Duxford Autumn Air Show 2005 Review
Sunday 16th October
And so the curtain comes down on the 2005 airshow season in Britain. It's been a fine year. From the big kick-off at Abingdon in early May, via Kemble, Waddington, Old Warden, RIAT and many others, aviation enthusiasts have been spoilt for choice this summer, though Duxford suffered more than most with the Great British Weather. After the washout at Duxford's Battle of Britain display in September, the sun seemed to have paid its £20 for the final major event of the year - the Autumn Air Display.
and present 'a report of two halves', which will be explained as you read on! Photography from the . Dan kicks off the story...
Fogging 'ell! Sunday October 16, and arriving early at Duxford was a risky business for this show. Not so much a problem negotiating the Windbreak Stasi out in force at Legends back in July, but a thick blanket of fog which sat over the airfield and the surrounding countryside, making the job of car park marshal a rather dangerous affair. Several near misses later, and I was on the airfield.
The static wasn't the most diverse you'll ever see, and, as ever at Duxford, the price of the flightline walk (£4) rather grates. However, the foggy, hazy conditions made for some genuinely unusual shots. Conditions that obscured the lines of "spam" in the background to give a real 'wartime' feel to atmospheric photographs of Spitfires and Mustangs. Star of the show was the blue-painted "Merlins to Malta" Spitfire Vb BM597. She'd just returned from the island and looked fabulous, especially with Duxford's trademark period re-enactors bustling around the aircraft. So good to see these aircraft in unusual colour schemes. The casual enthusiast may walk past 'another' camoflaged RAF Spit, but he'll stop and look at something different. The beautiful green Irish Spitfire T.9 IAC-161 (also on the flightline) is another example of variety being the spice of Spits!
Rather like some of the work going on in the restoration hangars, Duxford's museum remains very much 'in progress' in large parts. The impressive AirSpace project continues to move on apace, and helpfully the Imperial War Museum had armies of red-jumpered assistants making their way among a healthy-sized crowd offering information on the project. Though you'd not have guessed from the glorious sunshine which burned off the morning fog, the nights are beginning to draw in - and accordingly the three-hour flying display was brought forward to 1:30pm, as opposed to the usual 2pm Duxford start time.This wasn't great news for the photographers in the crowd, as the 'tank bank' end was really struggling with the sun. As a result much of the display was difficult to shoot, not least because of the haze.
Flying started with guest appearances from US Air Force types stationed just up the road at Mildenhall and Lakenheath. A KC-135 made a couple of high passes across the airfield. According to the pilot on the radio, he was at 1200 feet. People can get a better view driving up the A11 any day of the week. There's not much point to this sort of 'display'. People don't expect stunning aerobatics from a tanker, but would there be any harm in making a couple of passes at 500 feet instead?
The same criticism can be leveled at the pair of F-15E Strike Eagles from Lakenheath. The first pass wasn't even over the airfield, and was at least a mile from the crowdline. The second was lower and closer, and at least culminated in the jets 'going ballistic', with lots of vapour as they accelerated vertically with full afterburner. Hardly a blistering start to the show though.
USAF jets of a different era next - Golden Apple's T-33 and F-86A. A well thought-out pairs routine with close formation flying, opposition passes and individual segments. Two lovely aircraft displayed exceptionally well.
A three-ship of Mustangs was next. A cracking tail-chase performance from P-51C 'Princess Elizabeth' and D-variants 'Ferocious Frankie' and 'Twilight Tear'. Great stuff.
The Curtiss P-36 Hawk and Percival Pembroke flew neat displays. The Pembroke in particular was flown low, with lots of topside passes, so beloved of the photographic community!
Aerobatics were well covered. Tiny Cassutt Racers and Cosmic Wind kit planes and the Aerostars Yak team performed well, entertaining a crowd containing many people who'd returned after September's abandoned show, armed with £5 discount vouchers from the IWM.
And it was at this point that I left the show! Not because I wasn't enjoying the flying, but because word had got around that the NASA WB-57 on deployment at Mildenhall was due to return to base. Phil continues the story at Duxford...
