Duxford Spring Airshow 2013 Review

For many airshow enthusiasts, the Duxford Spring Airshow is the first major air display in the UK and always kicks off with a specific aviation theme. This year was no different and the show was commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Eighth Air Force’s arrival at Duxford which occurred in 1943. The arrival of the Americans had a major effect on not just the airfield but also the surrounding areas in East Anglia which there are many relics of the old bomber and fighter squadrons. Even today, the American presence is still felt with the 48th Fighter Wing and 100th Air Refuelling Wing flying in and out of RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall respectively. During their time at Duxford, the 78th Fighter Group flew in Hurricanes and Spitfires with the Royal Air Force as well as their own Mustangs and Thunderbolts.

This part of Duxford’s wartime history was perfectly represented in the flying display with plenty of classic American types used during the Second World War as well as a stunning set piece performed by The Eagle Squadron which included the best in classic British and American aviation. The British half of the formation included the Hawker Hurricane Mk. X which is operated by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger as well as the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IA which is currently being flown by the Fighter Collection on behalf of Spitfire The One Ltd. The American part of this fourship featured the Fighter Collection’s Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” which only just returned to the air last year. The final aircraft in this unique set piece was the wonderful return of the North American P-51C Mustang “Princess Elizabeth” which was dismantled and bought all the way from the United States of American to Duxford specifically for this show.

As well as the museums at Duxford, there was also the flightline walk which allows you to get quite close to the aircraft that would be performing later. There was also some aircraft that were exclusively for the static park including another immaculate Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IA which was also part of The Eagle Squadron and was nestled among the other four classic fighters. The Old Flying Machine Company’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXB also joined the other aircraft on the flightline. The Royal Air Force’s Shorts Tucano T.1 was also present though reduced to static due to the team being unable to secure their Public Display Authorisation in time. The Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 was also due to fly but a severe engine issue during the show prevented it from doing so and thus resulted in it being only viewable on the ground. There was also some other classic American trainers parked alongside each other with a Piper J-3C-65 Cub and a North American AT-6D Texan as well as the Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger’s De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk T.20. Finally the only civilian static type was one of the Vans RV-8s from The RV8tors aerobatic team which was parked up next to the other two.

Before the flying got underway the guest of honour for the show, Colonel Clarence ‘Bud’ Anderson who flew in the Second World War. He became a ‘triple ace’ in the 357th Fighter Group based at RAF Leiston in Suffolk. ‘Bud’ was treated to a short flight in The Fighter Collection’s North American TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma” before parading the crowd line in a Willy’s Jeep.

Kicking of the display was the departures of The Eagle Squadron which began forming up in the distance while a helicopter filmed them for a documentary due to air in the United States of America.

Leading the formation was the Biggin Hill Heritage Hanger’s Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk. X which is wearing the colours of 601 Squadron coded UF-K which flown by two American pilots, Billy Fiske who was one of only eleven Americans that fought in the Battle of Britain and Carl Davis who recorded nine and a half killed before he was killed in combat. This particular aircraft was originally build in Canada as a Hawker Hurricane Mk. I but was converted to this current variant a year later before being badly damaged by a mid-air collision at RNAS Yeovilton and thus spent many years in storage. It was then rebuilt in the UK in between 1994 and 2001. After living in the United States of American for some time, it returned to the UK in 2012 and currently resides at Biggin Hill. Next in the formation was the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IA which is currently being flown by The Fighter Collection on behalf of Spitfire the One Ltd. This aircraft has been repainted to represent the colours of Spitfire Mk. I P7380 of 71 Squadron which was flown by American ace, Pilot Officer William Dunn who started flying with the Squadron after only four days training. This particular Spitfire was kept in storage for many years before being restored to flying condition to appear in the 1967 film, Battle of Britain. The aircraft was then a regular at many airshows before being grounded in 2003 before returning to the air once again in 2007. The first American fighter in the formation was the North American P-51C Mustang “Princess Elizabeth” which is owned by Commanche Warbirds LLC and was flown all the way from the United States to be part of this special formation. This Mustang in painted in the colours of 1st Lieutenant William. T. Whisner who flew in the 352nd Fighter Group which was part of the 487th Fighter Squadron. Whisner also became one of only seven pilots to reach ‘ace’ status in both World War Two and the Korean War. This particular aircraft is a very beautiful example of the classic American fighter as well as being a rare ‘razorback’. This was once part of The Fighter Collection and was a regular sight at airshows in the UK after being fully restored to flight in 2005 and is still regarded as one of the most beautiful Mustangs in the world. The final part of the formation was The Fighter Collection’s own Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” which is painted in the colours of 78th Fighter Group, specifically as ‘SNAFU’  which was the regular aircraft of 1st Lieutenant Severino. B. Calderon before he was transferred to the 56th Fighter Group. This particular example has a very short military career and is also another rare ‘razorback’ which only took to the skies again last summer in 2012.

