The Duxford Airshow 2012 Review

The Duxford Airshow is an annual two-day event that is a must see for aviation enthusiasts and usually celebrates a theme with some spectacular highlights. The most notable was in 2010 which saw a mass formation of sixteen Supermarine Spitfires commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Although there was no theme this year, there was several major highlights including the Albatros D.VA and RAF R.E.8 replicas build by the Vintage Aviator Ltd as well as the airshow debut of the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron’s Canadair CT-133 Silver Star, which due to a radio malfunction was unable to display and we only got to see it taking off at the end of the proceedings on Saturday. Both days saw a great variety of aircraft such as the role demonstration by the Panavia Tornado GR.4s, the aerobatic prowess of The Aerostars and a unique formation of big biplanes including the Fairey Swordfish Mk. II, De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide and a Antonov An-2TP ‘Colt’.

Each day also saw several unique display items that wowed the crowds. The obvious star of the show on Saturday was the Avro Vulcan B.2 which drew many people to the show on that day. Sunday saw the inclusion of another great formation, courtesy of the Norwegian Air Force with a pair of Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons and a pair of De Havilland DH.100 Vampires from the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron. The Red Arrows were given the honour of closing the show on Sunday and was another highlight of the show, making the whole weekend of aviation brilliance even better.

Opening the show on both days was a flypast by four McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. These Eagles are operated by the 48th Fighter Wing (48 FW) which is part of the United States Air Force Third Air Force which is the only F-15 Wing assigned in Europe. It was given the name “Statue of Liberty Wing” in 1954 and remains the only United States Air Force unit with both a name and numerical designation.

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McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles

Sticking with military fast jets, we were next treated to a role demonstration by a pair of Panavia Tornado GR.4s operated by XV(R) Squadron from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray. The demonstration did lack the explosions and pyrotechnics that are present at other major shows but this was due to regulations at Duxford and could not be avoided. Despite this, the display incorporated a lot of very low passes as high speed, which is how the Tornados would be operated in a real-life scenario. Upon the demonstration finishing, the jets form up and depart the display area leaving behind a very satisfied crowd.

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Panavia Tornado GR.4s

Displaying in a very early slot on Saturday was one of the stars of the weekend, which was, of course, the Avro Vulcan B.2. Having seen the Vulcan twice this year already, I had very high hopes for this display. Unfortunately I was quite underwhelmed by the routine, as there was not much of the ‘Vulcan Howl’ present. Nevertheless, the Vulcan did however did look fantastic against the clear blue sky and was a welcome participant to this airshow.

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Avro Vulcan B.2

Returning to the Royal Air Force but this time, with a training aircraft, we observed a display by the Shorts Tucano T.1 from the Central Flight School (CFS) at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. This highly aerobatic turboprop trainer really showed off its capabilities immaculately and stood out brilliantly with its Jubilee colour scheme.

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Shorts Tucano T.1

Upon the Tucano departing to another airshow, we were treated to a trio of classic American fighters from the Duxford based Fighter Collection.

First up was the Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA which has two major claims to fame. The first being that this particular aircraft is the only airworthy survivor from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Secondly is that it is also the oldest airworthy P-40B in the world. The Tomahawk really went through a great routine, very reminiscent of the Spitfire and was really entertaining. Next up, and flying in loose formation was the North American TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma” alongside the Fighter Collection’s newest restored fighter, the Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu”. This was not to be the case on Sunday as “Snafu” couldn’t get started due to a technical issue which left “Miss Velma” to perform solo and was still as spectacular as ever. On Saturday both fighters performed a simultaneous display of varying intensity. Whilst the Mustang demonstrated its high speed and manoeuvrability whilst the Thunderbolt showed off its power and aerobatic capability with several impressive and slow barrel rolls. All in all, both these classic fighters displayed fantastically and we well received by the crowds.

Coming in across the flightline with smoke trailing behind it, was Radial Revelation’s North American AT-28D Trojan in a great French Air Force camouflage scheme. This American training aircraft was built to replace the Harvard in order to make transition to jet trainers easier. When the United States Air Force phased out their T-28s which they called Trojans, many were bought by the French Air Force who called them Fennecs. The display was tight, precise and somewhat shorts but was still a great performance.

