Duxford Air Festival takes on the winter blues
For this first Aerodrome blog of 2018, we had a very specific agenda in mind - attempt to blow away all those winter blues. There is only so much snow, wind and freezing temperatures that any self-respecting aviation enthusiast can take and as we still find ourselves in the depths of winter, the first Airshows of 2018 seem a million miles away. For that reason, we will be heading back to feature one of the first major events of 2017, when the skies were blue and full of exciting aeroplane action - our destination is Duxford airfield and their magnificent Air Festival, held over the weekend of 27th and 28th May. Intended to be something of a visual treat, we will focus on a small number of individual acts, before bringing you a photographic review of this extremely enjoyable show, hoping that it will have many of you reaching for your cameras and starting your cleaning programme in preparation for a busy year ahead. Without further ado, let's join the crowds at the Imperial War Museum's Duxford site for some spectacular aviation action.
100 years of Duxford Airfield
The Supermarine Spitfire will always be inextricably linked with Duxford airfield
As one of the most popular historic aviation destinations in the UK, Duxford airfield can boast annual visitor numbers which are the envy of similar establishments, whether they come to view the impressive collection of aircraft either displayed or hangared at the site, or to attend one of the many Airshow events regularly staged at the airfield. With visitors always hopeful of the opportunity to see a former wartime aircraft being operated from this historic site, it is no wonder that Duxford continues to be an attraction which keeps people coming back year after year, as it offers a truly unique atmosphere for anyone with even the slightest interest in aviation history. Amongst all this heritage, 2017 would prove to be a significant year for Duxford, as it marked 100 years since work began on the construction of the airfield, which was identified as a potential new training airfield for the Royal Flying Corps, as the influence of aviation on the Great War had increased dramatically. With land secured near to Duxford village in 1916, construction finally began on the site in October the following year, with the first RFC squadrons taking up residence from March 1918, despite the fact that construction works were still ongoing - at this time, the new airfield would serve as a mobilisation station.
The airfield was officially opened in September 1918, just two months before the cessation of hostilities in the Great War, which could have thrown the future of the airfield in some doubt, however the following year saw the welcome decision to retain Duxford as a permanent RAF station and resulted in yet another period of development and renovation taking place. Since these early years, there have been plenty of significant developments throughout the history of Duxford airfield, but perhaps none so memorable as the arrival of the RAF's first Supermarine Spitfire on 4th August 1938. With home based 19 Squadron having the honour of introducing Britain's most famous fighter into RAF service, this began an enduring link between the airfield and arguably the world's most famous fighting aircraft, which is proudly preserved to this day, with Duxford skies regularly reverberating to the sound of Merlin and Griffon powered Spitfires.
Over the years, such famous aircraft types as the Sopwith Snipe, Gloster Gauntlet, Bristol Blenheim, Hawker Hurricane, North American P-51 Mustang have also graced the hallowed aviation ground at Duxford and as the world entered the jet age, so the airfield became home to Gloster Meteors, the mighty Javelin and Hawker Hunters as Duxford continued to play a valuable role in RAF operations. All good things must come to an end and a general reduction in the size of the RAF saw Duxford marking its final operational sortie in 1961, before spending the majority of the 1960s abandoned and falling into a general state of disrepair. Perhaps acting as a precursor of better things to come, 1968 saw the airfield transported back to its former wartime glory, as it was used as a major location in the production of the famous Guy Hamilton directed movie 'The Battle of Britain' and played host to one of the most impressive collections of airworthy former WWII aircraft seen since the end of the Second World War.
Duxford visitors come in the hope of seeing evocative sights such as this
The final chapter in the history of Duxford occurred when the airfield was selected as a temporary home for the aviation collection of the Imperial War Museum and allowed to stage an Airshow in the Autumn of 1973. Possibly serving to prove the future viability of a museum site at Duxford, the Imperial War Museum was given full use of the airfield and its facilities in 1975, with the local council given a licence to administer its operation, opening to the public on a daily basis the following summer. This former RFC and Battle of Britain station would enjoy a new lease of life, helping to preserve the nations aviation heritage and allowing millions of people the opportunity to experience aeroplanes at close quarters.
