Duxford’s Legendary Warbird Spectacular

Duxford’s Legendary Warbird Spectacular

 

Welcome to the latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at what is happening in the fascinating world of aviation. As far as British aviation enthusiasts are concerned, the month of July can be a challenging one, with a number of the country’s largest Airshow events taking place over the period of just a few short weeks. This situation will usually require some careful planning, both from a logistical and financial perspective, as well as requiring a modicum of diplomacy at home – we definitely use up the majority of our Brownie points during July. This busiest Airshow period is also the time when large numbers of Autumn DIY IOUs are issued to our significant others and even though we know they will be cashed in at some point, at least we will get to see lots of fantastic aeroplanes.

In this latest Aerodrome, we are going to be taking a look this year’s Duxford Flying Legends Airshow and how this unique event continues to be regarded as one of the most important events of its kind in the world. We will be looking at why enthusiasts continue to travel from all over the world to be present at these Warbird extravaganzas and how the owners of rare and historic aeroplanes will go to great lengths to make sure that their beloved aircraft can be a part of a Flying Legends Airshow. As you would expect, we will also be taking a look at some of the highlight acts at the 2016 show and the histories behind a number of the fantastic aircraft that were present this year. If you were at this year’s show, I sincerely hope that this review will do it justice and if you were not, it may serve to encourage you to experience this wonderful event in the years to come.

Flying Legends – Preserving Aviation History

For large numbers of aviation enthusiasts all over the world, the annual Flying Legends Airshow is usually the first event to be added to their new diary at the beginning of every year. Organised by the Duxford based Fighter Collection, Flying Legends is much more than just another Airshow, it is a celebration of aviation history itself and anyone lucky enough to attend one of these magnificent shows can feel like they are actually part of this history. For one very special weekend each July, the Imperial War Museum airfield at Duxford plays host to an event which is unparalleled in the world of historic aviation and sees not only an impressive gathering of airworthy pre-jet age historic aircraft at this former WWII fighter station, but also a genuine attempt to recreate a 1940s atmosphere during your visit. With many wartime re-enactors in attendance over the weekend and a number of themed events, displays and performances across the site, Flying Legends allows us all to experience the sights and sounds of 1940s Britain.

 

ImageBClassic aviation is always on display at Duxford - the only airworthy Hawker Fury Mk.I

 

Despite the unique atmosphere at Duxford, for many people in attendance at a Flying Legends show, it is all about the aeroplanes and rightly so. Over the past 23 years some of the rarest and most enigmatic historic aircraft in the world have taken part in these memorable shows, which are an unashamed indulgence in classic piston powered aviation and some of the most significant machines to take part in the two world wars. The Fighter Collection go to great lengths to ensure that not only are their impressive collection of aircraft serviceable for Flying Legends weekend, but they also to invite some of the most significant historic aircraft from Europe and North America to the show. Their intention is always to produce something unique for the aviation enthusiast. With a series of themed display routines, mass aircraft scrambles and the now traditional Balbo massed aircraft formation to close the show, is it any wonder that Flying Legends enjoys such a unique position in the world of historic aviation.

For anyone who has been lucky enough to attend one of these shows, it is easy to see why Flying Legends remains something of an aviation phenomenon. For many enthusiasts, the show acts as an annual historic aviation pilgrimage and a place to meet old acquaintances and new aviation friends from around the world – indeed, for the duration of the show, Duxford is host to a United Nations of aircraft enthusiasts with the roar of piston engines being the common language. The unique atmosphere is also infectious and many people who have experienced a Flying Legends show simply cannot imagine doing anything else on this particular weekend – it definitely gets in your blood. Having said that, with each passing year, you cannot help but think how lucky we have been and that one of these days, this magnificent Flying Legends adventure will all be over. As the costs associated with staging Airshows continue to increase and ever changing regulations challenge even the most enthusiastic of show organisers, it must become increasingly difficult to stage an event of this scale and we simply cannot take it for granted that Flying Legends will always be here. Whilst it is, regular visitors will continue to support the show in their thousands and if you have not sampled its many delights yet, what on earth are you waiting for?

