family-favourite displays. The Tiger Club Turbulent Team are regulars at Old Buckenham with their classic barnstorming routine of limbo flying, flour bomber and balloon bursting. Further Tiger Club participation came the Mudry CAP10C flown by Frenchman Christophe Simon. Christophe complete some of his first ever public displays at Old Buckenham in 2021 having been mentored by the Tiger Club. He has since developed his display further and flies a stunning routine of flowing aerobatic in the CAP with the aircraft always rolling or pitching for the next aerobatic figure.

Another returning aerobatic act that always turns heads at Old Buckenham is the ‘Little and Large’ act by Chris Burkett and Mike Williams. Flying a full sized Extra 300S and a radio-controlled model side by side, they have quite rightly won plaudits wherever they have appeared. But there is something about the Old Buckenham display arena that really brings out the best in the display with both aircraft appearing perfectly matched in the sky.

 

An unusual section of the display was entitled the STOL Formation and brought together the Aircraft Restoration Company’s de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Beaver flown by John Romain with Tony Richards flying an American Champion Super Decathlon. After a couple of passes into close formation each performed its own solo display. In the hands of Tony Richards, the Decathlon gave a very punchy aerobatic display highlighting superbly its sponsor, car-care brand ‘Muck Off.’ One of Old Buckenham’s two resident Beech D17S Staggerwings added to the classic piston action with an elegant display by Nigel Willson.

Old Buckenham Airfield is at the forefront of bringing online electric powered aircraft for pilot training and for humanitarian missions. It is home to the UK’s first solar powered charging for electric light aircraft which is serving as a prototype for the NUNCATS Sky Jeep project. This pioneering project hopes to use Zenith CH705 Skyjeep aircraft to provide carbon neutral aviation in Africa to serve remote settlements with re-supply and aid flights. However, NEBOair are now importing the Pipistrel Velis Electro into the UK for flight training organisations. They brought two aircraft to the show, one of which was flown in the flying display by Tiger Club pilot Alex Rainer. While undoubtedly this was a first and very important display in the UK for a commercially successful electric aircraft, it probably wasn’t quite the major first it was hyped up to be with both Airbus and Diamond Aircraft having demonstrated the E-Fan and E-Star at the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow. Nor was it the first ever display for Velis Electro with one being demonstrated at Ursel Avia in Belgium earlier in July and an all-electric version of the Cri-Cri has been on the French airshow circuit for a few years.

 

In total contrast to the quiet of the Velis Electro was the thunderous Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. This was the second year that Old Buckenham has been allocated the Typhoon and was no less popular being one of the highlights that attracted a sell-out crowd on both days. Flt Lt Adam O’Hare’s display brought the whole of Old Buckenham to a stand-still with the entire crowd looking skyward during his routine – a testament to the impact a fast jet display can have when seen at smaller, more intimate venues.

It was Second World War heritage that formed the backbone of the Old Buckenham display. In many ways it felt like Duxford had transposed itself some 50 miles east given the origin and style of many displays. The first big set piece came from a trio of Spitfires with the Imperial War Museum’s Supermarine Spitfire Ia flown by Stu Goldspink leading Lee Proudfoot in ARCo’s Spitfire PRXI and Brian Smith in the Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire IX MH434. ‘MH has been was the headline aircraft for all of the last 10 Old Buckenham Airshow and it was great to see back for this special edition of the show.

 

Warbird solo displays came from Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina and Clive Denny flying Peter Kirkpatrick’s Hawker Hurricane I V7497. The Aircraft Restoration Company’s Westland Lysander III also made its first Old Buckenham appearance in the hands of Jon Gowdy. This aircraft is the only airworthy Westland built example and the detail that has gone into the restoration is incredible right down to bomb-carrying stub wings for Army Co-operation missions.

The Army Co-operation theme was continued by the Last Dogfight Display Team of Sam Whatmough and Andrew Bendkowski. Flying a Slepcev Storch (a scale replica of the Fiesler Storch) and a Piper L4H Grasshopper, the pair recreate the last aerial engagement of the European war in April 1945 when the crew of a Piper L4 Grasshopper bring down a Luftwaffe Fiesler Storch using their Colt pistols.

 

Another eye-catching pair of aircraft were the North American Harvard IV and AT-6C Harvard IIA flown by Rod Dean and Nigel Willson. They reprised their wonderful aerobatic tailchase they first performed at the Duxford Summer Air Show in June showing off the classic lines and rasping sounds of the classic World War Two trainer.

The outstanding highlight of the warbird flying had to be the ‘Battle of Britain’ dogfight presented by Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones. Flying the Supermarine Spitfire VIII and Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon from the Aircraft Restoration Company, Paul and Steve flew a captivating routine of close formation and tailchase flying recreating a closely fought duel in the skies over Norfolk. Inevitably, the Buchon was sent looking for a safe landing site trailing smoke while the Spitfire performed the classic victory roll on his way home to base!

The flying was closed by a further Spitfire, this time Supermarine Spitfire XVI G-PBIX which is known as the Suffolk Spitfire and represents an aircraft from the USAAF 309th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Group, stationed in the Mediterranean Theatre in 1943 and flown by Lt. Robert Connor. It was flown by its owner George Haye who has recently received his display authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority. As such, he is a Tyro DA holder. To aid Tyro DAs gain experience and encourage a healthy level of succession in the UK’s cadre of display pilots, airshow organisers are able to add displays by Tyro DA pilots to their displays without requiring any amendments or costs to their display permissions. It is to Old Buckenham’s credit that many of its recent displays have featured Tyro DA pilots helping to encourage a new generation into the air display community.

2022 was another outstanding year for Old Buckenham Airshow with the weather remaining fairly kind despite some dire forecasts. It was jokingly described as ‘Duxford on Tour’ in some quarters but this is no bad thing when it brings such high-quality display flying to another venue. In particular Old Buckenham continues the remarkable magic trick of growing the scale of its event without losing sight of its own heritage or the unique charm that makes the Norfolk airshow so special!