Duxford Autumn Air Show 2006 Review
Sunday 8th October
And so we reach the end. After five months, the 2006 season is a wrap. Sunday October 8th saw the final display on the UK calendar as Duxford played host to the "airshow circus" one more time, for their annual Autumn Airshow. In a summer of sunshine and soaring temperatures, Duxford seems to have suffered more than most, managing to find cloud or wind (or in some cases, both!) on all their previous show dates. Fortunately, at the last time of asking, the sun made an appearance alongside a noteworthy cast of participants.
reports from the last airshow of the 2006 season. Additional photography from and .
The main attraction at any airshow is the flying display, but this is especially true at Duxford. Static displays here usually consist of nothing more than the flight line walk, but there were a handful of historic aircraft out solely on ground display for the public to peep at. Parked on the 'line amongst the many Spitfires and Mustangs that would later star in the afternoons flying display, the standout item of the static was HAC's newly restored Hawker Nimrod. Sadly confined to the ground because of paperwork, we look forward to her flying debut in 2007.
Other residents pulled out of hangars for the static included TFC's Hawk 75, HAC's Fiesler Storch and ARC's Chipmunk. The Royal Navy were also present on the ground (and in the air!), with a Sea King from 864 NAS that spent the day ferrying display crews to and from their operating bases in the local area.
Far more impressive was the line up for the 3 hour flying display. It may well have been the last show of the year, but making their first appearance of the season on these shores were the Patrouille de France, who got the flying display underway at 1330. By this time, the sunshine we'd enjoyed earlier in the day was playing second fiddle to broken cloud, forcing the French guests into their intermediate display. What followed was a smooth and well executed routine of formation flying. If anything, the smaller venue helped their display compared to their appearances of recent years in RIAT’s large theatre.
As the eight Alpha Jets exited the arena en route back to Cambridge airport, the sun re-emerged for some of Duxford's home team to strut their stuff. "Sally B", resplendent in her 'new' paint, was first up from the concrete runway for her familiar, graceful display. She was followed shortly by a trio of P-51s - two D models, and the sole C model flying in the UK. Taking off from the grass strip, Nick Grey, piloting P-51C "Princess Elizabeth", gave anyone on the infamous "Tank Bank" one of the (brown trouser!) moments of the season, 'buzzing' the gathered masses at extremely low level.
The subsequent display saw Alistair Kay fly a scintillating low level routine in OFMC's "Ferocious Frankie", very much in the style of the late Ray Hanna, whilst the other two 'Stangs flew 'top cover' formations and tail chasing.
Flying in directly from RAF Odiham for their display, the Chinook crew once again left the audience open-mouthed in astonishment following their mind boggling display of power and agility. A well earnt round of applause broke out at the conclusion of the display as the team headed for home. It goes without saying that the 2007 display is eagerly anticipated!
Following the 'Wokka' was another energetic routine from an aircraft with an equally unique sound. It'd been some time since I'd seen the T-28 Fennec displaying, so it was another welcome addition to the show.
Lakenheath Eagles are fast becoming a permanent fixture of shows at the IWM, and again a pair from the 492nd FS made a couple of passes over the field. You'd get a much better view of the aircraft at their home base on any day of the week, but the sight, sound and feeling in your chest cavity as two Eagles stand on their tails is still one to be savoured.
The pace slowed considerably for the next item, as Anna Walker piloted a Piper Cub to demonstrate a banner tow. "Vive La Patrouille" was the message making its way down the length of the display line as the French pilots made their way along the crowdline in open-top Jeeps, soaking up the adulation from the spectators. The organisers were certainly keen to show their appreciation to the Patrouille – let's hope their hospitality paves the way for return visits in the future.
The Belgians completed the European participation with a couple of aircraft from either end of the jet powered spectrum. First up was the noise and spectacle of the F-16MLU. Operating out of Mildenhall, the pilot demonstrated the superb manoeuvrability of the American designed jet, keeping it well within the confines of a much smaller display venue than we're used to seeing F-16s in!
After completing his display, the F-16 stayed in the area to formate with the Aircraft Restoration Company's Griffon engined Spitfire, SM845. In a US 'Heritage Flight' style demo, the duo made several passes along the display line in both line astern and echelon formation before a lively break and zoom climb from the Falcon cleared the way for the Spitfire to perform a short solo demonstration.
As with the aforementioned Heritage Flight seen at RIAT earlier in the summer, the spectacle of modern military aircraft in formation with WW2 legends is an awe inspiring one, and it’s a shame that the RAF couldn't have arranged something similar with a Typhoon in the year which saw the 70th Anniversary of the Spitfire’s first flight.
Back with the display, the second of the Belgian duo was another performer familiar to UK audiences, although sadly it won't be in the future. The "will she, won't she" saga of the last few years has finally been settled and the Magister really is retiring. Duxford was to be its final Airshow appearance. Perhaps the most enduring memory of this quaint little jet will be the ultra low level take-off that has become somewhat of a trademark for the display. The elegant and well flown routine ended on a poignant note as, live from the cockpit, pilot Lt Col Paul Rorive addressed the crowd over the PA system and said an emotional farewell to the aircraft he's spent the past 5 years displaying across Europe.
Further rotary participation came in the shape of the Royal Navy's Black Cats. Familiar they may well be, but their routine is no less impressive than it's ever been and they're one of the very best display teams on the circuit today, albeit best viewed from crowd centre. They were followed by 208 Squadron's solo Hawk. Flown with the usual precision, even the large injection of colour on the the small black jet's fuselage didn’t help to make the display of any more photogenic in harsh lighting conditions.
Neat solo displays from a pair of based classics next - Charlie Brown in HAC's Hurricane and Stephen Grey in TFC's Bearcat, the latter especially well flown with plenty of low and topside passes along the display axis. Show commentator Sean Maffett remarked that the big, Naval brute was Stephen’s favourite aircraft to fly, and it shows in his displays. You always get the impression he's having a huge amount of fun in the cockpit!
Duxford is synonymous with the Spitfire, and it was typically left to RJ Mitchell's finest creation to close the show. In a tribute to the type's 70th anniversary, a mass flypast of eight Spitfires got the final segment underway before breaking off into two smaller formations. Whilst six of the fighters performed the spellbinding tail chase routine that have wowed crowds in recent years, the final pair performed a series of loops and rolls in close formation. Far better than a conventional display, the sound and unpredictability of these set pieces have seen them become on of the must-see displays at any UK Airshow. If you haven’t done so yet, you don’t know what you're missing out on!
With the aircraft recovering one by one, the mass exodus for the gates was already well underway. Conceivably boosted by the weather, there was an extremely large crowd on hand and when they all head for the exits at once, unsurprisingly there were reports on various internet forums, not least UKAR’s own, of traffic problems getting both in and out.
Perhaps there's something there for the organisers to look into, but an otherwise excellent show with a participation that some of this years larger, mid-summer shows would've been envious of! The organisers should take a well earned pat on the back for closing out the 2006 season in some style.