IWM Duxford Summer Air Show - D-Day80

IWM Duxford Summer Air Show – D-Day80

IWM Duxford brought its 2024 Summer Air Show forward to the first weekend in June to tie in with the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. A central part of Duxford’s commemorations were the small collection of Douglas C-47s and DC-3s of the D-Day Squadron. The flying display also retained the Summer Air Shows colourful mix of civilian and military displays.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from the second day of the show. All photography by the author.

The first weekend of June was perhaps the busiest weekend of major airshows the UK has seen for some time with four major events spread across the southern half of the country. This brought both benefits and risks for the shows will the ability to share displays and aircraft. In particular it meant that Duxford and the Midlands Air Festival were able to plan into their display some international civilian displays that are rarely in seen on these shores. Notably both events planned to include aircraft from the Flying Bulls fleet as well as the  French based Canadair CL-13B Sabre.

In the lead up to the weekend, a lot of change was enforced on the various displays around the UK. The tragic loss of Squadron Leader Mark Long in an accident flying a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire the weekend before meant that their participation was withdrawn. The complex puzzle for operators about how to support the various events also caused a few last-minute changes as did some serviceability issues. However perhaps the biggest issue came in the last few days before the weekend when the weather over southern Europe prevented some of the Flying Bulls and the Sabre from reaching in the UK in good time. All that led to a last-minute scramble for additional acts to fill some quite significant gaps in the flying programmes of the various airshows.

 

There were two further complications for Duxford. First was the weather, particularly the wind, during the first half of the weekend. Cloud and a stiff northernly wind caused significant problems for Duxford with the crosswind out of limits for a few aircraft plus the planned static line parachute drops from the D-Day Squadron C-47s. Second issue were the planned operations of the D-Day Squadron itself. Original plans called for the Squadron to complete a parachute drop during Saturday’s show operating out of North Weald and Sunday would see a ‘parade flypast’ as the Squadron departed for Normandy with the parachutists. Sadly, with fewer aircraft reaching for the UK than planned and the late discovery that the parachutists needed to board the C-47s at a licensed airfield (North Weald is an unlicensed facility) meant that Duxford had to further change its plans for the weekend.

For the Sunday at least with its much more settled and summery weather, the changes to the D-Day Squadron’s activities were actually a positive for the Duxford crowds. The operations by the three C-47s to support the paradropping displays in Normandy bookended the flying displays. In both the morning and early evening, the C-47B Skytrain ‘Pegasus’ from Aero Legends, the Tunison Foundation’s C-47A Skytrain ‘Placid Lassie’ and the Commemorative Air Force’s C-47A ‘That’s All Brother’ boarded parachutists from both military and civilian backgrounds at Duxford before flying to Normandy giving the audience a feel for all the preparation needed for airborne operations.

 

Sunday’s also saw a tribute from the modern-day Parachute Regiment with the flying display opened in spectacular style by the Red Devils Army Parachute Display Team. Throughout the flying programme there were other reflections on aerial operations over Normandy. The role of the Fleet Air Arm was represented by the NavyWings Heritage Flight’s Fairey Swordfish making its first public appearance since the application of Invasion stripes to the aircraft. It may sound unlikely, but Swordfish did play a major role in Operation Neptune, the beach landings. The biplanes were used laydown the smoke screen which masked the approach of the armada of warships and landing craft as they approached the French Coast.

The role of the United States Army Air Force in securing the skies and denying the German land forces the ability to defend occupied territory also featured in the afternoon flying display with Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’ alongside Fighter Aviation’s North American P-51D Mustang ‘Jersey Jerk’ flown with some gusto by Alex Smee. In the case of the latter aircraft, actually an Australian produced Mustang, the Summer Air Show marked its flying display debut having made its first public appearance during Duxford’s VE Flying Day. Poignantly on Sunday, airshow commentator Colin Wilsher interviewed 99 year old Casey Bukowski as Sally-B took off for the display. Casey was a B-17 waist gunner with the 381st Bomb Group and was one of three survivors from his crew when their B-17 was shot down. Casey spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner and was first evacuated west by the Germans to escape the advancing Soviets before finally being freed by the US Army in 1945.

 

The Photo Reconnaissance units of the allied air forces played a vital role ahead of the D-Day landings gathering intelligence. This often overlooked mission was marked in Sunday’s flying programme with a joint display by the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Supermarine Spitfire PR.XI and the Spitfire FR.XIVe from Fighter Aviation.

