The Old Buckenham Airshow returned at the end of July with its biggest show yet. As well as more ground displays, warbirds, and aerobatic acts, the show attracted the RAF Red Arrows for the first time performing a full display in the wide-open Norfolk skies. Amongst the multitude of other highlights were the Old Buckenham debut of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Bristol Blenheim 1F and the first-ever formation display by electric-powered aircraft.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from Saturday. All photography by the author.
Old Buckenham Airshow has bucked the trend in recent years growing its offering considerably and becoming one of the more significant displays in the UK. Just a few years ago, it was a delightful little single-day airshow showcasing between 6 and 12 acts. Now it is a two-day extravaganza with at least 18 acts each day covering everything from general and sports aviation to front-line fast jets. But the most extraordinary achievement is that Old Buckenham has lost none of the charm or character it had when it was a smaller event.
Old Buckenham unashamedly revels in its Anglo-American history. Built as a base for the 453rd Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Force and its B-24 Liberators, the modern-day Old Buckenham Airfield commemorates that heritage with two museums on-site and a poignant memorial. Much of the infrastructure around the airfield has also been given iconic American names and signage. The exception to that is Sallingboe Avenue named in tribute to Elly Sallingboe who leads B-17 Preservation Ltd. The show only enhances the Americana with the airfield liberally decorated in the Union Jack and Stars and Stripes.
Away from the heritage, Old Buckenham also celebrated the present and the future. A new area for 2023 was the Emergency Services area in front of the main hangar complex. But it was Old Buckenham’s current and future role in General Aviation that caught the eye. Visitors could sample the current world of general taking flight in an Old Buckenham-based Cessna or Extra 300. The future of general aviation was highlighted in a major exhibition area occupied by NEBOAir and the NUNCATS project. The latter is based at Old Buckenham and is developing the electric-powered ‘Skyjeep’ aircraft. Since the last show in 2022, the first development aircraft has flown and a second is under construction. They are charged using solar cells and the intention is that the aircraft will be used in Africa to deliver essential supplies to isolated communities without the need for fuel drops; the aircraft can simply be flown from community to community charging at self-contained solar chargers.
Opening the five-hour flying displays were the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team jumping from their Dornier Do228. Despite some bumpy winds and some low clouds, they made a very dramatic entrance to kick-start the opening ceremonies. The ceremonies saw the raising of the American flag, the national anthems of the UK and USA sung by Fiona Harber, and dedication not only to the crews of the 453rd Bomb Group but also to some modern-day USAF personnel from nearby RAF Lakenheath that sadly lost their lives recently.
The ceremonies were concluded with the arrival of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B. Sally-B is kept airworthy as a tribute to the 79,000 American airmen who lost their lives flying from UK bases during the Second World War and there can be no finer airborne tribute to Old Buckenham’s heritage. It is certainly very poignant to see and hear the smooth rasp of her four Wright Cyclone radial engines in the Old Buckenham skies.
Sally-B led quite the most superb cavalcade of Duxford-based warbirds led by the Aircraft Restoration Company. Immediately following Sally-B came a trio of Spitfires featuring IWM’s Spitfire Ia, the Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire IX with ARCo’s own Spitfire PRIX. Not to be left out was the Hawker Hurricane with a duo led by Clive Denney and Mark Petit. Clive was flying the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane XII which was making its airshow debut wearing the colours of 302 ‘City of Poznan’ Squadron. Mark followed in Bygone Aviation’s Hurricane I.
More contributions from the Aircraft Restoration Company came in the form of their de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, Westland Lysander III and a standout display by the Bristol Blenheim 1F flown by John Romain. Towards the end of the display, ARCo’s Hispano HA-1112M1L Buchon flown by Steve Jones was pitted against Nick Smith piloting Fighter Aviation’s North American TF-51 Mustang in the ‘Ultimate Dogfight’ – an eye-catching piece of aerial theatre.
