Imperial War Museum Duxford – Battle of Britain Airshow 2017
by David Layland
Duxford held it’s Battle of Britain Airshow over the weekend September 23rd/24th. Duxford is also celebrating its centenary this year, the Royal Flying Corps having established it as a training airfield in 1917. and then hosting the RAF, USAAF and then the RAF again. It is now home to the Imperial War Museum (IWM) as well as commercial enterprises such as The Fighter Collection (TFC), the Old Flying Machine Company, the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo), the Historic Aircraft Collection and the B-17 Preservation Society. The weather for the flying was mostly ok; showers giving way to overcast on Saturday, but sunny and warm on Sunday.
The flying programme for both days was very similar. With only a couple of unserviceable aircraft and a tricky crosswind on Sunday, nearly every aircraft flew as advertised. Both days opened with the RAF Parachute Display Team, known as The Falcons. Next came a unique formation of six Hawker Hurricanes of various marques, including a Sea Hurricane. It’s doubtful that that many Hurricanes have flown together since the end of WWII, or soon after. Then the display split up into groups of aircraft with a historical relationship, ending with two “classic” Duxford features: the Spitfire Balbo followed by the Battle of Britain finale formation.
As usual with Duxford, the commentary was informative and slick. The commentators, Ben Dunnell and Colin Wilsher, knew when to inform and when to let the aircraft speak for themselves. Even with a few dropouts due to unserviceability and the unscheduled early landings by the P-51 Mustang Miss Helen and The Fighter Collection’s F8F Bearcat, Dunnell and Wilsher did not miss a beat.
The display flowed nicely with the commentary team giving an educational and entertaining narration of the display. The Great War Display Team gave a spirited performance, despite the wind on both days. Pyrotechnics simulated enemy flak, giving an authentic air to the show. All of the aircraft are immaculately turned out… a simple walk down the flight line immediately reveals how much care and attention their owners and support teams put into their presentation. Of particular note were Air Leasing’s Hawker Fury FB.II, ARCo’s ‘battle-weary’ Hispano Buchon, TFC’s shiny P-40C and Richard Lakes’ Spitfire FR.XVIII.
The highlights were undoubtedly the formation of six Hawker Hurricane’s and the thirteen-ship Spitfire formation. The huge scope of these formations was impossible to convey photographically, so it was time to put the camera down and experience the sight and sound of nearly twenty Merlin and Griffon powered aircraft in the sky. Duxford is becoming well known for its Spitfire Balbo, but now that the Hurricane’s star is rising, it is wonderful to see them getting in on the action. It was also nice to see the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron, with their brace of deHavilland Vampires and immaculate MiG-15UTI, making the trip over for the display season.
Post the Hawker Hunter crash at Shoreham in 2015, the UK air show scene is still somewhat on the back foot, adjusting to amended crowd lines and viewing points, as well as having the display axis and aircraft further away. However, Duxford has done a good job of complying with the new regulations while at the same time creating an exciting and spectacular display. The audience is squeezed at little, with the western end of the crowd line out of bounds now, but the centre area has opened up a little to compensate.
Even when an air show is not taking place, Duxford is a hive of activity. A walk around the hangars gives great insight into the UK’s warbird restoration and maintenance scene. There are several longterm projects that it would be good to see progressing; The Fighter Collection’s Bristol Beaufighter being one of them. It would be great to see in formation with the Blenheim! TFC also has a Seafury in quite an advanced state of restoration, as well as an ultra-rare Fiat CR.42 which looks close to having its fabric covering fitted. It’s difficult to pin anyone at TFC down to a flying by date, as I have a feeling a certain amount of budget juggling may be going on, but I think the CR.42 may be closest to flying, so watch this space!
So in conclusion, it was a great weekend with a full flying programme that reflected Duxford’s role in the Battle of Britain as well as a flavour of flying from the Great War through the Korean War. There was a packed crowd on both days, and plenty for them to see and do away from the flight line as well. I would definitely recommend Duxford if you are planning a trip to the UK, or are at a loose end during the summer, whether there is an air show or not. It was a privilege to represent WarbirdsNews at Duxford, and I am grateful for the extra access this gave me over the weekend.
WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Dave Layland for his excellent report and photography from Duxford. We look forwards to more of his contributions in the future!