IWM Duxford August Showcase Day

Sunday 4th August 2019

It's fair to say that IWM Duxford has often attracted a large amount of criticism from the aviation enthusiast audience. As home to some of the finest warbirds and producers of some of the finest moments of aerial theatre seen on the display circuit, it is not surprising that such passionate views are held about the place. A large criticism of recent Air Festival shows has been the absence of many of Duxford's finest residents from the billing. Therefore, events such as the newly-devised series of Showcase Days planned throughout the year, designed to show off some of the aircraft that call the airfield's hangars home, are a welcome addition to the Duxford events calendar.

Scott Perry reports from IWM Duxford on the first of two 'Showcase Days' to be held in August.

Duxford should be and is a heaven for the aviation enthusiast. No doubt about it. The plethora of aircraft that inhabit the museum's hangars offer a wonderland to be explored on any given day of the year. Yet, our forums are often full of grumblings about this mecca of historic aviation. The vast majority of those criticisms, however, are confined to the airshow experience. Whether it is due to the car parking charges, additional cost to get close to the display aircraft on the flight line walk, participation lists that they find uninspiring or relatively high ticket price, when compared to other shows of similar durations, for some, these make Duxford a venue that they cannot bring themselves to step inside on an airshow day. However, the museum's series of Showcase Days, carrying a strong focus on a particular theme, avoid the additional burdens of airshow days. Clearly offering an alternative for those who have identified that the venue on an airshow day isn't for them, these new 'open days' present great value, with no additional charge compared to a normal museum day, thus, making it free for IWM Members.

The first of August's Showcase Days offered a great deal more in terms of advertised flying than the May edition, which only had a trio of scheduled participants. On this occasion there were triple that number down to fly. Unfortunately, the Hawker Nimrod failed to make it into the air on the day - with the crosswind presumably to blame, as the aircraft had been taken out onto the airfield earlier in the day. The intrinsic connection between Duxford and the Supermarine Spitfire, the type having been first delivered to, then, RAF Duxford in August 1938 formed the central theme of the afternoon's displays. Half of the eight participants represented different variants of Spitfires, with the development of the type represented through from the IWM Duxford's own Mk.Ia to Anglia Aircraft Restorations' Mk.XIV.

From those gathered on Duxford's crowd line for the displays, the primary audience appeared to be family orientated, the displays were clearly staged to offer something of interest to more regular visitors to Duxford. It would have been easy for Duxford to be lazy and simply put a couple of Spitfires in the air through the day to display, however, the assemblage and curation of displays was well thought out. They offered the unique moments and formations that we love Duxford for. One slight niggle, that could have received more attention was the commentary to accompany the displays. The commentary on offer presented a number of facts about the aircraft, but rather failed in creating the atmosphere of an event and in relaying information relevant to the day - details such as who was flying the aircraft would have been good additions to what was provided. On airshow days Duxford boast a superb and experienced commentary team and one of their presence would have greatly enriched the overall presentation of the day.

The flying display was spilt into two segments. The first opened by a delicious desert-schemed pairing of The Fighter Collection's Curtis-Wright P40F Warhawk and Comanche Fighters' Spitfire Mk.Vc. The latter having been in the country for a couple of years now, however, the first time that such a pairing of the desert pair have been seen together in a flying display. This is ultimately what the showcase days are all about. Without all the hullabaloo of a full airshow, they offer an opportunity to see some of Duxford's residents in a more relaxed atmosphere. A chance to see some of the airfield's gems in the spotlight, aircraft that often only take part in large set piece displays, given the chance to perform centre stage. The two fighters ran in together for a series of formation flypasts, before splitting into their own solo routines. A pleasing variation on this fairly familiar formula, saw the pair interchange slots. Thus, keeping the display fresh, rather than presenting two long solo routines. The rest of the first section of displays featured two further solo routines, with Hurricane 501's Hawker Hurricane Mk.I and the Aircraft Restoration Company's Spitfire PR.XI put through their paces. The latter was flown in exceptional style, not using too much height so as to become detached from the audience, staying close to the display line whilst the grace of the Spitfire was exhibited in fine fashion in an elegant aerobatic sequence. Coupled with more intimate flypasts, this was an outstanding demonstration of the photo reconnaissance Spitfire.

The second half of the flying display was split into two pairs routines. The IWM's own Spitfire Mk.Ia coming to the rescue in a dogfight sequence against the ARCo's Hispano Buchon, a familiar scenario carried out at airshows across the land. The second of the pairings featured Anglia Aircraft Restorations' Spitfire XIV and North American TF-51D Mustang ‘Contrary Mary'. The higher performance of the Griffon engine in the later model of Spitfire a noticeable difference from the earlier marks. Following on from their initial formation work together the Spitfire and Mustang each completed a sequence of aerobatics, before re-joining at the end of the display. The pair, as with all the aircraft - with the exception of the Spitfire Mk.Ia and Buchon - completing a number of photographer friendly passes coming around the corner at the M11 end of Duxford's display line. A fascinating aspect of the show exemplified within this display was seeing the differing characteristics of the various Second World War warbirds on show - their variations in handling and performance highlighted in a way sometimes missed when they take part in larger formations.

With the limited number of aircraft on display the Showcase Days will never attract a vast audience on the scale of an airshow, but that is part of their appeal. Alone the flying display is probably not enough to attract someone to travel very far, however these events have a great deal to offer those who are after a bit more time to spend at Duxford, and within the hangars, than they would get from only attending the airshows. Of course, it is not only the Showcase Day flying that was on offer at Duxford, as Classic Wings were operating for most of the day, one of the two seat Spitfires was in constant action, and with the likes of the Historic Aircraft Collection's DH-9 and the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation's P-51D Mustang also active, the airfield's role as a hub of warbird activity was fully on show. For those wanting to explore Duxford's residents on a more intimate scale, the Showcase Days are a valuable part of Duxford's annual programme of events.

There will be two further Showcase Days held at IWM Duxford this year on Wednesday 21st August and Sunday 20th October.