The Eagle Squadron ran in line for their display, which started with the Mustang leaving the group as part of a ‘missing man’ formation. The fighter fourship returned with a series of incredibly graceful and majestic passes with the Hurricane leading the formation, flanked by the Spitfire and Mustang while being closely followed by the Thunderbolt. This part of the performance was concluded with the four fighters splitting into two parts at crowd centre which also marked the first of two brief but stunning routines. First up was the pair of British fighters, the Hurricane and Spitfire who performed a synchronized display which was far more graceful than you normally get too see before departing into the distance. Next up was the pair of American’s, the Thunderbolt and Mustang who performed a similar routine but was concluded with a stunning close formation barrel roll which was swiftly followed by a flypast from the Hurricane and Spitfire.

Next up, B-17 Preservation’s Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” took to the air for its display. But this wasn’t the end of The Eagle Squadron which performed a single formation flypast with the Flying Fortress as a fitting conclusion to the stunning fourship’s lengthy and highly evocative routine. Whilst the fighter landed and went back to their parking spaces, the large American bomber performed yet another typically impressive display and was highly appropriate to the show theme.

As well as featuring a wide variety of American aircraft used in the Second World War, the show also displayed several types not commonly associated with the 8th Air Force. The first of these was Westland Lysander Mk. IIIA which is owned by The Shuttleworth Collection. The Lysander were used by the Americans as target tugs and this particular example put on an incredible display of agility and manoeuvrability and kept remarkably close to the crowd line.

Westland Lysander Mk. IIIA

Moving back to the American theme, The Fighter Collection once again bought together another pair of iconic aircraft in the form of the Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA and the Curtiss P-40F Kittyhawk Mk. II. The pair flew in together before the Tomahawk performed a fast loop which began a brief and rather distant aerobatic routine which lacked impact compared to previous years. Coming in stronger was the Kittyhawk which demonstrated a fast and low display with plenty of views of the topside of this rare fighter. The Kittyhawk did have a rather interesting time landing again when the pilot touched down too late and fast resulting in some heart stopping bumpy moments but was fortunately able to circle again and land safely.

Training aircraft used by the 8th Air Force were also an integral part of the display proceedings. First up we had a wonderful routine performed by Golden Apple Operations Ltd’s Boeing-Stearman PT-27 Kaydet in a stunning blue and yellow colour scheme which really stood out in the clear blue sky. The display was swiftly followed by the pair of Duxford based Harvards which, like the Curtiss Hawks from earlier opted to perform individual solo displays rather than as a pair. The Fighter Collection’s Noorduyn AT-16 Harvard IIB performed first with a rather more aerobatic routine than usual which was quite entertaining. The Aircraft Restoration Company’s CCF Harvard Mk. 4 quickly followed with a more sedate series of passes which were over far too quickly.

The Royal Air Force was not going to be left out despite the only solo display, the Shorts Tucano T.1 not being able to display. In terms of historical aircraft we were spoiled for choice with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which bought along their Avro Lancaster B.I, the Supermarine Spitfire PR. XIX “The Last” as well as the return of the second Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC which is sporting a new South East Asia Command colour scheme. The displays from the fighters were particularly entertaining compared to previous years but were once again outdone by the Lancaster which put on a stunning solo displays before rejoining its wingmen and performing a final flypast before making way for the next display item.

Coming in fast was the stunning Hawker Hunter T.7 owned by Graham Peacock which was making its first public appearance under its new ownership. This Hunter was painted in a wonderful camouflage scheme which makes a nice change from the usual black or bright colours of Hunters that I have seen display previously. The display was a tad distant at times but did offer up some wonderful passes and was a very entertaining performance.

Hawker Hunter T.7

Next up was the first of three civilian operated display teams, this once being the TRIG Aerobatic Team with their pair of Pitts S-1D Specials in their bright yellow and purple colour schemes. The pair performed a flawless and intense aerobatic routine with a very good use of their smoke systems and were a rather appropriate display item due to the Pitts Special being an American icon in the aerobatic sector.

