Imperial War Museum Duxford – Battle of Britain Airshow 2017

Duxford held it’s Battle of Britain Airshow over the weekend 23rd / 24th September.  Duxford is also celebrating its centenary this year having been established as an airfield in 1917 and then hosting the RAF, USAAF and then the RAF again.  It is now home to the Imperial War Museum (IWM) as well as commercial enterprises such as The Fighter Collection (TFC), Old Flying Machine Company, Aircraft Restoration Company (ARC), Historic Aircraft Company and the B17 Preservation Society.  The weather for the flying was mostly OK – showers giving way to overcast on Saturday but sunny and warm on Sunday.

The flying programme for both days was very similar and with only a couple of unserviceability’s and a tricky crosswind on Sunday meant 90% flew as advertised.  Both days opened with the RAF Parachute Display Team, The Falcons.  Next came a unique formation of 6 Hawker Hurricanes of various Mk’s plus a Sea Hurricane. Then the display was split up into groups of aircraft that have a historical relationship ending with two “classic” Duxford items, the Spitfire Balbo and then the Battle of Britain finale formation.

As usual with Duxford the commentary was informative and slick and the commentators, Ben Dunnell and Colin Wilsher, knew when to inform and when to let the aircraft talk for them. Even with a few dropouts due to unserviceability and a couple of unscheduled early landings by the Mustang “Miss Helen” and the Fighter Collection Bearcat, the Team didn’t miss a beat.

The display flowed nicely with the commentary team giving an educational and entertaining narration of the display.  The Great War Display Team gave a spirited performance despite the wind on both days with pyrotechnics simulating enemy flak.  All the aircraft are immaculately turned out and a walk down the flight line just shows how much their owners and support teams put care and attention into presenting these aircraft.  I would pick out the Hawker Fury II owned by Air Leasing, the Hispano Buchon from ARC, and the P40C from The Fighter Collection and Richard Lakes Spitfire FRXVIII for special mention.  The highlights were undoubtedly the formation of six Hawker Hurricane’s and the thirteen aircraft Spitfire formation.  The large size of these formations made it difficult to convey the experience via a camera so it was time to put my camera down and experience the sight and sound of nearly twenty Merlin and Griffon powered aircraft in the sky.  Duxford is becoming well known for its Spitfire Balbo but now that the Hurricane’s star is rising it is wonderful to see them getting in on the action.  It was also nice to see the Norwegian Air Force Historical Sqn with their Vampire pair and immaculate Mig-15UTI making the trip over for the display season.

Post the Shoreham crash the Airshow scene in the UK is still somewhat on the back foot with amended crowd lines and viewing points and display axis are further back and aircraft further away.  However Duxford has done a good job of complying with the new regulations while at the same time creating an exciting and spectacular display.  The crowd is also squeezed at little with the western end of the crowd line out of bounds but the centre has been opened up a little to compensate.  There was an incident on the Saturday where the Boultbee and Norwegian Spitfire Foundation Mustangs had an issue while joining up to formate with the B-17 Sally-B.  Miss Helen suffered some damage to her tailplane and had to make an emergency landing on the airfield. Both aircraft landed safely and there was no danger to the crowd on the ground.

A walk round the hangars gives a great insight into the UK warbird restoration and maintenance scene. There are several ongoing projects that it would be good to see moving on – the Bristol Beaufighter would be great to see in formation with the Blenheim!  There is a Sea fury in quite an advanced state and a CR42 possibly have its fabric fitted.  Its difficult to pin anyone at TFC down to a flying by date as I have a feeling a certain amount of budget juggling may be going on.  But I think the CR42 may be closest to flying so watch this space!

So in conclusion a great weekend with a full flying programme that reflected Duxford’s role in the Battle of Britain and a flavour of flying from the Great War up to the Korean War.  There was a packed crowd on both days and there was plenty for them to see and do away from the flight line.  I would definitely recommend Duxford if you are planning a trip to the UK or are at a loose end during the summer. It was a privilege to represent Warbird News at Duxford and I am grateful to them for the extra access it gave me over the weekend.

Dave Layland