Duxford Autumn Airshow 2012 Review

Finally, we arrive once again to the last airshow of the 2012 season, and where else would be more appropriate than at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. For the final show of the year, there were surprisingly no international participants compared to other years. Several items leading up to the show were cancelled due to technical difficulties including the Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXB and the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair as well as the Supermarine Spitfire FR. XVIE which was due to replace the Corsair during the display. The Agusta-Westland WAH-64 Apache AH Mk. 1 of the Army Air Corps was also reduced to static display due to one of the crew being unavailable. As with many autumn airshows here at Duxford, there was a theme to be celebrated. This year we were commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Merlin-engine Mustang which was represented by the two North American P-51D Mustangs based at Duxford.

Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1

The show was kicked off with the very brief but highly spirited display by the Douglas DC-3C Dakota III which was part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Dakota went through series of passes including wheels down passes and one with one of the doors open with a crew member giving the crowd a wave.

Douglas DC-3C Dakota III

Next up was going to be the Army Air Corps Apache due to a crew member injury, it was replaced by one of the reserve items; the LeVier Cosmic Wind “Ballerina”. This very tiny racing plane is one of only six ever made and this particular example was one of the first three that were built. The Cosmic Wind went through a very fast and elegant aerobatic routine that was quite entertaining although lacking the fury and the thrills of other aerobatic displays.

LeVier Cosmic Wind “Ballerina”

After fixing some technical difficulties with one of the aircraft, the pair of Westland Lynx HMA.8s of the official Royal Navy helicopter display team, The Black Cats. They began their routine. This was the first of several farewells to the airshow circuit due to the imminent retirement of the Lynx from the Royal Navy in 2017 after more than forty years of service and being replaced by the similar but far more capable Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat. The team performed a very energetic display with a variety of twists and turns in very close formation. You could describe the display as an aerial ballet but is far more thrilling than that. This was a very fitting conclusion to the end of this particular demonstration and it is hoped that a similar routine may be seen again in the next few years but for the time being, the Royal Navy will only be able to display a solo demonstration for the 2013 airshow circuit.

The Black Cats

Another display team took to sky next, but with a significantly more silent presence. This was the elegant and graceful performance of The Redhawks with their pair of Fournier RF-4Ds which interestingly have wingtip smoke generators as well as a considerably weak engine which only produces thirty-nine horsepower. This didn’t stop the team performing an elaborate display of close formation and graceful turns which made a very nice interlude among the high powered warbirds and military aircraft.

The Redhawks

Coming up along the runway and taking off simultaneously, were a trio of much noisier classic American trainers. This included the versatile Piper J-3C-65 Cub operated by Frazerblades, the rugged Boeing-Stearman PT-27 Kaydet from Golden Apple Operations Ltd as well as the Fighter Collections own Noorduyn AT-16 Harvard IIB. Once the three trainers were airborne they each demonstrated their unique capabilities with the Grasshopper showing off its slow speed handling and the Stearman showing the crowds how versatile it is. The Harvard put on a more dynamic demonstration of the handling and aerobatic qualities that it possesses.

Next up was a segment of Royal Air Force aircraft performing their own demonstrations. First up was yet another farewell with the specially painted Shorts Tucano T.1, whose pilot was performing his last display whilst we were also bidding farewell to the BAe Hawk T.1A which was performing its final ever display. To commemorate these final performances, this pair of modern Royal Air Force trainers flew a single formation flypast before separating to perform their solo routines. Starting up was the ever reliable and impressive Tucano which performed a fantastic aerobatic routine and really demonstrated the skills that pilots must learn in order to advance to more complex aircraft. The Tucano demonstration will be returning next year with a new pilot and a new scheme. Once the Tucano prepared to land, the Hawk came in to perform the very last Hawk T.1 role demonstration ever which was because of this particular version of the Hawk is being replaced by the BAe Hawk T.2. This display was probably the best Hawk demonstration that has been seen all this year and meant that this end of an era display would end on a high note. Next year there will be no Hawk demonstration from the Royal Air Force except the Red Arrows but it is hoped that we will see a Hawk T.2 demonstration display sometime in 2014.

The final display in this Royal Air Force segment was the Westland Sea King HAR Mk. 3A role demonstration which is always really popular with the crowds. This big yellow helicopter showed how it performs its role as a search and rescue platform and was particularly enjoyable despite the lack of water.

Westland Sea King HAR Mk. 3A

The next part of the display schedule was a duo of aerobatic performers

Kicking things off was the pair of Pitts S-1D Specials of the TRIG Aerobatic Team who were formally known as The Pitts Pair. The team is sponsored by TRIG Avionics Ltd as of this year but still display a distinctive yellow and purple colour scheme. The pair performed an intense array of fast paced aerobatic manoeuvres including many rolls and loops which were further enhanced by the heavy use of smoke. The team demonstrated how well they can perform precision formation manoeuvres and this performance turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining spectacle.