TRIG Aerobatic Team

More American action next with a pair of Douglas C-47A Skytrains including Aces High’s example as well as “Drag em oot” from Dakota Heritage Ltd. The pair flew a graceful formation display in close proximity to one another which made a nice contrast to all the fighter formations already seen at this show.

Douglas C-47A Skytrain & Douglas C-47A Skytrain “Drag em oot”

The Breitling Wingwalkers were next to take centre stage, but unusually they displayed as a solo in one of their Boeing-Stearman Kaydets which Steve Hicks at the controls and Sarah Tanner on the wing. Having already seen a Kaydet display earlier it was very refreshing to a see a more aerobatic demonstration of this classic American trainer as well as it adding a bit more glamour and showmanship to the proceedings.

Breitling Wingwalkers

Another aircraft, like the Lysander from earlier not commonly associated with the 8th Air Force was the De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide which was used as a liaison aircraft. This particular Rapide is a beautifully restored example which is owned and operated by Dave and Mark Miller and displayed this aircraft in particularly graceful fashion.

De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide

We also took another look at the most famous American fighter of World War Two, the Mustang. This time we were treated to The Fighter Collection’s North American TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma” which put on a stunning solo display with plenty of low and fast passes typical of great Mustang displays. It was unfortunate that the Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 couldn’t join this fighter due to an engine problem.

North American TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma”

The final of the three civilian teams to display was The RV8tors with their pair of homebuilt Vans RV-8s making a welcome return to Duxford since their last appearance in 2011. The pair flew a great aerobatic routine with perfect precision and control as well as copious amounts of white smoke which further enhanced their performance.

The RV8tors

It was a real treat to see the next item as it was absent from the season last year. This was of course, Golden Apple Operations’ North American F-86A Sabre which in the only ‘A’ variant of this classic jet flying in the world. The display was certainly more intense than in previous years with the slowly setting sun casting a great shine on the paint scheme.

North American F-86A Sabre

Next up was a pair of former adversaries in the form of Air Leasing’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXT and Historic Flying Ltd’s Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon. The duo flew in close formation before switching to a classic tail chasing display. The Spitfire and Buchon then performed separate solo routines before landing.

One of the lesser appreciated or well known American aircraft displaying was the pair of Piper J-3C-65 Cubs owned by Frazerblades and Robin Roberts. These aircraft were used in a large variety of roles from reconnaissance to medical evacuation. The pair flew separate routines at either end of the airfield and each gave clear demonstrations of their superb manoeuvrability.

Piper J-3C-65 Cubs

Finally, the most anticipated moment of the show was finally happening and having seen the four fighters that made up The Eagle Squadron take off after the Sabre displayed everyone was watching all over the sky for a spectacular formation that was not just the highlight of this show but possible the entire airshow season. IN the distance it finally appeared, the nine BAe Hawk T.1As of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows in “Big Battle” formation leading the fourship of fighters which featured once again, the Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk. X, Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IA, North American P-51C Mustang “Princess Elizabeth” and the Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu”. The formation made a single flypast and was a very fitting tribute to all those fought in “The Mighty Eighth” which the perfect representation of American and British aviation excellence. Despite this stunning set piece that was not the end of the show.

Once The Eagle Squadron had landed, The Red Arrows returned over Duxford to conclude this show in spectacular British style with a full display due to the fantastic weather conditions. Having the team back to a full nine-ship was a great relief due to the previous year’s somewhat disappointing yet entertaining displays. The 2013 routine had many of the classic manoeuvres as well as new along with the return of the “Gypo Break”. The Red Arrows are defiantly back on top and this particular display was probably the best I have ever seen them perform and was an excellent conclusion to this special show.

The Red Arrows

In conclusion to this show which I must say was one of the best that Duxford has ever put together had many highlights. The displays and formation involving The Eagle Squadron and The Red Arrows were by far the most outstanding I have ever seen. The solo displays from the Westland Lysander Mk. IIIA and the North American TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma” were also very entertaining and clear high points and it was also great to see the North American F-86A Sabre back on the circuit once again. I am certainly looking forward to returning to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford for the Flying Legends show.

For more photos from this show check out the entire Duxford Spring Airshow 2013 album on Flickr

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