Duxford 90th Anniversary Air Show 2008 Review
Saturday 6th September - Sunday 7th September
Duxford airfield came into existence in 1918, as the storm clouds of war were clearing over Europe. Ninety years later, the literal storm clouds threatened to disrupt that same airfield's Anniversary Air Show, in a year that has seen a number of the season's bigger shows interrupted and even cancelled by the weather's extremes. Held over the two days of the weekend, your reviewers attended the Sunday the 7 September of Duxford's Ninetieth - with a number of unplanned differences to the Saturday display.
reports from Duxford. Additional photography by .
Although a perusal of the Airshow Photography section of UKAR would reveal Vulcan XH558 displaying in near perfect weather conditions, much of the Saturday display program had been scrubbed due to the adverse conditions. With '558 due to appear on the Sunday too, an early start to avoid the crowds was still seen as advantageous, but the journey to Cambridgeshire was made in heavily laden low cloud and rain. Not the most positive start to the day, and very much 'here we go again'.
No doubt this had an influence on the crowd figures for, perhaps for the first time in 2008, the 'Vulcan Effect' hadn't come into play, resulting in one of the lowest turn-outs I had ever seen at a Duxford show. As the morning progressed, the low cloud moved away, being replaced by more broken - but clearly changeable - cloudscapes. And change it did. As the clock ticked towards kick-off time for the flying, the heavens opened. Not once but twice. Biblical quantities of water recreated the Fairford 'Somme' in Cambridgeshire, putting serious questions over whether we would see any flying today.
Shortly after, Flt Lt Dave Davies, in the RAF Display Hawk, bravely appeared out of the clag, low and fast. He made two quick passes before understandably calling it a day. Thankfully the heavy low cloud began to thin soon after, giving the first of the Warbirds the chance to put on full 'rolling' displays. The first of which, the Spitfire Ltd Hispano HA-1112 Buchon, wove prop vortices in its wake as it carried out its sweet routine through the heavy air. This 'Me109' appeared in the classic 1968 Battle of Britain cinema epic. With much of the filming taking place at Duxford forty years ago, it was a fitting first warbird performer. Star of the real Pearl Harbor (rather than the dire Hollywood schmaltz), and in my opinion one of the highlights of 2008, the TFC,s P-40B Warhawk went up next, along with the HAC Hurricane, and the three gracefully wheeled and tail-chased around the brightening sky. Lovely. Having survived the Japanese attack on the islands that brought the States into World War Two, the P-40 crashed on operations shortly after. The remains were recovered in 1987, and a lengthy rebuild has resulted in this stunning and historic example being able to be put through its paces over the equally historic Duxford airfield. It's easy to overlook how lucky we are. Meanwhile, down at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, the luck equilibrium was being balanced out. The crew of TVOC were busy with weather reports, maps and stop watches, trying to decide whether they could keep to their two planned airshows for the day, here at Duxford, and Southport, in Lancashire. XH558 had made it to Cambridgeshire on the Saturday, but scrubbed Southport. Despite one of our party receiving a text from Taff (see his engineering report for the period) saying that he'd sent '558 on its way to Duxford, the crew had sadly, for us, decided to make good on their missed slot up north rather than return to Cambridgeshire.
The announcement of the cancellation of the Vulcan was an obvious disappointment to the now very respectably sized crowd, but the afternoon still offered an eclectic mix of fairly standard Duxford fare, and more rare items. The Hawker Nimrod, F-86 Sabre and Supermarine Seafire are always a pleasure to see. As were the BBMF's Spitfire PS915 and Hurricane PZ865. Diana Britten drew some tight aerobatic shapes in her pretty blue and white CAP232, as did 'Team Condor' in a Schweizer ASK-21 glider. Some of which were accompanied by some blue sky. This began to change though, as serious storm clouds could be seen coming from the North. Black and menacing. Somehow they managed to avoid the airfield, passing to the east and the west, giving some spectacular backdrops to the remaining displays. One of those was a most surprising high point of the day, a formation 'vic' take-off by the three DC-3s. Led by Air Atlantique's KK116 in her smart Transport Command colours, and joined by the khaki clad pair of Dakota Heritage's 'Drag-em-oot' and Wings Venture's '315211', the three stayed in 'vic' formation from departure and two passes, then two more in line astern, before a pretty lively break to land. An impressive performance that deserves to be seen more often.
While the military uniformed 'Daks' spaced out on their down-wind to land, an entirely more shockingly schemed - and slightly faster - de-mobbed machine roared off down the 'hard'. Jonathon 'Flapjack' Whaley pulled Miss Demeanour hard left as soon as he had become un-stuck, giving us some proper noise and pollution! Good stuff! Jonathon sure knows how to show the classic British design, the Hunter, to its public, and, despite its age, filling in the 'fast jet' slots so sadly thin on the ground in the current world of airshows. Unique is so many ways, both visually and audibly, a Hunter in full effect does it for me, and a 'Miss D' display is the best.
With 'Flapjack' back on the ground, both Alistair Kay in Ferocious Frankie, and the Aerostars in their Yaks, served up familiar but none the less enjoyable fare, as did the P-39 and top-side-tastic Pembroke. Among the cancellations from the Saturday show was the Duxford 'signature dish', the Balbo, in this case a diamond nine of 'Spitfires' (with a sneaky Seafire as tail end Charlie). Thankfully Lady Luck doesn't sleep in on Sundays, but she only just managed to keep the jet-black cloudscapes far enough away for us to enjoy the heart-lifting sight and sound of piston porn unveiling for our pleasure. The formation morphed into the now familiar - but always welcomed - tail-chase. A sky full of Spitfires. For what more could one ask? Well, a Vulcan I guess would be one answer. Another time perhaps. Time will tell.
As a little Piper Cub trailed a banner proclaiming '90 Years of Duxford' to close the show, my abiding thoughts on the show were, yes, disappointment at another no-show from XH558, but very much glad that I'd not been put off by the appalling weather of the drive up and of the forecasts. Also, I can thoroughly recommend a tank ride!