 

Duxford and the Spitfire – A Legendary Combination

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The iconic Spitfire is inextricably linked to Duxford Airfield

 

One of the unique attributes of a Flying Legends Airshow is undoubtedly the venue itself. Duxford aerodrome is steeped in aviation history, having first been constructed in 1918, with many of its original features still in existence. During WWII, the airfield played a prominent role during the Battle of Britain and towards the end of the battle, over sixty Spitfires and Hurricanes would be dispersed around Duxford and the satellite airfield at nearby Fowlmere. In 1943, Duxford was handed over to the USAAF and became Station 357 (DX) and home to the famous 78th Fighter Group, amongst others – their distinctive black and white chequerboard Thunderbolts and Mustangs became some of the most famous aircraft of the entire war and a source of fascination for aviation enthusiasts all over the world. The Flying Legends Airshow uses this history as a backdrop for their evocative event, presenting beautifully restored historic aircraft flying from an airfield that actually took part in the air battles of the Second World War. When a Spitfire or Mustang takes off from Duxford’s grass runway during Flying Legends, you could almost imagine what it must have been like during wartime operations, which is why this event is so special and is held in such high regard by the enthusiast.

As Britain’s most famous fighter aircraft, the Spitfire is inextricably linked with Duxford airfield and it is fitting that this classic aircraft plays such a prominent role in any Flying Legends Airshow. With Spitfires beginning to leave the Supermarine production lines in greater numbers, Duxford based RAF No.19 Squadron was to be the first recipient of this spectacular new aircraft in 1938, beginning an enduring association between the two. Over recent years, Duxford has played host to many restored examples of the Spitfire and is one of the few places in the world where visitors can regularly see Spitfires being operated from a grass runway, just as they did from this very airfield during the Second World War. Indeed, it is the Spitfire that usually has the honour of opening a Flying Legends display, with the unmistakable sound of multiple Rolls-Royce aero engines exploding in to life and the sight of Spitfires taxiing towards the grass runway. At this point, you know that your latest Flying Legends adventure is about to begin.

 

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Spitting fire - TFC Spitfire Mk.XIVe starts its mighty Griffon engine

 

Causing everyone not already on the crowd-line to rush towards this evocative sound, the opening Spitfire Scramble scenario is a fitting tribute to the historic link between Duxford and Britain’s most famous fighter aircraft and marks the beginning of the latest show. As multiple Spitfires blast into the air one after the other, it is easy to imagine what a Duxford ‘Squadron Scramble’ must have been like during the dark days of the Battle of Britain and you certainly gain even more respect for the young lads who would have been flying and maintaining these breath-taking machines on a daily basis. With Spitfires on show from the earliest pre Battle of Britain Mk.1 fighters to the mighty Griffon engined Mk XIVe and relatively unusual two seat Spitfires for good measure, the opening sequence at Flying Legends 2016 included an exhilarating tail chase routine, followed by some more sedate (if you can call anything Spitfire related sedate) loose formation flypasts. All the aircraft also have to recover to the airfield following their display, which gives enthusiasts another opportunity to see these magnificent aircraft at very close quarters and confirms that the latest chapter in Duxford’s Flying Legends story is very much off and running.

 

New Spitfire on show at Flying Legends 2016

There is nothing like a historic aviation debutante at Flying Legends to increase the pulse rate of the enthusiasts in attendance and this year’s show had a number of such aircraft on offer. Of particular interest was Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc EP122 which was making its first appearance at a Duxford show, having only completed its first post restoration test flight in early May this year. Despite the fact that this is one of the newest Spitfires flying in the world, it has already been used in the production of a feature film and looks set to enjoy much greater exposure in the months to come, but we will look more closely at this a little later.

As one of the most important Allied aircraft of the Second World War, the Spitfire was in continuous production throughout the war years, with more than 22,000 aircraft eventually being produced, making it the third most heavily produced aircraft of the war and the seventh in the history of aviation. With so many Spitfires rolling off the production lines, the aircraft saw active service in almost every theatre of operations during WWII, with the Mk. V version of the aircraft being the first to see extensive use overseas. A particularly significant destination for many British Spitfires sent overseas was the strategically critical island of Malta and the savage air battles that raged over the Mediterranean – Malta was to be important in the history of Supermarine Spitfire VC EP122.