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North American AT-28D Trojan

More smoke came with the in the form of the first of many displays by biplanes at the show. This was the fantastically aerobatic CASA 1-131E Jungmann which is a Spanish licensed-built version of the Bucker Jungmann. The Jungmann really showed of a huge variety of fast-paced and intense aerobatics with plenty of loops and rolls as well as lots of smoke. This display was fantastic and I look forward to seeing the Jungmann perform again.

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CASA 1-131E Jungmann

Formation flypasts were definitely a recurring theme at this airshow. Both days saw the unique formation of three large and vary different biplanes including the Fairey Swordfish Mk. II from the Royal Navy Historic Flight, a De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide operated by David and Mark Miller and an Antonov An-2TP ‘Colt’ which is operated by the Antonov An-2 Club. Upon forming up into a loose formation this Big Biplane Flypast made several passes before the three aircraft broke off to perform their own solo displays. The first of the trio was the Fairey Swordfish Mk. II which operated by the Royal Navy Historic Flight and is based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. The crew really put the Swordfish through its paces with a surprising amount of topside passes and wingovers as well as the traditional display conclusion, the flag salute by the crew during a final pass. A great performance from the Swordfish and probably the best display it has done this year. The next biplane to display was the De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide which only performed on the Sunday and only participating in the flypast on the Saturday. The display consisted of a variety of passes which were brilliantly executed. Many thanks should go to Mark Miller who suggested the Big Biplane Flypast in the first place. Finally, the third of the trio, the Antonov An-2TP ‘Colt’ which is operated by the Antonov An-2 Club took to the skies to perform a very different display compared to the previous two biplanes. This performance demonstrated the brilliant slow-speed handling and manoeuvrability that this aircraft was capable of doing. This was defiantly the case on Sunday when the winds were a lot stronger and pushed the An-2TP to a near hover.

Sunday saw another unique formation to commemorate the Norwegian Air Force which was coming from the Norwegian Wings Over North Weald event. The formation consisted of a pair of Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons and a pair of De Havilland DH.100 Vampires of the Royal Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron. An interesting note about one of the F-16AMs was the paint scheme which was commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Norwegian Air Force and making one of its final appearances outside of Europe. The formation made two flypasts before making a spectacular break at crowd centre where the sound of the F-16AMs firing up the engines could be felt as they departed. Coming in for only their second appearance at Duxford since their debut at last year’s show was the Royal Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron’s pair of classic jets. The lead aircraft was a T.55 training version and the other aircraft was an FB.52 fighter-bomber version. The pair flew a very elegant and close formation display which although short, really did capture the grace of this classic jet.

This show also incorporated some very familiar display items that always please the crowds.

No Duxford show would be the same without the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” which is operated and maintained by the B-17 Preservation who have been keeping “Sally B” flying for over 30 years. The display was once again, immaculate as it always is with many types of passes including some topside passes which are seldom seen at some airshows. The display was closed by the ever traditional smoking engines during the final pass.

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Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B”

Another familiar Duxford resident as well as the oldest aircraft in the Fighter Collection, was the Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat. This rugged naval fighter performed a hugely impressive routine which really showed of the aircraft’s brute power and performance capabilities.

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Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat

More classic jets were displayed in the form of a pair of Folland Gnat T.1s that were part of The Gnat Display Team. One of the Gnats is painted in 4 Flight Training School colours whilst the other is painted in its original Red Arrows scheme. The team flew a great display with brilliant formations and solo manoeuvres before breaking at crowd centre and drawing a heart in the sky with their smoke contrails.

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The Gnat Display Team

Along with classic jets and famous Duxford residents, there was also a selection of twin engine aircraft from the Second World War.

One of these participating was Dakota Heritage Ltd’s Douglas C-47A Skytrain “Drag em oot” which is a real veteran as it flew over the Normandy Beaches on D-Day. This aircraft was used to by a specialist unit to recover gliders from Normandy which is why it is named “Drag em oot”. This particular C-47A still bears the scars of its wartime career in the form of numerous bullet hole patches on the fuselage and the cockpit. The Skytrain performed a very tight routine which include a particular tight turn near the very edge of the flightline and nearly over our heads. Plane Sailing provided the next classic heavyweight in the form of their ever-reliable Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A which is painted in the colours of the 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron that was based at Halesworth in Suffolk. This somewhat ungainly amphibious aircraft has surprising manoeuvring capabilities and this was shown to great effect during its performance.