However, the main centrepiece to the D-Day Anniversary flying was a scenario featuring pyrotechnics and nine historic aircraft representing how air power was used after the landings to support the advancing allied forces. It was opened by a flight of five Piper L4 Grasshoppers. These aircraft were taken across the channel on landing craft by allied forces and then flown in to Normandy to provide aerial observation for artillery fire and eventually pioneering what has become forward air control. In the scenario the five Grasshoppers identified an enemy position and initially called in artillery fire while dodging anti-aircraft fire. As the scenario developed, the L4s eventually also called on the support of a formation of fighter bombers, namely Fighter Aviation’s Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, Old Flying Machine Company’s Supermarine Spitfire IX MH434, ARCo’s Spitfire IX.T PV202 and the Fighter Collection’s Grumman FM-2 Wildcat.

 

Another aircraft with D-Day connections in the flying display was the stunning North American B-25J Mitchell from the Flying Bulls. This gleaming aircraft was displayed alongside their gorgeous Douglas DC-6B in what was one of the outstanding highlights of the afternoon. The two multi-engine aircraft opened their magnificent display with a tailchase before performing their own solo displays. The DC-6 was particularly eye-catching with its towering yet elegant wingovers.

 

The display also featured a handful of smaller themes throughout the afternoon. A late addition to the flying were the Fighter Collection’s Curtiss P-36C Hawk and P-40F Warhawk. The Curtiss family of fighter aircraft is often overshadowed by the more illustrious P-51 and P-47 aircraft, but made valuable contributions to campaigns in Asia, Russia and North Africa. These two fighters were last minute additions and the efforts of the Fighter Collection to support the show are noteworthy. Just because aircraft are based at Duxford does not mean they are all kept airworthy all the time. Their maintenance is often planned around their long planned flying schedules so the efforts of TFC to get the aircraft ready with supporting ground crew and pilots should not be underestimated.

Another standout moment from the warbird flying was a 1930’s formation bringing together the Historic Aircraft Collection’s unique Hawker Fury I and the Imperial War Museums’ Supermarine Spitfire Ia. It is believed this is the first time such a formation has been flown. Adding to the late 1930’s military theme on Sunday was the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Bristol Blenheim 1F which had a busy weekend also displaying on the other side of the UK in Torbay.

 

Aside from the military heritage, the flying display also marked the 90th Anniversary of the MacRobertson Air Race which saw aircraft fly from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk to Melbourne in Australia. The race was won by C. W. A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black flying de Havilland DH88 Comet ‘Grosvenor House’ which flew in from its base at Old Warden, home of the Shuttleworth Collection.

Adding variety to proceeding was a colourful collection of civilian displays. The Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers have been a regular at Duxford’s Air Shows for many years and are celebrating their 40thanniversary this year. They were joined by some more recent additions to the circuit including Team Raven and the Flying Comrades. The latter had a special display for the Summer Air Show with Phil Hardisty flying the Yakovlev Yak-18T, Alex Lewton and Tom Turner flying in Yak-52s and guest pilot Peter Kuypers in his Yak-50. High paced solo aerobatics came from Simon Ansell in the Titan’s XtremeAir XA42 and Rich Goodwin flying the Pitts S-2SE Jet Pitts with his new sponsor, Aerobytes.

 

Modern military might came from the French Air & Space Force’s superb Dassault Rafale C solo display flown by Captaine Jean-Brice ‘Mimouss’ Millett. Duxford proved to be the Rafale’s only UK appearance of the year and certainly got heads facing skywards at the beginning of the display.

Sunday’s flying display was brought to a close by the Red Arrows. It was the team’s first weekend of public displays in the UK and their first as a nine-ship since 2021. Under the leadership of new Red 1 Squadron Leader Jon Bond the team have a completely new display for the 60th display season bringing several favourite formations from past season plus some new twists. Particularly pleasing is the 60 break which sees Hanna Formation paint the number 60 in the sky drawing gasps from the audience.

It was a weekend of two halves at Duxford. Saturday was hugely frustrating for all involved, However Sunday was a completely different story. It may not have been the display the IWM Airshow envisaged just a week before, but it turned out to a hugely enjoyable day in the summer sunshine with some pleasing touches to tell to story of how air power played its role in the D-Day Landings and the Normandy campaign that followed.