Aero Legends Headcorn 'Battle of Britain' Airshow

Saturday 30th June - Sunday 1st July 2018

When it comes to staging small-scale airshows that punch above their weight, Headcorn has previous. The 2015 event at this beautiful Kentish aerodrome was a glorious example of what can be done on a limited budget and with relatively few aeroplanes at an organiser's disposal. While the 2018 line-up was more sparse, once again Headcorn produced a healthy variety of warbirds, for a price that beggars belief - in a good way!

Dan Butcher reports from Headcorn. Photography by the author.

A weekend ticket permitting entry on both show days cost just £15, and was available for around half that for those savvy enough to track down an online voucher. For that price this was a show far better, and bigger, than anyone had a right to expect. With no fewer than four active Spitfires and two of the country's six flying Hurricanes (a third, the BBMF's LF363 was unfortunately a late cancellation), not to mention an Hispano Buchón, two Harvards, four Stampes, two Tiger Moths and one each of Thruxton Jackaroo, C-47 Skytrain, de Havilland Dove and Percival Prentice, that's plenty of bang for refreshingly little buck.

With the aircraft low in number, in order to fill out the afternoon flying programme, a number of aircraft flew at least twice. Repetition might not be great at larger venues, or with less interesting aeroplanes, but seeing multiple launches and recoveries of Spitfires at an historic grass strip in perfect photographic conditions certainly led to very few (if any) complaints. In terms of the display flying, what there was was rarely aerobatic and almost without exception distant, but in the modern airshow world, that's nothing out of the ordinary.

Perhaps this is where the future of the British airshow lies. Away from Old Warden, it seems the days of aeroplanes racing past the crowd at close quarters are gone, so in order to keep the thrill-factor high organisers would do well to take a look at what made this show so good. Aeroplanes parked close to the crowd, their engines on start-up belching intoxicating smoke into their faces, blowing sun-hats off heads and putting wide smiles on young and old faces alike. Being able to see and talk with the pilots like Anthony Parkinson and Charlie Brown up-close, like gladiators in their arena, is what made Headcorn's show feel different from the sterile muchness many venues have now become. Living, breathing, historic machines nearly at arms-length - albeit while on the ground. If we can't have airshows how we used to have them, the positive take-home from this event was that air displays can still be enjoyable and rewarding days out in other ways.

As for the action in the air, the star turn was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's "boss" Sqn Ldr Andy Millikin flying the sumptuous Spitfire Mk.IX MK356, whose current desert camouflage marks her out as one of the finest Spitfires around, and is arguably the BBMF's best paint-scheme in years. Our review of Headcorn in 2015 was deeply critical of the BBMF, but this year they really have upped their game under Millikin and this was another exceptionally-flown display rich in topside passes, showing off that 92 Sqn North African paint scheme to maximum effect and outperforming all of the civilian-owned Spitfires at the show to boot.

Similarly impressive was visiting Air Leasing Hispano Buchón "Yellow Seven", flying a powerful and aggressive display, simulating an attack on the airfield before being met and chased away by another Spitfire IX, TD314 flown by Parkinson. Sadly the Buchón's routine lacked the closeness to really mark it out as something special, but it was certainly enjoyed by the crowd, most of whom didn't seem to mind that this wasn't really the "109" it was pretending to be! Had the organiser's early intentions come good, the V12 growl of at least one Daimler Benz 605 would have been back in Kent skies, but unfortunately those plans fell through.

Opening the show on both days was a tidy little display from a gaggle of vintage biplanes - a quartet of Stampes leading the Jackaroo and Tiger Moth pair through some formation passes before breaking out into a well choreographed routine of their own. Superbly flown, especially in such breezy conditions.

Both days saw the airfield very healthily populated. Crowds certainly seemed larger than 2015, and the village of stalls and other attractions had grown accordingly. The signs are that this is a show which is here to stay on the calendar after a very solid first few years, and in a world where airshows are disappearing at a worrying rate, Headcorn is one which is well worth the support of the enthusiast community.

"2018 was our third Aero Legends 'Battle of Britain' Airshow and the attendance again set a new record with nigh-on a capacity crowd."

"The happy atmosphere is something that really differentiates this family show and the attendance remained strong right to the end of the day.

"We had the usual challenge of managing the traffic and parking, particularly on Sunday which was about 30% busier than Saturday. We have already planned improvements for next year.

"In terms of the flying display this was our best so far and Headcorn Aerodrome provides a special experience where our guests can get very close to the aircraft as they taxy up and down the flight line.

"We wanted to showcase the whole fleet and invite specific aircraft to make the flying list complete, which we managed to achieve.

"Stars of the show were the Buchón tail-chase and our historic Douglas C-47 Dakota "Drag-'Em-Oot", which is such a graceful machine. The round-top parachute jump which closed the show on Sunday was a rare sight and one we have had much positive comment about.

"A big thank you to all those that supported this event and I hope to see you all again next year. Date to be confirmed shortly."

Keith Perkins,
Owner, Aero Legends