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Duxford Air Show: Meet The Fighters 2016 Review

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Review & Photographs

MiG-15 - photo by John Bilcliffe

The 'Duxford Air Show: Meet The Fighters' took place over the weekend of the 10th and 11th of September 2016. The air show commemorated the 80th anniversary of the formation of RAF Fighter Command and highlighted Duxford's role as well as the importance of fighter aircraft.

Duxford airfield can trace its history back to World War One and the need to train more airmen for the Royal Flying Corps. In 1920, it was home for 2 Flying Training School with the Avro 504, Bristol F2B fighter, DH9A and also Sopwith Snipes. Later, RAF Duxford became a fighter aircraft station and operated various fighters such as the Gloster Grebe, Armstrong Whitworth Siskin, Bristol Bulldog, and the Gloster Gauntlet.

In the summer of 1938, RAF Duxford saw the first example of the Supermarine Spitfire (serial K9792). This aircraft was entrusted to 19 Squadron, which went down in history as the first operational Spitfire Squadron. During the Second World War, Duxford was home to many squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes. Douglas Bader took command of three squadrons of Hurricanes to form a 'Wing' and added more squadrons to form the controversial 'Big Wing'. During the 'Battle of Britain', Duxford's fighters were frequently scrambled against the Luftwaffe despite the airfield being some way north of the main scene of action.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

Today, Duxford is home to the Imperial War Museum and houses several private aircraft collections as well as the extensive museum, in several hangars, which is free for people to look around on air show days. There is also a Bristol Beaufighter under restoration in one of the hangars. Conservation work has also started on IWM Duxford's rare Handley Page Victor (XH648) which will take between three to five years to complete and the museum will need £450,000 to fully conserve this aircraft. You can donate to conserve the Victor at http://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/iwm/victor

The September air show was a ticket only event and tickets could only be bought in advance of this event. This helps the organisers to see how many people are attending each day and ensures that they work effectively with Highways England and local authorities in managing the number of people travelling to and from IWM Duxford each day. This minimises congestion on the M11 and surrounding roads and helps reduce the waiting time for visitors to enter and exit the air show car parks. As there is a limit on car parking places available for Duxford air shows then everybody wishing to travel by car needed to book a £5 car parking ticket in advance which goes towards the increased costs of event and traffic management.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

After new guidelines were introduced regarding air shows in September last year, after the Shoreham Hunter tragedy, IWM Duxford have put in place a number of safety measures including changing the crowd-line, similar to the Flying Legends air show last July, to make the event safer. See Duxford's Flying Legends Airshow 2016 Crowd-line Changes. The changes at the Flying legends event received positive visitor feedback as the crowdline was moved forward in the central area of the museum site although the Land Warfare end of the site was closed off during the air show weekend. During this event the eastern jet pan area of the museum site was also closed off as it was needed for the parking of jet aircraft that were taking part in the flying display.

Unfortunately, the weather on Saturday was very poor with heavy rain for much of the day. This had a major impact on the air display but they did manage to briefly get the Grumman F8F Bearcat and Hawker Fury into the air as well as put on some displays from the two Buchons and Spitfires, the Gladiator, Chipmunks, Harvard, the Global Stars, an aerobatic display with the Extra EA.330 by Mark Jefferies and the Catalina. The two Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron Vampires and the MiG-15 made a taxi-run followed by the B-17 'Sally B'. Those who had tickets for Saturday are receiving an email from the 'Imperial War Museum' offering 30% off tickets for the May air show in 2017.

Sunday was a very different day weather-wise with lovely blue skies and sun all day and this allowed for a full flying display. Those who have attended many UK air shows in the past will know by experience that the British weather is highly unpredictable and you never really know what it will do and how it will affect the air display until you get there.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

On Sunday, the air display started about 1.30pm with the American Grumman F8F Bearcat (The Fighter Collection) and the British Hawker Fury (Air Leasing). These two powerful aircraft represented the last of the piston fighters and they were able to match or outperform many early jet fighters.

Representing 'Fighter Trainers' we saw the North American Harvard IV (Aircraft Restoration Company) and two de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunks (Aircraft Restoration Company & M.Jack). The Harvard was a two-seat single-engined advanced trainer aircraft and the Chipmunk was a tandem, two-seat, single-engined primary trainer aircraft.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

'First World War Fighters' were represented by a Bristol F.2b Fighter (Shuttleworth Collection), and a Sopwith Snipe (WW1 Aviation Heritage Trust). This particular original Bristol F.2b was built in 1918, although it did not see any wartime operational service, it did serve with No.208 Squadron in Turkey during 1923. It was later restored and first flown in Shuttleworth ownership in February 1952. The impressive Sopwith Snipe fighter had a level flight speed of 130 mph and a climb rate in excess of 1200 ft per min and was intended to replace the Sopwith Camel but arrived just before the end of World War One and subsequently saw little action. This replica Snipe was built by 'Vintage Aviator Ltd' in New Zealand in 2011 and is painted to represent F2367 of 70 Squadron.

World War One was also represented by the 'Great War Display Team' which included several replica aircraft such as the Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a, Fokker DR.1 Triplane, Sopwith Triplane, Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c and Junkers CL1 aircraft. The team always put on a superb performance with dogfights, as well as pyrotechnics to simulate bombing and strafing.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

Also on static display beside the control tower was a Sopwith Pup (N6161) of the Historic Aircraft Collection. This aircraft has been painstakingly reconstructed over the past four years and has been rebuilt using many original First World War component parts, including an original engine. It had been planned to make its first public display at this event but will now make its maiden post-rebuild flight in the near-future.