Unfortunately the strong winds on Sunday prevented the World War One replicas from performing but we were still treated to the brilliant display on Saturday. This was the Duxford debut of the Vintage Aviator Ltd’s Albatros D.VA and RAF RE.8 replicas that had already performed at Old Warden. This was to be the first and last appearance of these immaculate replicas as they were destined to be static displays at the RAF Hendon Museum which I personally think is a waste of a perfectly good airworthy aircraft. These two replicas were also joined by the familiar sight of the Fokker Dr.1 and Nieuport 17 replicas. The routine consisted of a variety of different combinations of the four distinctly different aircraft in formation as well as a mock dogfight scenario. I really enjoyed this display and I really hope I could see this routine again but I know that it probably won’t happen for quite a while if ever.

The next display was also a major highlight and performed on both days to entertain the crowds. These were the six Yakovlev Yak 50s of the aerobatic superstars, The Aerostars. They flew a fantastic aerobatic routine which started with a series of formation loops before the solo aircraft broke away to perform some solo aerobatics and the others broke to perform several formation aerobatics and manoeuvres. The great performance was then closed by the final break with all six aircraft pirouetting away from each other.

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The Aerostars

Moving back to the Royal Air Force, we were treated to a display from the BAe Hawk T.1A from 208(R) Squadron based at RAF Valley in Anglesey. The Hawk performed a great routine which seems to be getting better and better as the season progresses to the Hawk demonstration team’s inevitable end. If this performance is anything to go by, they are going to end their airshow run with a glorious finish that won’t be forgotten in time.

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BAe Hawk T.1A

Kicking of the Second World War segment was the pair of Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons, but rather than playing role of the Messerschmitt Bf-109s as the attacking enemy, they took centre stage as an aerobatic duo which was great to see and a rather nice change than what we are used to seeing at an airshow. Next was another duo, but this time with the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I and the Hawker Hurricane Mk. XIIA who performed a tail chase routine which has been a regular sight at airshows for many years and was thoroughly entertaining. Upon completing the tail chase, the pair separated and performed several solo passes before the next item came in to perform. Once the Spitfire and Hurricane had departed the display area, a trio of Supermarine Spitfires came into the area and performed a variety of formation passes which was a brilliant display. The trio consisted of a LF. VB, a Mk. IXT and a LF. XVIE who concluded the display with a series of solo passes and making way for the final part of the display. The final part of the display was a solo performance by the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I which brilliantly showed of its contrasting colour scheme with its camouflage topside  and half black and half white underside which really stood out in the setting sun.

Despite not being able to make its slot due to a radio malfunction, it was hoped that the Canadair CT-133 Silver Star 3 from the Royal Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron would close the show. But upon the aircraft taking off, it was clear that we had run out of time even for a brief flypast. This was made all the more annoying due to the commentators certainty but credit must be given to them for making light of the situation. Still, it was great to see the Silver Star take off and hopefully I’ll get another opportunity to see it display.

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Canadair CT-133 Silver Star 3

We began the weekend with the Eagles from RAF Lakenheath and closing Sunday’s proceedings and the whole weekend was The Red Arrows from RAF Scampton. The team usually consists of nine BAe Hawk T.1As but this has been reduced to seven due to last year’s tragedy. The display was what I would say is the best display they have given in all of this year with nearly clear skies and a full display with lots of formation passes, crossovers and solo aerobatics with plenty of red, white and blue smoke. This was a fantastic conclusion to a fantastic airshow.

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The Red Arrows

Overall, the major stars of the show were the Avro Vulcan B.2 and The Red Arrows. There was also many other highlights including the Albatros D.VA, Fokker Dr.1, Nieuport 17 and RAF R.E.8 replicas as well as the Big Biplanes and Royal Norwegian Air Force formation flypasts. I am looking forward to what The Duxford Airshow offers in 2013.

For more photos from this show check out both The Duxford Airshow 2012 – Saturday and The Duxford Airshow 2012 – Sunday albums on Flickr

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