Aero Legends Headcorn 'Battle of Britain' Airshow

Saturday 6th July - Sunday 7th July 2019

The well-known proverb "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" neatly sums up the 2019 Headcorn 'Battle of Britain' Airshow. Changes from last year were few and far between, and subtle in their nature, to once again ensure that this up-and-coming event punched above its weight, offering a very generous number of warbirds for a superbly competitive price.

Dan Butcher was in attendance across both days. Additional photos from Scott Perry, and video from Graham Butcher.

To anyone that had attended last year, the scene that greeted you on the showground was immediately familiar, with the sun shining down on big crowds and a line-up of warbirds stretching a good way down the airfield. It was actually getting into the showground itself where the changes for 2019 were first felt, as although the flow of traffic into the car parks was entirely stress-free, the queue on-foot was growing rapidly and was soon snaking its way through two fields. This was the result of a change in the site layout, with car parking on the western end of the airfield itself done away with in favour of an enlarged campsite and elongated crowd-line. This had the effect of funnelling attendees coming from all directions through a single entrance at the main gate, and as a result it took nearly an hour to gain entry to the airfield on Saturday morning.

To their credit, the organisers were already on-top of this for the second day of the event, parking cars in several fields at once to stagger the ingress of pedestrians to the choke-point at the gate. This worked brilliantly, as despite arriving at the same time, our wait-time was reduced by 90 per cent on Sunday morning.

The individual aircraft in the aforementioned line-up would have been very familiar to returning visitors too. Centered around the Aero Legends fleet, there's a lot of carry-over from year to year with their pair of Spitfires and C-47 taking starring roles. A number of their fleet were absent though, with the Percival Prentice awaiting the fitting of a new propellor and the advertised appearance of Aero Legends latest acquisition, former Air Atlantique DC-3 Dakota G-ANAF, sadly curtailed due to on-going paperwork issues relating to the aircraft's previous life as a cargo freighter.

Perhaps the most perceptible change from 12 months prior was the absence of Aero Legends' lovely de Havilland Dove. Although it only had a small part to play in the flying display itself, it kept pilot Anthony Parkinson and Spitfire TD314 busy from mid-morning until early evening, operating Aero Legends' popular 'Fly Alongside' pleasure flights. Sadly, the aircraft was another that is currently laid-up, awaiting essential spares that were delayed at customs, giving 'Parky' a lot more free time this year, and ensuring that there was less runway action to see and photograph from the crowd-line throughout the weekend.

Additions to plug some of those gaps came from newly-restored Hurricane V7497 (although pilot availability meant it's arrival was delayed until Sunday morning), and last year's flying visit from an Air Leasing Buchon had been upgraded into a weekend-long stay for the Aircraft Restorations Company's example. Headlining the show was 'Sally B' - originally due only on Saturday, they announced via their Facebook page that they would be returning for a repeat performance on Sunday, including the formation passes alongside C-47 "Drag-'Em-Oot". Had the new DC-3 been cleared to attend, it too would have joined this formation.

The BBMF once again made Headcorn their 'home from home' for the weekend, sending a pair of Spitfires (Mk.Vb AB910 and Mk.IX MK356) to stay overnight after Hurricane LF363 was withdrawn. This show offers a rare opportunity to get close to them on the ground (and operating from a grass strip is even more elusive!), especially as they elected to park with the civilian warbirds on the main flight-line, rather than remain hidden from view near the safety of the hangar as they have always done in years gone by. For the second year running, they were the star performers in the flying display too, offering some nice topside views and coming a tad closer than most others.

Filling an afternoon flying display with relatively few aircraft means that there is a certain degree of repetition - the Aero Legends Spitfires are put to good use, flying alongside other civilian examples in the main Battle of Britain tribute, as well as a pairs routine and a solo from Parkinson in the Mk.IX after successfully fending off the 'threat' of Steve Jones performing gentle aerobatics over the airfield in the Buchon… The C-47 is also up and down several times through the course of the day, for a solo display as well as several round canopy parachute jumps from the Pathfinders group, though the third and final drop on Saturday was cancelled and all flying suspended after an incident in the car park required the attendance of the Air Ambulance.

At its peak, the Battle of Britain set piece this year saw three Spitfires and four Hurricanes performing a mixture of formation passes and tail-chasing sequences, though the trio of Spitfires was short lived as HAC's BM597 broke formation after the first pass on Saturday and didn't take part at all on Sunday, departing the show for good early that morning.

The remainder of the flying content was carried over directly from last year - Chris Jesson opening the display at the helm of a pleasing and surprisingly dynamic four-ship of SV-4 Stampes, Charlie Brown leading the second section in the Jackaroo flanked by John O'Connell and Sam Whatmough in the Aero Legends Tiger Moths, with Sam later returning to fly alongside Rob Davies in a pair of yellow T-6 Texans.

All told, for the hardened airshow-goer this show didn't quite hit the heights of 2018, but that owed more to a combination of factors, with some aircraft serviceability reducing the number of flights and cloud cover impacting photography on both days. You shouldn't go to Headcorn expecting to find an Old Warden style, close-up flying display, and should be prepared for gaps in the programme as the few aircraft and pilots on hand are turned around to fulfil multiple display slots, but where this show will trump so many others is value for money - despite price increases for 2019, it remains the biggest bargain on the airshow calendar. Headcorn is a venue that may even top Shuttleworth for its setting, with uncluttered green backdrops making it a wonderfully photogenic location to stage vintage aviation events, and with discounted tickets available through coupon sites Wowcher and Groupon, it offers a bang for the buck that nowhere else can match.

"We were once again blessed with great weather for the 2019 Aero Legends 'Battle of Britain' Air Show, ensuring a healthy turnout which was an overall increase compared to 2018, making this our best show yet."

"The Saturday was sunny and hot all day with temperatures hovering around 27C, whilst Sunday was more changeable and at times a little overcast, but still good. The show atmosphere was great and we were really pleased to maintained the friendly family feeling for which the show has become known.

"This year we extended the size of the show site by using the lower field next to the main road, which last year had been used for parking. On Saturday customers were reluctant to venture down to that part of the site but many more did so on the Sunday. We will look at the site layout next year as we expect a further increase in attendance.

"The level of tickets pre- sold was much higher than in previous years and all of the premium tickets were sold out in advance. Next year we will create more space for the Flightline Premier area which proved very popular.

"We implemented a revised traffic routing and parking approach this year, which worked extremely well but resulted in customers arriving at the gate so much faster and caused longer queuing times on Saturday than was desirable. We solved this for Sunday.

"Traffic leaving the site at the show end was very well-managed and we avoided traffic jams and delays, which is important to retain support for the event from local residents.

"As in previous years we fielded a great line up with many Spitfires and Hurricanes including those from the BBMF. Our veteran Dakota "Drag-'Em-Oot" was displayed in the very capable hands of Peter Kuypers and also managed four military-style parachute jumps over the weekend.

"Undoubtedly the star of the show was the B-17 "Sally B", which was originally intended to appear on Saturday only but such was her popularity that she returned on the Sunday for a second appearance which was well received.

"Our thanks go out to everyone that attended the 2019 Battle of Britain air show and to the pilots, aircraft owners, ground crew and especially to the fantastic volunteer team, without whom this event could not happen.

"Dates for the 2020 show will be released shortly."

Keith Perkins,
Owner, Aero Legends