A new chapter for Duxford Airshows
The mighty Sea Vixen was one of the highlight acts at the Duxford show
If 2017 was going to be a significant year for the Duxford airfield site, it would also prove to be an exciting new direction for the regular Airshow events themselves. With a new team behind the organisation of the shows, the flying participation list for this first Duxford Air Festival was looking particularly impressive and not only included a wide variety of exciting display acts sure to appeal to regular Duxford audiences, but also a number of more unusual aircraft which would strike a chord with even the most hard-core aviation enthusiast. Proving to be a major draw for many attending this first Duxford show of 2017 and underlining this new display thinking, the magnificent de Havilland DH110 Sea Vixen is arguably the most exciting historic jet in the world following the retirement of Avro Vulcan B.2 XH558 and is one aeroplane that will see enthusiasts travelling significant distances to ensure they are present at her latest display. An enigmatic Fleet Air Arm relic of the Cold War, the Sea Vixen is without doubt one of the jewels in the crown of the UK historic aviation scene and continues to swell her army of enthusiast admirers every time she takes to the air and serving to draw attention to the glorious history of British naval aviation.
The enigmatic Sea Vixen is one of the world's most spectacular historic jets
This image may be the last time the Sea Vixen's undercarriage operated correctly
This distinctive twin boom fleet fighter made a dramatic entrance to the show as she came in low and slow, approaching from the M11 end of the airfield and wearing the striking colour scheme of No.899 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm and looking resplendent under the clear blue Cambridgeshire skies. The crowd was treated to a display full of grace and power, which highlighted the star billing this fantastic aircraft always enjoys and just left everyone wanting much more from this unique aeroplane. Unfortunately, this display proved to be the Sea Vixen's only Airshow appearance of 2017 and perhaps unthinkably, the final time that any Airshow will boast a Sea Vixen on its display programme. On her return to RNAS Yeovilton, the aircraft suffered a hydraulic failure which resulted in the pilot having to execute a textbook and highly controlled wheels up landing - in a display of exceptional flying skill and selfless bravery, Commander Simon Hargreaves gently nursed his charge onto the runway at Yeovilton, determined to inflict as little damage as possible to this unique aircraft. Thankfully, Commander Hargreaves emerged from the incident unscathed and the Sea Vixen is now safely back in her hangar, where she is in a period of suspended maintenance, preserving her for the future whilst assessment can be carried out on the cost and viability of returning her to flying condition once more. If that glorious day should ever come to pass, the Sea Vixen will once again take her place as one of the major stars of the world Airshow scene.
The aggressive looking Apache attack helicopter is now a firm favourite on the UK Airshow scene
Fast becoming one of the most popular displays on the UK Airshow scene, the British Army's Attack Helicopter Display Team clearly demonstrate the capabilities of today's modern helicopters and why they play such a vital role in current military planning. Fast and agile, the Apache is a fearsome offensive weapon and has an array of armament which makes this one of the most feared aircraft on the modern battlefield. Produced by Augusta Westland under licence from Boeing, the AH Mk.1 has been manufactured with British mission profiles in mind and differs from their American counterparts in a number of specific ways, most noticeably the adoption of Rolls Royce Turbomeca RTM322 turboshaft engines, as well as different weapons systems and avionics suite. Able to provide close air support, as well as longer range precision attacks, the Apache is now an essential component in British military operations and is able to operate from either land bases, or from the decks of suitable naval vessels, making these some of the most efficient offensive aircraft in current British military inventory.
With a suitably hostile backdrop, the Apache prepares to thrill the Duxford audience with a display of rotary power
Although the Apache is undoubtedly a serious piece of aviation hardware, its sinister profile is the feature which makes this helicopter so fascinating to enthusiasts. With an array of devastating weaponry hanging from four wing hardpoints and a nose mounted 30mm chain gun which points at the crowd threateningly during its flying display, the Apache is perhaps the aircraft which appeals to youngsters attending Airshows the most and has brought the excitement back to modern military displays over recent years. Although not taking place at this Duxford show, the Apache wall of fire finale is one of the most iconic components of the modern air display and the highlight for many younger enthusiasts, who just love the fire and brimstone of an Apache display. Just as the Panavia Tornado attracted people of my age to consider a career in the Royal Air Force, the Apache Attack Helicopter is surely doing great things for current Army recruitment.