It was not just heavy iron from the 1940s in the display. One of the most delightful displays of the afternoon came from the ‘GI Flight’ – a trio of Piper L4 Grasshoppers. The brisk winds gave the pilots ample opportunity to showcase the L4’s agility and slow-speed performance. Also battling a stiff breeze were the seven aircraft of the Tiger9 Display Team. For their appearance at Old Buckenham, they brought with them five DH82a Tiger Moths, a DH82b Queen Bee and a DH60G Moth Major. Despite a brisk headwind, the team put together some majestic formations in the late afternoon skies. Equally elegant were the pair of Beech D17S Staggerwings flown by Peter Kuypers and Nigel Willson performing a sublime routine of formation passes and tail chase flying.
As well as the historic aircraft, the world of general aviation and aerobatics was well catered for with a colourful mix of displays. Old Buckenham is one venue that always has supported new display pilots and acts very well, A brand new act for 2023 is the Mono Display Team of Ben Gilmore and Bruce Buglass. The team fly the Taylor Monoplane, one of the first homebuilt aircraft designed after the Second World War. Ben and Bruce gave a fine display in the bumpy conditions showcasing the spritely performance of the diminutive Monoplane. Another pilot in his first full display season is Patrick Willson from the Titans Display Team. Patrick flew a punchy solo display in the American Champion Xtreme Decathlon highlighting the aircraft’s superb aerobatic abilities. Further, aerobatic delights came from Christophe Simon in the Mudry CAP10C. Christophe is well known to Old Buckenham audiences having made his debut at the Norfolk airfield in 2021. He is now well known on the display circuit for his superb aerobatic display in the Tiger Club’s CAP10 even picking an award at this year’s RAF Cosford Air Show for his superb presentation.
The Flying Comrades also made a welcome return to Old Buckenham with their Yakovlev Yak-18T and two Yak-52s. Phil Hardisty, Alex Lewton and Tom Turner have added some new twists to their display for 2023 adding formation and tail chase aerobatics to their routine. Sunday saw further aerobatic displays from Sam Whatmough in his tiger-striped Vans RV8 and Rich Goodwin in the Pitts S-2S Jet Pitts.
Last year saw Old Buckenham host the first public display in the UK by a Pipestel Velis Electro electric-powered aircraft. This year, Old Buckenham went one better presenting the UK airshow debut of the ‘Electric Arrows’ – a duo of Velis Electro aircraft presented by NEBOAir. While still in their infancy, these electric-powered aircraft are likely to be the future of pilot training in the UK offering flying clubs and schools a cheap, reliable aircraft for initial flying lessons. As a network of charging stations is developed the aircraft may also be able to venture further than their home airfield. Using the callsigns ‘Sparky 1 & 2’ Pilots Sam Whatmough and Alex Rainer flew a series of formation and opposition passes highlighting the performance of the relatively silent Electro.
It was the displays from the Royal Air Force that stole the show. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made a welcome return to Old Buckenham with a solo display from their Avro Lancaster B1 PA474. The Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 solo display returned for the third year running with Flt Lt Matt Brighty quite literally tearing up the Norfolk skies getting all eyes pointing skywards.
The Red Arrows quite literally brought the showground to a standstill during Saturday’s display. The tents emptied and the entire crowd stood and watched the eight scarlet jets cavort around the cloud-dappled sky. Quite often at their more usual display venues, you often get the feeling the Reds are taken for granted, but at an intimate venue like Old Buckenham, you can sense just how much a crowd takes pride in and enjoys their precision flying. We hope it is the first of many such Red Arrows displays at Old Buck!
Closing a perfect afternoon of display flying on Saturday afternoon was George Haye flying his Supermarine Spitfire XVI, the Suffolk Spitfire. Wearing the colours of the USAAF 309th Fighter Squadron while stationed in the Mediterranean Theatre in 1943, it was the perfect aircraft to close an airshow that does so much to celebrate the special relationship between the US and UK armed forces.
Old Buckenham Airshow has long been a favourite of mine. It is one of the most characterful and charming airshows on the UK circuit with its own unique atmosphere and style that really makes it stand out from other events. This year, dubbed the ‘BIG ONE’ by the show’s organisers, was the best edition yet by a long way. It was the largest Old Buckenham Airshow to date in many different ways but the day just flew by leaving myself and many others wanting more!