'1930s Bi-plane Fighters' included the Gloster Gladiator (The Fighter Collection), Hawker Nimrod Mk.I (The Fighter Collection), Hawker Nimrod Mk.II (Historic Aircraft Collection), Hawker Fury Mk.I (Historic Aircraft Collection) and a Hawker Demon (H.Davies).

A pair of Bf-109s took part and performed mock dogfights with a couple of Spitfires. The Bf-109s are actually Hispano Buchons (Spitfire Ltd & Historic Flying Ltd) which are Spanish licensed built and are equipped with the Merlin engine. The 'Battle of Britain Memorial Flight' (BBMF) also sent along their Avro Lancaster B1 bomber aircraft. There are only two Lancaster's presently flying in the world today, with this aircraft being based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and the other Lancaster operated by the 'Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum', and based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Another Lancaster 'Just Jane' is based in East Kirkby (Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre) and is able to taxi, but is not airworthy.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

Another WW2 bomber aircraft taking part in the display was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress (B-17 Preservation Ltd). This particular aircraft is called 'Sally B' and is Europe's last remaining airworthy B-17 Flying Fortress, and she flies at air shows as a memorial to the USAAF in Europe. Based at Duxford, this aircraft relies solely on charitable donations, sponsorship, sales of souvenirs, and the loyal support of her working team of volunteers and 8,000 Sally B Supporters Club Members. You can help support this aircraft by visiting their website at www.sallyb.org.uk

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

The Consolidated PBY Catalina (Plane Sailing) represented 'Air Sea Rescue', while 'Fighter Gunnery Training' included the Hawker Hurricane Mk.XII (Historic Aircraft Collection), and Piper Cub & Drogue (Skytricks). A Piper Cub towed a large fabric drogue as a Hawker Hurricane aimed at the drogue to practice accuracy in flying and target practice. 'Second World War Fighters' also included the Yakovlev Yak-3 (M.Davy), and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair (The Fighter Collection). The Yak-3 was a World War Two Soviet fighter aircraft which was small and light and had a high power-to-weight ratio giving it an excellent performance. The American FG-1D Corsair was introduced in 1940 and had the most powerful engine as well as the largest diameter propeller of any fighter aircraft in history.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

The Duxford Air Show included three early Cold War jet fighters which are all operated by the 'Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron' and included the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTI, de Havilland Vampire FB.52 and the de Havilland Vampire T.55. The Soviet MiG-15 was introduced in 1949 and was one of the most widely produced jet aircraft ever made. It featured swept wings which helped it achieve high transonic speeds, and saw service in the Korean War. The British de Havilland Vampire entered service in 1945 and was the Royal Air Force's second jet fighter to be produced after the Gloster Meteor. The Vampire FB.52 was a variation of the FB.6 fighter-bomber and was exported to a number of countries while the Vampire T.55 was an export version of the DH.115 trainer.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

With so many Spitfires at the Duxford Air Show, it was a great opportunity to see many of them in the air together, and on Sunday, no fewer than fourteen Spitfires took to the air in a massed formation to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the first flight of this iconic aircraft. The Spitfires included:

Spitfire Mk Ia (N3200) - IWM
Spitfire Mk Ia (P9374) - Historic Flying Ltd
Spitfire Mk Ia (X4650) painted LC/R9612 - Comanche Fighters
Spitfire Mk Vb (EP120) - The Fighter Collection
Spitfire Mk Vb (BM597) - Historic Aircraft Collection
Spitfire Mk Vb (EP122) - Comanche Fighters
Spitfire Mk IX (TD314) - Aero Legends
Spitfire Mk IX (RR232) - M. Phillips
Spitfire Mk IXT (SM520) - Boultbee Aviation
Spitfire Mk IXT (PV202) - Aircraft Restoration Company
Spitfire Mk IXT (ML407) - Air leasing
Spitfire Mk XVI (TD248) - Spitfire Limited
Spitfire Mk XVIII (SM845) - Spitfire Limited
Seafire LF III (PP972) - Air Leasing

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

There were plans to have fifteen Spitfires in the massed formation but Spitfire Mk Ia (AR213) - (Comanche Fighters) painted LC/R9632 went unserviceable. Both of the Comanche Fighters Mk.Ia Spitfires have been temporarily repainted for the new 'Dunkirk' film and wear the Squadron code 'LC'. The film 'Dunkirk' can be seen next year (July 2017) and is a British epic war action thriller drama written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. The story is set in World War II and centres around the Dunkirk evacuation.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

The Duxford Air Show featured no fewer than four rare Mk.I Spitfires, as well as three Spitfire trainers and a Seafire. Unfortunately, Spitfire Mk IXT (ML407) nosed over when taxiing at Sywell Aerodrome a few days after the air show on Thursday 15th September, although no-one was hurt and the Spitfire suffered only minor damage.

The Comanche Fighters Spitfire Mk Vb (EP122/GL-B) made its first post-restoration flight on the 4th May 2016 after it was restored at Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar Ltd. This Spitfire had been involved in the defence of Malta but it crash-landed on the edge of a cliff at Dwejra Bay, Gozo in March 1943 and was subsequently pushed over the cliff-edge into the bay. Later, parts of the wreckage were used in the restoration of this aircraft.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

Everyone's favourite, The Red Arrows closed the show putting on a superb full display in the excellent weather conditions, and the air display finished at about 5.15pm.

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

photo by John Bilcliffe

Thanks to the 'Imperial War Museum Duxford' for putting on another great air show this year, and next year's Duxford Air Show dates have now been announced:

IWM May Air Show - Saturday 27th - Sunday 28th May 2017.
Flying Legends Air Show - Saturday 8th - Sunday 9th July 2017.
The Duxford Air Show - Saturday 23rd - Sunday 24th September 2017.

Article by Dave Key with photos by John Bilcliffe - www.militaryairshows.co.uk