TRIG Aerobatic Team

More aerobatic action was next with the aerobatic marvels of Tom Cassells in his highly aerobatic Mudry CAP-232. CAP designs have won numerous World Aerobatic Championship titles including many in 1998, 2000 and 2007. Tom put this aircraft through some very advanced aerobatics and was a brilliant sight to behold.

Mudry CAP-232

The majority of the display now consisted of a variety of warbirds, many of which are based here at Duxford.

Starting of the series of displays was a mock dogfight with the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon playing the part of the aggressor which was joined by Air Leasings Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXT. The pair flew in formation for a few passes before performing a thrilling tail chase sequence across the cloudy skies. This was a perfect way to kick off the warbirds displays and it was very unfortunate that several other warbirds had to cancel their appearances.

Coming I next with a highly powerful engine was Kennett Aviation’s Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider which I was really looking forward to seeing as at every other show it was due to perform at that I attended resulted in this classic navy aircraft being cancelled or unable to display. The Skyraider really showed off the pure power it possesses as well as the surprising grace it exudes during its performance. This brilliant aircrafts display was truly awesome to see.

Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider

The Fighter Collection provided the next pair of fighters who would display in this series of Warbirds. These were the Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA which is a very famous airworthy Pearl Harbour survivor and was joined by the Curtiss P-40F Kittyhawk Mk. II which is a rare Merlin-engine variant. These two classic fighters performed a fantastic tail chase sequence which was very reminiscent of the mock dogfight from earlier but with added thrill and excitement which, in my personal opinion made this performance one of the highlights of the show.

Taking off to play its part in the flying display was probably Duxford’s most famous resident, the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” which went through a spectacular routine as it was flying its last display of the year. The display was once again concluded, with the smoke coming from two of the engines which is made as a tribute to all the American bomber crews who perished during the Second World War.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B”

Streaking in next for their starring roles was the pair of Duxford based North American P-51 Mustangs, in the form of “Ferocious Frankie” and “Miss Velma” which are operated by the Old Flying Machine Company and the Fighter Collection respectively. These classic American fighters were celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Merlin-engine Mustang which was one of the deciding factors that turned the tide of the Second World War. Both these Mustangs have very interesting histories, as “Miss Velma” was one of the last Mustangs built by North American Aviation and saw service during the Korean War. It was purchased by the Fighter Collection as a restoration project in 2000 and was modified to a twin-seat TF-51D configuration during its restoration in California. This classic fighter finally took to the air again in 2007 and, with drop tanks fitted, flew across the Atlantic to the UK. The other Mustang, “Ferocious Frankie” also had an interesting past, beginning with it being sent to England just as the war was ending, where it was based at Leiston and Suffolk before returning to the USA in early 1946. In the following year, this Mustang joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving for ten years before being sold into private hands. Interestingly, in 1974, this aircraft being an original airframe came in at second place in the Unlimited Air Race at Reno with an average speed of 384 miles per hour. It was acquired by the Old Flying Machine Company in 1999, and with its spirited performance and Mustang ‘whistle’, has been a very popular aircraft at airshows. The pair of Mustangs performed a wonderfully spirited and dynamic formation display in the light of the setting sun before breaking away from each other to make way for the next item. This began with the Hawker Hunter F.58A “Miss Demeanour” taking to the air to join up with “Ferocious Frankie” for a unique formation to commemorate not just the Mustang anniversary but also the ending of the airshow season. Whilst we waited for this formation to arrive, “Miss Velma” performed a brief solo routine to entertain the crowds. Next up was definitely the best display of the show with Duxford providing yet another unique formation consisting of Jonathan Whaley’s Hunter and the Old Flying Machine Company’s Mustang which flew multiple passes across the crowd line before splitting up to allow the Hunter to close the show. The Hunter performed a very diverse display with plenty of tight turns and some aerobatic manoeuvres. The cherry on the cake was definitely the slow pass with the open canopy whilst Jonathan Whaley waved to the crowds which was further enhanced by the presence of the ‘Blue Note’ that is a unique sound made by the Hunter. Upon landing, we could also see that the striking colour scheme of the Hunter was also present on the breaking parachute as well as on Jonathan’s helmet. This display was a fantastic conclusion to the display as well as to the entire airshow season in 2012. As the sun was setting, “Ferocious Frankie” made a final fast pass before touching down to land as the final aircraft, which was highly appropriate considering the mustang theme.

Overall, the display did lack the international element that has been present in previous shows but did turn out to be a brilliant little gem of a show with several unique flypasts from both the Royal Air Force and Duxford itself. It is a shame that we will not be seeing the BAe Hawk T1 role demonstration as well as the displays from The Black Cats in next year’s season. I think the major highlights of  the display was the massive contingent of warbirds taking part, in particular, the North American P-51 Mustangs and the Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider. I am eagerly looking forward to what Duxford can bring to the table in the airshow season in 2013.

For more photos from this show check out the entire Duxford Autumn Airshow 2012 album on Flickr

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