IWM Duxford 'Standing Together' Flying Day

Saturday 22nd May 2021

With the UK entering phase 3 of the COVID-19 recovery roadmap after a long and gruelling winter lockdown, Saturday 22nd May gave airshow goers (and the public at large) the rarefied choice of two aerial events to attend - a gathering of Chipmunks for a 75th Anniversary event at Old Warden or IWM Duxford’s inaugural event of 2021.

Jakub Zurek chose the latter, and reports for UK Airshow Review.

As the country eased back to normality, IWM Duxford held its first event of 2021 entitled ‘Standing Together’. With a familiar format to last year, the small scale airshows formerly known as ‘Showcase Days’ have now been renamed to ‘Flying Days’, each with a specific theme for the season ahead. Priced at £28.50 per adult they are certainly not cheap for what on paper is only a couple of hours of flying. Nevertheless, compared to £25 for a standard non-event admission ticket to Duxford, an additional £3.50 is certainly decent value for anyone planning to visit the museum regardless. Annual IWM membership now priced at £60 per adult (or £90 for joint adult membership) is also a tempting option and surely worth thinking about for anyone planning to attend multiple Flying Days over the course of the season.

The atmosphere at this year’s first Flying Day was certainly different compared to a full airshow, last held at Duxford in September 2019. With capacity capped at circa 2,000 and gates opening at 10am, it is pleasing not having to start your journey at unsocial hours just to have any chance of a spot at the front of the crowdline. The luxury of plenty of space to wander around the hangars and static aircraft is a stark contrast to typically busy crowds and gives visitors to Flying Days a socially distanced chance to take in everything that Duxford has to offer, in a stress-free environment together with a little bit of flying action on the side.

The Flying Days mostly put the spotlight on Duxford’s residents and this event saw a classic Duxford-esque line up. Namely, on static display was Historic Aircraft Collection’s freshly repainted Spitfire Mk Vb BM597 masquerading as a Mk IIb from 303 Squadron in association with Laguna’s Spitfire Legacy, positioned to the side of Duxford’s historic control tower. It was perhaps a shame the groups of RAF reenactors were positioned so far away from the aircraft, rather than together to allow for a unique period set up. Likewise, offering a good opportunity for an up-close inspection, a WWI replica Fokker triplane and SE5a were also available for viewing, though placed in a seemingly random position that was all too easy to miss.

With the flying display getting underway half an hour after the advertised start time of 1pm, the past long and difficult months were quickly forgotten, for some, their first outing to an air display since 2019. It was exhilarating hearing the sound of piston engined aircraft fill the Duxford sky. The NOTAM for the air display lasted until 4pm, which allowed each display plenty of room to breathe, performing a full routine in the conditions available. With such an array of historic aircraft that call Duxford home, this Flying Day offered a nice opportunity to see TFC’s Corsair taxi and beautifully pose for the photographers down the M11 end of the airfield as the PBY Catalina performed in the background. Spitfire Vb EP120 was put through a nice aerobatic routine by Dave Southwood and HAC’s Hurricane took to the air twice, at the beginning of the show as a solo act and in a pairs slot at the end. This Hurricane now pays tribute to the highest scoring 303 Squadron ace Sgt Josef František and forms part of the Polish Heritage Flight which will no doubt eventually be seen around the airshow circuit as a pairs display with HAC’s Spitfire.

It was lucky any showers in the area avoided Duxford, and the weather did eventually improve. With a hint of sunshine, the sound of two Merlin engines echoed around the airfield for the final display of the day; a surprise set of flypasts from Spitfire Ia N3200 and HAC Hurricane before Duxford’s very own Spitfire was handled beautifully by John Romain. A display we are now used to seeing at the close of a typical Duxford airshow and one that is worth watching over and over again.

Duxford’s airshows can often be hit or miss, and with a sparse, socially distanced crowd it was difficult to judge the public’s reaction to Duxford’s first event of the year. Though for the enthusiast, reduced crowd capacity and the selection of aircraft on offer after a difficult year, this Flying Day offered a great socially distanced opportunity to have a relaxed day out with the camera for a day of classic aircraft photography and still be back home in plenty of time for Eurovision. The next flying day, which is already sold out, takes place on 6th June and will fittingly have a D-Day theme. Whilst there is still a lot of uncertainty about the easing of COVID restrictions, it is definitely one to look forward to in anticipation for seeing some of Duxford’s gems on display after a prolonged absence.