The Duxford Air Show Report

Saturday 3rd September - Sunday 4th September 2011

Billed as celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Spitfire, the two day show at Duxford expected to showcase an eight Spitfire formation as its finale, on both days, preceded by an assorted and typically mixed IWM show content. There was though one particular display item that had the enthusiasts excited from the moment of its announcement - the F-15E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

Phil Whalley experienced the extremes of the British weather to report on both days of the show. Photography by the UKAR team.

The forecast for the weekend of a sunny afternoon on Saturday, followed by a major rain front moving through on the Sunday, turned out to be very accurate, creating a large disparity in the attendance figures for each day. The conditions also resulted in vastly dissimilar photographic results, especially where the fast jets were concerned. There were a couple of gems on the ground, one of which was especially poignant for the day, being a stunning MkI Spitfire restoration - the first of a number of such early Spits reportedly in progress. P9374 sat out there on Duxford's grass, with its period black and white undersides, just as it could have been when the dark clouds of war were building over Europe. As if to demonstrate the incredible strides in aircraft design of the period it shared the flight line with another jewel, that of HAC's Hawker Fury K5674, illustrating the type of machine that the RAF would have gone to war in just a few years before.

The Red Arrows had been due to perform on the Sunday, and just the previous week had been cleared to return to displaying as an eight-ship following the tragic loss of Flt. Lt. John Egging, but with 'Eggman's' funeral having taken place in the same weekend it was understandable that the team wouldn't be appearing at Duxford. Red 10, Sqn. Ldr. Graeme Bagnall, was ferried in by RAF helicopter on the Sunday to speak to the public to explain the situation and pay tribute to his colleague and friend - to high emotion and respect from the crowd. A sobering moment.

The opening act of the Saturday was the first of a number of jets scheduled for the weekend, that being the specially painted Alpha Jet from the French Air Force. Appearing on the Sunday only and squeezing plenty of moisture out of that day's inclement weather was Jonathon Whaley in Miss Demeanour, whilst the Vampire pair from the grandiosely titled Royal Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron made another welcome appearance in UK skies. Of course, the most anticipated 'paraffin burner' was the Eagle - 'borrowed' from Lakenheath - which didn't even need moisture to create its own vapour micro climate on the Saturday. The Sunday was another matter entirely as the F-15 was barely visible at times fully enveloped in cloud of its own making.

Other modern equipment displaying included the RAF King Air and ASR yellow Sea King, and the AAC Apache. The Apache was making its final display of 2011 as the singular Blue Eagles, but they are hoping to add a second airframe for 2012. Formation pairs the Red Hawks, T-28 Fennecs and SWIP Twister Duo, the Aerostars Yak team and Brendan O'Brien's crazy flying stroke truck top landing concluded the non-warbird content of the weekend.

For many people warbirds is what Duxford is all about, and the September show didn't disappoint. The Spitfire formation actually numbered seven on both days, and whilst that on the Saturday took place in the expected blue sky, that on the Sunday somehow managed to part the clouds just at the right time making for a stunning end to an otherwise grey day. It may not have totalled the numbers of last year's Battle of Britain show, but it was still plenty enough to stir the soul.

The Fighter Collection put up their now familiar Hawk formation of Hawk 75, P-40s Bravo and Fox models, and added their Nimrod to HAC's example for a stunning pair display. HAC also coupled their Hurricane with ARCo's Buchon, and Sally B laid her smoke screen over Cambridgeshire. The RNHF Swordfish made a welcome appearance having been missing for so long from the scene, whilst airshow stalwarts the BBMF Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire were equally well received.

As noted in the opening paragraph, the IWM run shows tend to be a mixed bag of warbirds, jets and lighter machinery, and sometimes they work and at other times less so. The September show certainly had more highlights than most, and in the Strike Eagle Demo it had one of the best displays of the UK airshow year. A great coup for Duxford.