IWM Duxford 'D-Day' Flying Day

Sunday 6th June 2021

The airshow season now well and truly underway, IWM Duxford continued their 2021 events calendar with a second Flying Day on the 6th June, commemorating D-Day. Another sell-out event, would the show live up to expectations for the couple of thousands of attendees and what could enthusiasts expect in these uncertain times following the recent news of the cancellation of Flying Legends?

Jakub Zurek attended the mini-airshow for UK Airshow Review.

With the world fighting its own D-Day ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the second of Duxford’s Flying Days aptly commemorated the beginning of Operation Overlord, 77 years ago to the day. The summer heat in contrast to much bleaker weather conditions in 1944 certainly did not seem to faze the crowds, which turned up in their dozens and patiently queued prior to gates opening at 10am. After quick entry onto the site, it was not difficult to look for things to do or see such as the ‘NHS’ Spitfire basking in the sunshine celebrating the names of our own heroes - though not for long. Shortly after gates opened, P-47D Thunderbolt and Buchon ‘White 9’ roared in from Sywell with the recently resurrected Aero Legends Dakota KP220 following promptly after, landing for an up-close inspection.

The temperamental weather in the morning certainly did not affect the displays; beginning with an unannounced poppy drop from Spitfire Mk. Ia N3200. Canopy slid back, landing flaps down and performing three slow passes, this was a most unusual sight for an aircraft with its origins in air racing. However, this presented an important discussion point regarding one clear criticism of Duxford and their Flying Days this year - communication. The website is clunky and participating aircraft are fully announced only in the week leading up to the show once already sold out. Information such as the advertised flying starting time of 1pm, which for the first two Flying Days has been pushed back to 1:30pm, is inaccurate. Most importantly, the only clue about the poppy drop was a NOTAM shared on UKAR’s forums by one of our members, meaning it was all too easy to miss for the enthusiast, let alone the general public.

After a gentle passing shower in the morning, the weather did improve in time for the beginning of the official flying display. Appropriately, the action began with an iconic D-Day aircraft, the Dakota. This particular example, KP220, now belonging to Aero Legends and wearing a basic RAF scheme with invasion stripes offers a fine contrast to its previous life with Air Atlantique. It is definitely exciting to see Aero Legends expanding their fleet and cementing themselves as a regular sight at airshows in the years to come.

Following this poignant opening, TFC’s Wildcat was put through its paces in an epic routine with the aircraft appearing to be flown to its limits by Pete Kinsey - exactly what a Flying Day at Duxford should be about. Those positioned at the Royston end of the airfield in or around the ‘tank bank’ were then treated to a wonderful triple warbird take off: Spitfire Mk IXb MH434, ARCO’s Buchon in temporary film markings and TF-51D Mustang ‘Contrary Mary’. As the fighters went into hold, a trio of Piper Cubs/L-4 Grasshoppers slowed down the pace of the day and provided an entertaining formation routine and showcased the important role these aircraft played in Operation Neptune.

Following the trio of Cubs, the Spitfire and Buchon went into a tidy tailchase act before the Mustang eventually joined in and helped to ‘shoot down’ the enemy aircraft which set off a trail of white smoke. As exciting as this routine was, it was certainly a shame that each aircraft was not then given a solo slot. With the relaxed nature of Flying Days and the flying display lasting only one hour and ten minutes, there was certainly more than enough time to give these aircraft time to shine - much in the style of the Wildcat or other warbirds to come later on. The Mustang in particular joined the tailchase late and it was a shame not to see more of it, and likewise for the Buchon in its much-coveted temporary markings. Flying Days should serve as the perfect opportunity to put Duxford's residents in the limelight and give each single aircraft an opportunity to do a full or extended display.

One of the highlights of the day though came from a firm crowd favourite, last seen in the air in 2019. After missing the 2020 airshow season altogether the sole airworthy example in Europe, B-17G ‘Sally B’ was back displaying at her home turf. Following the P-47 acting as fighter escort for a single pass after its display, Sally B then completed her solo display and headed off to fulfil duties at the Midlands Air Festival. Afterwards, it was time for Pete Kynsey to jump in another warbird and close the show in the Corsair, with ample time for another excellent individual performance, using the airspace above Duxford to full effect. Visitors willing to stay put rather than head home in a mass exodus after the flying display finished also had the chance to see further warbird movements, including a Hurricane arrive from an airshow at Old Warden, reminding us all of the important role Duxford plays in the historic aviation scene for warbird operations.

All in all, the programme for this Flying Day felt much more engaging than the first. More warbirds, more displays, more aerobatics, all with a clear link to D-Day - this Flying Day left little for improvement. Going forward, with the nature of these events, Duxford should undoubtedly stick to clear themes to allow each one to offer something different for the enthusiast and public alike. The next selection of Flying Days features moderately vague themes like ‘Thank You Dads’ and ‘Behind the Scenes’ thus it remains to be seen what sort of selection of aircraft Duxford will have up their sleeve. Likewise, there are still more battles to be fought against COVID-19, and so we await to see whether the Duxford July summer airshow will go ahead.