Although a certain NASA rarity enticed some of the UKAR team to Suffolk, there was plenty left on the Duxford menu to hold the rest of the team's attention.
Resplendent in her fresh 'brilliant' white paint scheme, the once 'Rasta Cat' Catalina of Plane Sailing glowed in the afternoon light, and gave a very lively display. A highly polished routine with a coat to match! With no Sally B or Lanc in the flying program the PBY would normally expect to be the largest 'prop-job' at a Duxford show, but there was bigger to follow.
It was good to see an example of the latest version of the work-horse which has been on-task with the UK's commitments around the globe. The RAF's C-130J Tac Demo gave a highly topical demonstration of the work that Lyneham's heavy lifters have been carrying out in a number of the world's hot spots. Duxford's small runway being more representative of the kind of airstrip that they have been operating from than, say, Fairford, we were shown how troops and vehicles could be quickly inserted into a forward location, with the Hercules itself being agile enough to avoid small-arms fire beyond the airfield's boundaries. An impressive display for a large machine.
A nice appearance by the two T-28s was followed by the well known trophy winning Black Cats team from the Royal Navy in their Lynx helicopters. The team have suffered some disappointing no-shows at previous events so it was especially gratifying to witness what is most definitely the finest rotary wing display team since the Grasshoppers!
As sole representative of the RAF's 'fast' jets fleet, the 'Chav' Hawk wasn't found wanting. A tidy little display by Flt Lt Phil 'Joey' Diacon in the world's most successful jet trainer almost made up for it's seventies Ford Cortina paint scheme! Unusually both specially painted Hawks where on site, with the other as spare, possibly in case the 'Dixie' two-tone horns failed on the primary!
Arguably the best aerobatic display team of the last few years were next. The Red Bull Sukhois piloted by Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones put on another faultless display before an appreciative audience. The power to weight ratio of the Su-26s allows for some outrageous manoeuvres and gravity defying figures in a routine that never fails to impress. Great stuff.
The US Naval iron formation of Grumman and Vought's finest may be an oft repeated item over the Cambridgeshire countryside - but never once would I want to miss it. The sight and sound of the big radials and their seductive dark blue colours will always be a wonderful view.
In days of old the highlight of many Duxford shows would have been the mass Balbos of mixed warbirds or, as in this case, groupings of a single type. We would have seen the aircraft take off and depart to some corner of Cambridgeshire where, while we were standing and searching the sky in anticipation, they would form up and return en-mass before separating into groups and then breaking to land. Now there is an additional attribute to the displays which has perhaps superceded the formations as the outstanding memory of the shows - the tail chase. The tail chase is the new black! Seeing a large number of warbirds reeling around the sky at speed, rolling and diving, with Merlins and Griffins growling, is a magical experience, and a testament to the skill and professionalism of the pilots involved. Hats off to them - and a massive thank you. Embedded into the display was a pairs Spit routine by Ray Hanna and Cliff Spink of exquisite style and positioning. Supreme airmanship.
To round off the days action we got to see the results of some very hard work by the Merlins Over Malta team. The aforementioned Spitfire Vb BM597, along with Hurricane XII Z5140 made a few passes as a pair and then cleared off. It soon became apparent that they had formed-up away from the airfield with a Harvard (perhaps for some air-to-air photography - hopefully we'll get to see some of the results in forthcoming magazines) as they came into view to the West, out of the setting Autumn sunlight, to make a three ship pass in echelon formation. Another pass as a pair and then a break to land, and so ending another great day of classic aviation action at this historic wartime airfield.
The IWM must be applauded for a cracking set of airshows during 2005. Possibly their best ever when taken over the year as a whole, and possibly in response to some criticism aimed mostly at some lackluster September and October shows. We salute you.
A date for your diary (or on a scrap of paper until you receive your 2006 diaries at Christmas) is the next show here on Sunday 21 May. Hopefully it will open another successful collection of displays at CB2.