The final IWM Duxford Flying Day of 2023 marked the ties between the Cambridgeshire airfield and 19 Squadron, one of the RAF’s most illustrious units. Despite being quite a breezy day, a sell-out crowd enjoyed a very relaxed meander through some early Second World War aviation history in a 90 minute flying display.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
No 19 Squadron was originally formed as part of the Royal Flying Corps in September 1915. Following the end of the First World War the unit was disbanded in December 1919. However, on the 1st April 1923 19 Squadron was reformed at RAF Duxford as a training unit within No 2 Flying Training School. 19 Squadron soon became an independent unit flying a variety of biplane fighters from the Sopwith Snipe through to the Gloster Gauntlet based at RAF Duxford. In August 1939 the Royal Air Force’s first Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1s were delivered to 19 Squadron at Duxford. Therefore it was fitting that the August Flying Day should mark the centenary of 19 Squadron’s association with Duxford.
Today the 19 Squadron are based at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland and has responsibility for radar control and surveillance within NATO Air Policing Area 1 and provides tactical control for the UK’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) response – the modern-day equivalent of the Dowding Integrated Air Defence System that proved so critical during the Battle of Britain. Personnel from the Squadron were part of the ground show during the Flying Day alongside some of Duxford’s aircraft and re-enactors.
Given 19 Squadron’s current information gathering role, it was appropriate that the first two aircraft in the flying display were associated with maritime and photo-reconnaissance – the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina ‘Miss Pick Up’ and Fighter Aviation Engineering’s beautiful Lockheed 12A Electra Junior. It has been a late start to the season for the Catalina as engineering work over-ran into the first half of the season. However, ‘Miss Pick Up’ is back to her best and has already performed at airshows in the UK and Ireland. The Electra has already starred in two Duxford events this season following a superb restoration by Air Leasing at Sywell. It is one of most important restorations of recent years having been one of the aircraft used by Sir Sydney Cotton just prior to the Second World War to gather surveillance photographs of the German military build-up. As such it was instrumental to the formation of the RAF Photo-reconnaissance units that provided such valuable intelligence throughout the second world war.
The flying display then turned to early fighters with a pair of Hawker Hurricane Mk.1s from Hurricane501 and Fighter Aviation Engineering. As with the Catalina and Electra, the pair of Hurricanes flown by Peter Kirkpatrick and Gabriel Barton arrived in a loose tailchase before performing their own solo displays.
The displays then looked away from the Second World War. The first display in this little interlude was a delightful duo of de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunks flown by Phil Hardisty and and Alex Lewton. Flying an example of the RAF Chipmunk T.10 and the rare Royal Canadian Air Force example, Phil and Alex presented a very original routine of formation flying interspersed with gentle aerobatics and eye-catching breaks. Unlimited aerobatics casme next with Diana Britten and her Mudry CAP232. Diana is a master of gyroscopic aerobatics with the CAP tumbling end over end at height and recovering with pin-point precision.
Following Diana’s aerobatics, it was back to warbirds until the end of the display. In keeping with the early war theme to the flying, the first warbird pairing reflected the Battle of France with both the Gloster Gladiator IIand Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 from the Fighter Collection. Pete Kynsey and Rolf Meum put on a very pleasing routine with both aircraft sharing the sky throughout their slot through a mix of formation, solo aerobatics and tail-chasing.
The finale saw the main salute to 19 Squadron with the trio of Duxford based Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1as. Leading the trio was Jon Gowdy flying the Imperial War Museum’s own Spitfire Ia N3200 and his was joined by Stu Goldspink and Brian Smith flying the pair of Spitfire Ias from Comanche Fighters Llc. The beautifully choreographed sequence saw the trio fly their opening passes in a vic formation before splitting. The Comanche Fighters pair flew a short sequence of formation aerobatics before the flying was brought to a close by a stunning solo display by Jon Gowdy in N3200.
It was a perfect finale to the flying as N3200 is a 19 Squadron aircraft which was flown by Squadron Leader George Stephenson. It flew its one and only operation on the 26th May 1940 during Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk. After intercepting and downing a Junkers Ju87 Stuka, George and N3200 were themselves shot down by a Bf109. George managed a successful forced landing on the beaches of Sangatte and was taken prisoner. N3200 was left to be consumed by the sand and was buried until 1986 when strong currents revealed the wreck. She was subsequently recovered and from 2000 the wreck was used as the basis to return N3200 to airworthy condition by Mark One Partners and Historic Flying Ltd. N3200 flew again in 2014 and was gifted to the IWM in 2015 become the organisations only airworthy exhibit.
While this was not the biggest of IWM Duxford’s flying days, it was a short display of superb quality and some wonderful flying in the less-than-ideal winds. There are still three flying displays left in the 2023 season at Duxford, the Flying Evening on 26th August, the Battle of Britain Airshow on 16th-17th September and the Flying Finale on 14th October.