I once again found myself back at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford for their first show of the year which was commemorating one of the big themes for the season, the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Nearly four years since the evacuation of British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, on the 6th June 1944 more than 500,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy including over 23,000 airborne troops as part of Operation Overlord. Now, 70 years after this historic event, the Imperial War Museum’s May Airshow payed tribute to those who fought in this conflict as well as highlighting the influence of the airborne force’s used on D-Day with a large array of types wearing the iconic ‘invasion stripes’ as well as a number of aircraft that actually flew during the invasion of Normandy. I attended this show on the Sunday only.
Despite their being no airworthy examples of the gliders used to fly in troops during D-Day, the show was opened by an impressive flypast featuring a variety of modern and vintage gliders along with their tugs. Leading the formation was GliderFX with their Piper PA-25-235 Pawnee B and Marganski MDM-1 Fox which was also joined by a rare aerobatic Letov LF-107 Lunak which was also towed by the Pawnee. Next was a trio of Piper PA-18-150 Super Cubs towing three vintage gliders including a Slingsby T.30A Prefect, a Slingsby T.7 Kirby Cadet and a Slingsby T.13 Petrel. A series of modern gliders flew in next with a Socata Rallye 180T Galérien towing a Pilatus B4-PC11, a Robin DR.400-180 Regent towing a Schempp-Hirth Ventus and a Robin DR.400-180R Remorqueur towing a Schleicher ASH-26E. Coming in behind the rest was a trio of powered gliders with a Fournier RF-4D flanked by a pair of Grob G-109Bs. After a series of flypasts all the gliders detached from their tugs and gently descended down to the ground before the segment was concluded by some aerobatics by the Marganski MDM-1 Fox and the Letov LF-107 Lunak.
Next up was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who took to the skies to display with two of their famous aircraft which were both wearing invasion stripes. First up was the Supermarine Spitfire PR. XIX which was standing in for the LF. IXE which was previously confirmed. Despite this particular mark of Spitfire not being around during D-Day, it represents the importance of reconnaissance during the conflict. In the past the BBMF have been criticized for performing very distant displays but this performance was anything but with a much more dynamic routine than has been witnessed in recent years. A fantastic victory roll concluded the display before the fighter departed Duxford. Next up was the Douglas DC-3C Dakota III, a very famous aircraft most commonly associated with D-Day. This aircraft didn’t fly during the conflict but represented the type well and put on a very impressive demonstration of its capabilities.
For the 2014 season Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Royal Air Force joined up to put on a very fitting tribute to the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings which would appear at a small number of events with Duxford being the first. The Supermarine Spitfire PR. XIX returned in formation with a Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 which was also painted with Invasion Stripes for a series of flypasts. The Typhoon then took charge with a thunderous roar to begin its solo display which has certainly improved with plenty of noise and amazing manoeuvres and was certainly one of big talking points of the show.
Next came a series of displays by warbirds also associated with D-Day, starting with an unusual representative in the form of a De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide which is operated by D & M Miller. This aircraft type was used as an air ambulance to transport the wounded back to the UK during the landings.
The sole representative of the Fleet Air Arm in the flying display came in the form of the Fighter Collection’s Grumman FM-2 Wildcat which put on a great performance showing of its power and agility and a highly appropriate addition to the program with its relatively large Invasion Stripes painted on the wings and fuselage.
Duxford’s most famous resident, the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” represents the important role the Flying Fortresses took during the invasion with some being fitted with electronic jamming equipment which blinded German Radars the night before D-Day and greatly assisted with the landings. Sally B flew a typically flawless routine and is always a firm favourite with the Duxford crowd.
Another unusual D-Day aircraft not commonly associated with the conflict is the Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 with this unique example being flown by the Fighter Collection which put on an impressive performance. These types were also used by the French forces during the Battle of France and bore the stripes after the initial landings.
A Royal Air Force asset, the Lockheed-Martin C-130J Hercules C.5 made an impressive low flypast with the rear ramp down as a representation of modern transport types.
We next came to a series of energetic displays by various fighters that were used during the campaign. First up was the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane Mk. XIIA which put on a small solo performance. The type wasn’t in frontline service at the time but was still used extensively in Europe as a mail delivery aircraft. The Hurricane was then intercepted by a pair of Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons which are operated by the Aircraft Restoration Company and Spitfire Ltd. A fourship of Supermarine Spitfires then took off to combat the Buchons with the Fighter Collection’s LF. VB, the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s LF. IXC and a pair of Mk. IXTs from Air Leasing and the Aircraft Restoration Company with the latter three being involved in operations on D-Day and Air Leasing’s’ Spitfire having the first confirmed RAF kill. Once the Buchons landed the Spitfires but on an impressive routine of fast passes.
The next display also featured a pair of Merlin powered warbirds in the form of the Old Flying Machine Company’s pairing of North American P-51D Mustang “Ferocious Frankie” and Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXB. The duo put on an epic formation display which was one of the major highlights of the show. The Spitfire was also adorned with the invasion stripes for the D-Day commemorations.
The Army Air Corps also participated in the flying display with a fantastic role demonstration of their Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1 which represented the modernized equipment of the British Army. The attack helicopter was also sporting nose art to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the First World War.
Next up was the only international military display and appropriately enough it was from the French Air Force who provided their national aerobatic team, the Patrouille de France. The team with their formation of eight Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet Es put on their full display in fantastic conditions and showed some massive improvements and innovations from last year’s season. The team represented the Free French who took part in Operation Overlord as well as the liberation of France after the Landings and many operations that preceded them.
Lighter and lesser appreciated aircraft that were used heavily on D-Day were represented by Jeanne Frazer’s Piper J-3C-65 Cub and Mark Miller’s Auster J/1 Autocrat. The pair flew individual tight circuits on either end of the airfield before crossing over and repeating at opposite ends. Austers and Cubs were used by both the British and United States forces for artillery spotting and other duties.
The finale of this show was a truly fantastic spectacle and featured the aircraft most prominently associated with the D-Day Landings, the Douglas C-47A Skytrain (or Douglas DC-3 Dakota). This display featured the two UK based examples from Aces High and “Drag em oot” from Dakota Heritage Ltd as well as two examples which flew all the way from the United States of America specifically to commemorate D-Day. These were the “Union Jack Dak” from Tradewind Aviation so named due to a group of British volunteers restoring it and “Whisky 7” from the National Warplane Museum of Geneseo. All four of these transport aircraft flew in various operations during Operation Overlord. The former three aircraft took off first to fly to height because on board was The Red Devils Parachute Display Team of the British Army who then descended with smoke and flags as a tribute to all the paratroopers who took part in the operations. A small solo display was also provided by “Whisky 7” before joining up with the other three and performing some impressive formations passes before all but Aces High’s example landed passed the crowd line and thus ended a fine commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
Without a doubt the major highlight was the fantastic performance by the fourship of Douglas C-47A Skytrains but there as many other standout moments of the show. Both the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 and the Army Air Corp’s Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1 put on some incredible performances and the mass glider flypast was also a very fitting display to commemorate the D-Day Landings. It was also great to see the return of the Old Flying Machine Company’s North American P-51D Mustang “Ferocious Frankie” and Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXB performing as a pair for the first time in over a year. I thoroughly enjoyed the displays and look forward to the next show in May which will be commemorating the 70th Anniversary of VE Day.
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