IWM Duxford August Showcase Day

Tuesday 4th August 2020

The IWM Duxford Showcase Days have become a fixture of the Duxford year, filling in the gaps in the year between airshows with a relaxed afternoon of flying displays. In 2020, the first of August’s events was also the first flying display of the year to be held under conventional conditions. The Shuttleworth Collection’s drive-in airshows have proved to be a popular and a well organised solution to the Covid-19 pandemic. The attention now turns to the Imperial War Museums and how they combat the challenge with the first airshow of the year in which the public are free to roam about the site.

Scott Perry reports from IWM Duxford for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the author.

If the last few months have taught us anything it is not to take things for granted. The freedom to walk around an airfield, the ability to stand on a crowd line and watch aircraft being put through their paces by some of the best display pilots in the business. The Showcase Day represented the return of these for many of those attending. For many attending the day will be remembered not for the displays but for an reported engine failure suffered by the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s Sea Fury T20 to the north of the airfield on a flight after the conclusion of the flying display, causing it to make a forced landing five miles north of Duxford. Thankfully, both the pilot and passenger only suffered minor injuries from the incident. Nonetheless, it is always a great shame to lose an aircraft from the display circuit in such fashion. A further stark reminder to make the most of every opportunity we get to enjoy these historic aircraft, as if one was needed.

Just four days into the museum’s reopening, this was the first chance to see how Duxford would handle the challenge of social distancing on an event day. Whilst for the most part there weren’t noticeable differences to the airfield, such as boxes for people to sit within, there were traces of these strange times evident throughout. Signs asking visitors to adorn face coverings when entering any of the site’s buildings were the most noticeable departure from the norm, whilst Hangar 4 remains closed – although a much-appreciated effort from the IWM to open the hangar doors allowed a glimpse of its residents. The crowd line was left for the crowd to self-police, and it was a policy that worked very well with those in attendance keeping to the social distancing rules in their positioning. Adherence to these rules will be key to the success of future events and airshows through the rest of 2020, so to see such strong compliance was most encouraging.

Showcase Days are all about those based at Duxford, and it was pleasing to see such a strong support on the ground from its residents. The Aircraft Restoration Company were represented by their Spitfire XI, the ‘NHS Spitfire’, allowing close inspection of the aircraft that has been in the news over the past few months and the names of those who have donated to the cause on the side of the aircraft. Plane Sailing also had a ground display with their PBY-5A Catalina, while the Historic Aircraft Collection displayed their DH9, joined by a Hucks Starter and Fokker Dreidecker replica. In addition to these an array of interesting visiting aircraft occupied and filled up the jet pan at the eastern end of the airfield. Such a sense of community engagement for these types of events is key to their success and creating a strong and positive atmosphere around the airfield.

The flying display itself was split into two sections, in a format familiar to regular Showcase Day attendees. The display was opened by the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s P-51D Mustang, with the debut appearance of the aircraft’s new ‘Warhorse’ guise. The departure from the previous ‘Sharkmouth’ scheme into its new markings may not have been the most desirable for some enthusiasts as a choice of scheme, nonetheless the opportunity to see something different was a welcome feature of this early event in the shortened 2020 display season. Two further Mustangs also gained a great deal of attention with the ever-popular Berlin Express and Hun Hunter, parked on static display outside Hangar 2, following their return to Duxford in early July.

The rest of the first section of the flying display was dominated by aerobatic performances by the Cassutt Racer and Cosmic Wind displaying as a duo before breaking into solo routines. Whilst both delivered well flown displays, the possibility of a Flying Legends style routine of one displaying in the foreground and one to the rear before alternating axes could have been a good opportunity to increase the performance value of these two more diminutive aircraft. A visiting Yakovlev Yak-50 was put through its paces by Duxford regular Peter Kuypers in another very capable aerobatic routine to close the first part of the flying. The second section was opened by James Hepnar, who was doubling his display count, having performed his first public display in the Extra 300 at Old Warden on the Sunday prior to the Showcase Day.

The rest of the action was dominated by formation displays. A North American trainer duo of Yale and Harvard was followed by a tribute to the centenary of de Havilland with the DHC-2 Beaver and DHC-1 Chipmunk T10 led by DH89A Dragon Rapide, an interesting mixed formation involving multiple passes before a break leading to a solo by the Dragon Rapide and pairs display by the Chipmunk and Beaver. The flying display was closed by a pair of Hurricane Heritage’s Hurricane MkI and the IWM’s own Spitfire MkIa. A delightful routine of close passes at the M11 end of the site arching around the favoured curve around the Airspace hangar, within their formation display and solo routines.

The event was always going to face challenges and be heavily scrutinised in terms of the organisation in such unprecedented times. For many, these Showcase Days offer a glimpse of how Duxford will handle their Battle of Britain Airshow in September, which will possibly be the largest event of the UK season in 2020. First impression showed that some further refinements may be required with everyone being told to form one queue to enter the show, before being told when reaching close to the Visitor Centre that there was a separate queue for pre-booked members. This queue was marked with signage of ‘Non-Ticket Holders’ whilst those who needed to purchase tickets via the tills had to queue via a section with signage for ‘Ticket Holders Only’. Another area with room for improvement was the commentary, whilst it was provided for the show it was inaudible for the majority of those on the crowd line watching the displays. With the removal of the speakers along the fence it was only presented to those closer to the hangars through the main site PA system. Within the context that we find ourselves these minor gripes can be forgiven, but hopefully these kinks can be ironed out before the next Showcase Day and September’s airshow.

Historically, Showcase Days have been offered at the usual museum entry rate, however, this year an event price of £23 has been introduced. At £23 you’d be forgiven for thinking these events were slightly overpriced when you can get a full airshow at other venues for a comparable fee. However, in the context of the normal admission charge of £19.80, the additional £3.20 for an hour and a half of flying is certainly more favourable. Or even more so, when free admission can be gained as part of IWM membership, which works out much more cost effective if attending multiple Showcase Days throughout the year.

As a relaxed day wandering around one of the finest aircraft museums available and enjoying some displays at the same time the Showcase Days offer a great opportunity and antidote to the testing times that we occupy. The success of the event also proves that flying displays can be held in a manner conducive to the social distancing measures required and offer hope for the rest of the display season that similar events will be able to be held and enjoyed.