Friendly display duel in the skies above Duxford
The RAF Eurofighter Typhoon is the modern day equivalent of the famous Spitfire
Although Duxford shows can usually be relied upon to present visitors with the evocative sight of Spitfires and Hurricanes patrolling the Cambridgeshire skies and even perhaps the odd Messerschmitt finding more than a little trouble on his tail, this latest display promised an exciting show of strength from more contemporary aviation hardware. Representing something of a coup for the show organisers, perhaps the most anticipated fighter showdown of the weekend concerned two much more modern aircraft designs and saw the latest British and French fighters going head to head for display supremacy in the skies above Duxford. Always a headline act wherever it performs, the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 is the RAFs current Spitfire and is undoubtedly one of the most capable multi-role aircraft available to any of the world's air arms. As an Airshow performer, the Typhoon is spectacular with power and agility in abundance, which allows this large aircraft to transform a slow speed pass into a high-energy climb in the blink of an eye, using its impressive manoeuvrability to keep the display well within the boundary of the airfield. With its usually polished performance, the Typhoon set the display bar extremely high and awaited the response of Duxford's illustrious overseas guest.
Friendly rivalry for Duxford display supremacy - RAF vs Armee de l'Air
In a development which proved to be one of the highlights of the Duxford Air Festival, the new display director managed to arrange for the French Air Force to make a rare appearance at a Duxford show, sending one of their premier fighter aircraft to thrill the Airshow crowd - and what an appearance it was. As the beautifully presented Dassault Rafale C solo display aircraft blasted into its first manoeuvre at Duxford, it was clear that Captain 'Marty' Martinez was here to make an impression on his British audience and was determined to show the crowd what his aircraft could do. His dynamic routine was all about exceptional flying skill, Gallic flair and doing his country proud, whilst at the same time throwing down the display gauntlet to the RAF Typhoon Display Team. I don't know if it is just the fact that it was such an unexpected treat to see this spectacularly presented aircraft flown so flamboyantly, but I certainly thought in this friendly display rivalry, it had to be considered round one to the Armee de l'Air and their incredibly agile fighter. One thing is certain, everyone in attendance will be very much looking forward to the second instalment of this friendly display rivalry.
The attendance of this stunning Rafale was a real coup for the show organisers
As is the case with many Airshow events held at Duxford, favourable weather conditions will usually result in a memorable day out for all the family and more display highlights than can be shoehorned into a single review blog. Although we have already covered some of the significant acts taking part in this impressive first show for the new organising team, here is a photographic selection featuring some of the other aircraft that helped to launch the 2017 Airshow season in fine style.
Duxford and the Spitfire will always be inextricably linked
Adding a touch of class to the proceedings, the graceful de Havilland DH.88 Comet
Another unexpected aircraft at the show was this Canadian Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman bush plane
Always a favourite with the crowds, the intrepid wing walkers of the Breitling Team
The agile OV-10 Bronco wears German markings here, but saw US service during the Vietnam War as a spotter/light attack aircraft
The impressive V-22 Osprey demands attention at every Duxford show it attends
When Airshows are a thing of the past, the sight of Spitfires above Duxford will be the defining memory of this magnificent place
The final shot has to be reserved for the aircraft which many in attendance felt deserving of the 'Display of the day' award, the beautiful French Air Force Rafale
Last year's Duxford Air Festival proved to be a spectacular way to mark the beginning of the 2017 Airshow season and treated visitors to an exciting and varied display programme, with some surprise participants and plenty to see and do before the flying action began. Impressive from the start, the display organisers even managed to arrange for decent weather, which is a real bonus for any UK outdoor event and an absolute must for a successful Airshow. Although there proved to be many memorable highlights, the show was also tinged with some sadness following the difficulties experienced by the Sea Vixen and the possibility that this appearance may have been her last for some time, possibly ever. Anyone lucky enough to have been at Duxford on the Saturday of the show weekend will undoubtedly consider themselves extremely fortunate to have witnessed the impressive Sea Vixen display and will be protective of any pictures they managed to take.
I hope this little nostalgic trip back to the first Duxford display of 2017 has helped to blow the winter cobwebs away and encouraged readers to start looking forward to the coming year of aviation related delights. It is a real joy to be back to normal with regard to our Aerodrome blog and we are looking forward to maintaining our usual fortnightly publication schedule throughout the coming year. As usual, we are always keen to hear from our readers, particularly if you have ideas for future Aerodrome subject matter, or to let us have any interesting pictures to share with fellow readers. If you would like to get in touch, please could you use either our email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail addresses and we will endeavour to reply to all correspondence received.
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