Imperial War Museum Duxford’s airshow season will draw to a close on Saturday, October 14, with a spectacular 50th-anniversary flying event, marking five decades to the day since the iconic Cambridge aerodrome first held an air show back in 1973.
The inaugural ‘Duxford Air Day’ marked the first time the general public had been invited into Duxford to immerse themselves in the site’s rich aviation heritage, witness the work of IWM and enjoy a packed flying display. With a diverse range of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft (accompanied by a balloon ascent), the flying program certainly encompassed everything from historic types to front-line fighters. With the show a resounding success, airshows quickly became an integral aspect of IWM Duxford’s work, allowing subsequent generations the opportunity to admire a variety of aircraft both on the ground and in the air.
Now, fifty years later, the single Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane on display in 1973 have been bolstered by a number more. IWM’s only airworthy aircraft (Spitfire Mk.1a N300) will be accompanied by examples operated by Comanche Fighters, the Rolls-Royce Heritage Flight and the Historic Aircraft Collection. Two Hurricanes – a Mk.XIIa and a Mk.I – will also join the flying programme as aerial ambassadors for the type’s Battle of Britain service.
Although the twin powerplants of the 1973 show’s de Havilland Mosquito will not be participating in the collective music of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, there’s hope that through projects such as the People’s Mosquito – hoping to return the ‘wooden wonder’ to UK skies as soon as 2027 – the iconic DH design may well fly at Duxford airshows in years to come.
Other types on the 1973 programme can still be seen in operation elsewhere today (such as the Hunting Percival Provost, the Gloster Gladiator, the Fairey Swordfish and the de Havilland Dove). Others are regrettably absent from the UK airshow circuit: most notably the English Electric Canberra and the Hawker Hunter jets, the latter of which has not put in an airshow performance since the tragedy at Shoreham in 2015.
Instead, Duxford spectators will be able to watch the only Bristol Blenheim flying in the world (operated by Duxford-Based Aircraft Restoration Company), the Comrade Pair (flying a Yakovlev Yak-18T and Yak-52), the Consolidated Catalina PBY-5A, a Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing and a North American T-6 Harvard Pair.
Also absent from the contemporary line-up is the 1973 spectacle of Dr. John Gore’s 56,000 cubic foot hot air balloon ascent (nicknamed ‘Aquarius’). The balloon had made a cross-Channel flight earlier in the year and (as the original programme explains) had ‘been involved in the hunt for the Loch Ness monster’. Instead, excitement comes courtesy of The Titans (performing stunts in an Xtreme Decathlon and XtremeAir XA42), the pyrotechnic performance of the Firebirds Aerobatic Team, and Otto the Helicopter (promising a routine ‘full of stunts and aerial madness’). Diana Britten, the first woman to have been British Aerobatic Champion, will also be flying ‘dazzling gyroscopic’ manoeuvres in her CAP 232.
Continuing the tradition of public pleasure flying, the 1973 rides in a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft (courtesy of Humber Airways) have now been superseded by de Havilland Tiger Moth and Dragon Rapide options, operated by the airfield’s Classic Wings, before and after the airshow.
Tickets must be booked online in advance and can be found via this link. A range of commemorative merchandise, including a limited edition bookazine ‘which charts the key aviation highlights of the past 50 years through a rich array of vintage photographs and archival material from the original programmes’, is also available.