Duxford Autumn Airshow Report

Sunday 10th October 2010

'Twenty-ten' has been an outstanding year for events at this famous Cambridgeshire airfield, and the Autumn show was no exception, especially as it hosted that rarest of airshow visitor – the sun! Despite the day starting out as a 'pea-souper', that fog eventually burnt off to reveal clear blue skies. A rare and extremely welcome participant. Sub-titled as a 65th birthday party for airshow favourite B-17 Sally B, the flying program included a typical end of season Duxford show of mixed and matched oddities.

Phil Whalley managed to find the airfield in the thick morning fog to report for UKAR. Additional photography by the naughty crew!

We've had all sorts of weather at shows through the so called summer of 2010, and though fog is thankfully pretty rare it does offer up the chance for some unusual photographs with an ethereal mood. The flightline gradually appeared out of the mist, like unwrapping a Christmas present, revealing a number of gems. The Royal Navy Historic Flight Sea Hawk was one such nugget, positioned on the hard alongside the Golden Apple Sabre, the RAF Hawk and Tucano pairs, and two T28 Fennecs. Out on the grass were the Bearcat, Sea Fury, the Black Cat's Lynx pair, four diminutive Pitts biplanes of various marks, Hawker Nimrod hooked up to a 'Hucks Starter', and arriving as the fog cleared, an Apache from RAF Wattisham making a rare appearance at a public display. Sally B was joined by period vehicles and re-enactors, and 'little friend' P-51 Mustang 'Ferocious Frankie'.

Arriving just minutes before the display was due to start, the RNHF's Swordfish LS326 landed, appearing in front of the public for the first time in eleven years, having made the trip up from Yeovilton on a test flight. After suffering a number of 'false dawns', we will hopefully see a Swordfish making regular airshow appearances from 2011 onwards. Fittingly the first scheduled item on the afternoon's flying program was birthday girl Sally B, who was joined in formation by three Mustangs, the aforementioned 'Frankie', plus 'Big Beautiful Doll' and 'Miss Velma', in a formation which was supposed to have been over-flown by two F-15 Eagles from Lakenheath, but which instead followed after for a single pass down the display line. Not only is the venerable bomber now into her sixty-fifth year, it is twenty five years since she was brought to the UK, and she has been displaying ever since, except during periods of extreme bad luck - an incredible achievement for the small but dedicated team that look after her. Long may that continue. Sally B's solo display was followed by one from 'Frankie', and a pairs tail-chase from 'BBD' and Miss Velma.

As if to highlight the potpourri of items at the Autumn shows, they were followed by such acts as the diminutive Cosmic Wind racer, a Piper Cub, and a stunning blue and yellow Boeing Stearman, before the air reverberated to the sound of a jet engine from the RAF display Hawk, now flown as a 'Role Demo' by Flt Lt Scott "Disco" Griffith since the 'departure' of full display pilot Tom Saunders. Shorter and less dynamic than the previous incarnation, it does give the crowd a closer look at what is one of the prettiest schemes in recent years. Anna Walker, having flown a Hurricane at Duxford at last year's Autumn show alongside Carolyn Grace in her Spitfire, was again to add something special to her repertoire during the show when taking the lead in a three-ship of ex-naval types. At the controls of the Kennet Aviation Seafire, she led the glorious Sea Hawk and equally sexy Sea Fury in the day's most memorable formation, having also earlier displayed a Harvard in what was meant to be pairs routine but became a solo due to unserviceability issues with one of the T6s.

Looking much like overweight Harvards, the two T28 Fennecs did manage to get both of their machines into the air, with a well presented and choreographed display. The RAF's Tucano and RN's Black Cat pair added their familiar well flown routines to the days mix, added to later in the day by a much rarer appearance from another current service machine – that of the Army Air Corps' Apache AH1 from Wattisham. Captains Murray Nicol and Tom Corrigan performed a memorable sequence over the airfield and its surrounds, including a low pass over the south side hill, an area frequented by photographers, and which has seen much heated debate within UKAR's forum pages! Three of the day's participants harked back to classic shows from the past, and all with links to one of the UK's airshow legends, Brendan O'Brien. Now more likely to be found behind the microphone, eulogising in his own inimitable style about the display taking place before him, Brendan was once a regular airshow aerobat, and played a part in some of the most unique display items of the last four decades. He was a pilot with the legendary Rothmans Aerobatic Team, formed the Fournier RF4 duo, and brought the 'Truck top Landing' act to the airshow scene, all of which were represented at the Autumn show, with Brendan carrying out the 'will he, won't he' landing in his bright yellow Piper Cub. The Red Hawks pair did the RF4 honours, whilst four diminutive Pitts aerobatic biplanes recreated the heady days of the tobacco sponsorship era. The new yellow Pitts Pair team of Richard Grace and Dave Puleston were joined by the even newer red coloured Pitts Duo flown by Alister Kay and Steve Jones. Starting out as a tight four-ship, they then split for their own pairs routines.

Regularly appearing home based favourites continued the high standard of the show, including the Plane Sailing Catalina, Golden Apples' stunning Sabre, looking awesome in the light, and Stu Goldspink in TFC's Bearcat. Two olive drab, D-Day striped DC3 Dakotas made for another high point of the afternoon, flying as a pair and 'tail-chase', as the warm lowering sun made for a memorable sight. And memorable is a word well suited for this end of season show. No screaming afterburners or squadrons of warbirds, but some unique, imaginative and colourful items, well flown and presented, and in perfect weather. The Autumn show rounded off 2010 in fine style - a year of Duxford shows of the highest calibre. Long may that continue.