Duxford’s Flying Finale brought the UK Display Season to a close with an exceptional line-up of aircraft old and new. Notably, the event saw Duxford host the Swiss Air Force for the first time with a display from the six Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs of Patrouille Suisse. The show also saw some superb flying from the home-based historic aircraft and the RAF Typhoon Display Team.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Imperial War Museum Duxford has become a keystone in the UK air display season. Duxford’s two major airshows, the Summer and Battle of Britain Air Shows, are augmented by a series of flying days from May through to August. Two further events now sit between the Flying Days; the quite excellent Flying Evening over the August Bank Holiday weekend and what for 2022 was dubbed the Flying Finale in early October.
The ‘Best of 2021’ Flying Day really picked up the mantle of Duxford’s Autumn Airshow which ran until 2013. Not only did the home-based warbirds take part, but the day was expanded with several visiting civilian and military display items. The combined with some fine autumn sunshine attracted a record crowd for a Duxford Flying Day.
For 2022, the season closing event was renamed the ‘Flying Finale’ and like the previous year’s event boasted a very attractive line-up of displays. With the promise of good weather as well it was little surprise it was a sell-out. Frustratingly, that record crowd did mean the Flying Finale suffered the same traffic issues as the Best of 2021 Flying Day did after the show. The bulk of the visitors were again parked on the north side of the site which only had one exit open leading to some very long waits to get back out on to the road. It is something that must be addressed for future years as it cast a shadow of what was a very good day.
On the ground, the Flying Finale was certainly a step up from Duxford’s other flying days with a few select traders dotted around the site and more catering. There were also a few living-history groups and some of Duxford’s operators also had their aircraft on static display.
The afternoon flying displays was opened by the first of the home-based warbird displays, a Battle of Britain salute featuring the Hawker Hurricane I from Hurricane 501 and the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Supermarine Spitfire Vb. Another Duxford regular followed with Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina giving an impressive solo display with the sun illuminating it beautifully against the cloud dappled backdrop.
Though based at Sywell Aerodrome, Air Leasing are also regulars at Duxford often storing some of their burgeoning historic fleet at Duxford. For their contribution to the flying, they displayed a trio of Hawker Fury ISS, Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and North American TF-51D Mustang piloted by Paul Bonhomme, Mark Levy and Alex Smee. Following a formation pass to open the three potent warbirds split with the American duo of P-47D and TF-51D performing a tail-chase ahead of a very smoothly flown solo display by Fury.
The Fighter Collection also presented a set-piece from their fleet with a trio of their American fighters. Leading the opening pass was Stu Goldspink in the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat with the Curtiss P-40F Warhawk and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair on his wings flown by Rolf Meum and Brian Smith. Once the trio had performed a flypast together, they each split into their own aerobatic solo displays over the Cambridgeshire countryside.
Some more gentile historic flying came from a biplane pairing of Mark Miller’s de Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide and the Bucker Jungmann flown by Anna Walker. The low sun really highlighted the classic lines of the Dragon Rapide and its wartime camouflage scheme. Over the top of the Rapide, Anna Walker showed off the superb aerobatic qualities of the Jungmann as the aircraft’s smoke system blew smoke rings in the clear blue skies.
A visiting warbird act was ‘The Last Dogfight Display Team’ which recreates the extraordinary aerial confrontation in April 1945 between a USAAF Piper L-4 Grasshopper and a Fiesler Storch. The role of the Storch is played by a Slepcev Storch, a modern-day scale replica which is flown by Sam Whatmough. Following some low passes by the Storch, Andrew Bendkowski launches in his Piper L-4H Grasshopper to pursue the Storch. As both aircraft were unarmed, the encounter on 12th April 1945 saw the American airmen use their sidearms to attach the German aircraft which eventually crashed while taking evasive action. Sam and Andrew’s recreation sees the two light aircraft twist and weave their way around the skies before the Storch receives a hit and is forced to land while the triumphant Cub performs a low flypast.
For the final piece of warbird action, attention returned to the Battle of Britain with a quartet of RAF fighters. Leading the sequence were three Supermarine Spitfire Vs: Comanche Fighter LLC’s Mk Vc JG891 flown by John Romain, the Fighter Collection’s Mk Vb EP120 piloted by Pete Kynsey with Mike Ling at the controls of the Air Leasing operated Mk Vc EE602. Tucked up behind the Spitfires was another Air Leasing aircraft, Hawker Hurricane I P2902 flown by Nicolas Smith. It was a classic Duxford routine which saw the three Spitfire flying a wheeling tail-chase in the setting sun before the Hurricane flew its own aerobatic display over the Spitfires and they came into land one-by-one.
In between the warbird displays were some colourful displays by some civilian participants. A sequence given over to aerobatics saw Diana Britten fly her Mudry CAP232 in concert with Titan Airways Extreme Duo of XtremeAir XA42 and American Champion Super Decathlon. The Titan Airways aircraft are often seen on the flightlines at Duxford, but they have only started displaying in 2022. They make for a very unusual sight flying close formation aerobatics together and their Titan Airways scheme really catches the sun very well! Hopefully we will see more of them on the circuit in 2023.
Another Duxford based team to debut in 2022 are the Flying Comrades. The team fly three Yakovlev designed aircraft, a pair of Yak-52s and a Yak-18T and made their display debut at Old Buckenham Airshow in July. The three Yaks have a great presence in the sky with the rumble of their Vedeneyev M14P radial engines as they performed a mix of formation passes, opposition passes and solo aerobatics.
The closing act of the Flying Finale was Brendan O’Brien flying his Schweizer S300C ‘OTTO.’ OTTO is a legendary display aircraft having been a star attraction of the US airshow circuit for many years in the hands of Roger Buis. Since 2016 however, OTTO has been based in the UK as part of O’Brien’s Flying Circus. OTTO is fitted with the most extraordinary smoke system and also carries a vast array of pyrotechnics for night shows. For Duxford, Brendan presented his own unique brand of ‘chopperbatics’ enhanced with some screaming pyrotechnics fired from OTTO’s skids.
It was however displays from the modern military that stole this final show of the season. Flt Lt Adam O’Hare performed his final public display towards the end of the display in the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. The patriotic markings of the display jet ‘Blackjack’ really shone in late afternoon sunshine as the Typhoon tore around the skies.
But the absolute highlight of the Flying Finale, and perhaps IWM Duxford’s entire flying season, was the Swiss Air Force’s Patrouille Suisse. Flying six Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs, the team have been a regular fixture at major UK military airshows for many years. This occasion however was the first time any Swiss Air Force display had performed at Duxford. With Duxford’s own runway too short for F-5E operations, the team were based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire for the weekend. Due to some unsettled weather on the Friday before the Flying Finale, early arrivals at Duxford were in fact treated to two displays by the team as they flew their area familiarisation and display rehearsal in the morning ahead of the main display. Despite being restricted to a rolling show by the controlled airspace over Duxford, the Patrouille Suisse’s display was absolutely superb with action on front of the crowd all the time and all the precision you would expect from a Swiss display.
This was certainly a display worthy of the ‘Flying Finale’ moniker for Duxford’s and perhaps even the entire UK 2022 display season. Helped by some glorious autumnal sunshine, it showcased Duxford at its very best with wonderful warbird sequences interwoven with some excellent visiting displays and the truly outstanding demonstration by Patrouille Suisse. In 2023, Duxford will be celebrating 50 years of Imperial War Museum Airshows and this final event of 2022 has set a very high bar!