 

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Supermarine Spitfire VC EP122 makes its debut at Flying Legends 2016

 

Originally constructed at the famous Spitfire factory at Castle Bromwich in early 1942, EP122 would be sent to No.39 Maintenance Unit at Colerne, in Wiltshire following the successful completion of its test flying programme. Even though Spitfires were still in great demand by home based RAF Squadrons, EP122 would see her combat introduction in the azure blue skies of the Mediterranean and was almost immediately dismantled ready for her journey overseas. Crated and placed aboard SS Guido, the aircraft travelled by sea to Gibraltar, before being unloaded and reassembled – she was then hauled aboard a Royal Navy aircraft carrier (most likely HMS Eagle) for the next leg of her journey. Once the ship was close enough to Malta for the Spitfires to safely reach the island, whilst still staying out of reach of ever increasing Axis air attacks, EP122 and the other Spitfires set off for Malta and their new bases at Luqa, Ta’ Qali, Hal Far and Safi.

Over the course of the next few months, Spitfire EP122 flew regular combat missions against Axis air forces, scoring some notable successes during this time, many in the hands of the same pilot. At about the same time as the aircraft arrived on Malta, a young American pilot named Sergeant Claude Weaver also arrived on the island and was posted to RAF No.185 Squadron at Hal Far. At just 19 years of age, Weaver was to become the youngest Allied air ace of the Second World War and began claiming victories almost as soon as he started flying from Malta. In just one week between 17th and 24th July 1942, he destroyed five Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109F fighters and shared in the destruction of a Junkers Ju 88 bomber. Interestingly, four of these victories and the shared Junkers were scored whilst flying his Spitfire VC EP122. For his tenacity in the face of the enemy, Weaver was awarded the DFM on 8th August 1942.

Whilst serving on Malta, EP122 was not actually the personal aircraft of Sgt. Weaver and a number of 185 Squadron pilots would use the fighter on operations. Although it went on to score more victories in the hands of other pilots, this particular Spitfire would be involved in an emergency landing incident at the end of March 1943, which would bring an end to its wartime flying career. Although the pilot managed to safely bring the aircraft down on cliffs above Dwejra Bay, Gozo, the damage suffered was judged to be so severe that EP122 was immediately struck off charge. What is worse, the wreckage of the Spitfire was unceremoniously pushed over the edge of the cliff and into the waters below. In the years following the end of WWII, the Spitfire became a popular destination for local divers and military enthusiasts, with the unfortunate result that many parts were taken from the wreck site. Following a successful campaign to raise funds, the surviving wreckage was eventually salvaged from Dwejra Bay in the 1970s – the forward fuselage and engine were stored in a Maltese museum for many years to follow.

 

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This magnificent Spitfire will star in a new film about the miracle of Dunkirk

 

A Spitfire with proven combat provenance would always attract the attentions of Warbird enthusiasts and the possibility of seeing this aircraft form the basis of a restoration project became a reality when the surviving parts were acquired by Comanche Fighters. Everything was shipped to the Isle of Wight and the specialist Warbird restoration company Airframe Assemblies at Sandown Airport, who undertook much of the initial restoration work, before the aircraft was transferred to the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar for the completion of the work. Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VC EP122 made its triumphant first post restoration flight from Biggin Hill on 4th May this year, some seventy-three years since she last flew in the skies above Malta. She has been finished in the blue and green camouflage scheme she wore on Malta in 1942, whilst in the hands of Sgt. Claude Weaver and wearing the fuselage codes GL-B. To add yet more interest and intrigue to this fantastic story, these were not the colours the aircraft wore for her Flying Legends debut appearance. Despite the fact that she has only just been restored to flying condition, EP122 has already made her film debut and has been used in the production of a new film about the Dunkirk evacuation, which stars amongst others One Direction’s Harry Styles. For this role, the aircraft was wearing a temporary scheme to make it look like a Spitfire Mk.I in service at this time and wearing the standard RAF camouflage of the period, which completely covered all trace of her existing Malta campaign scheme. EP122 was an extremely welcome addition to the Flying Legends line up, made all the more interesting as a result of the temporary scheme she was wearing – without doubt, this is one of the most significant Spitfires flying today. Unusually for a restored wartime aircraft, it possesses genuine WWII combat history, with a number of aerial victories to its name and clear links to the savage air battles that raged in the skies above Malta.

 

Fighters old and new at Flying Legends 2016

 

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The USAAF Heritage Flight demonstration at Duxford

 

The Flying Legends Airshow is very much a celebration of piston powered aviation and it is extremely rare for the sound of a jet engine to be heard above Duxford during the show weekend. In a break from this tradition, this year’s show promised something very special from the American Air Force and an undoubted highlight act, which celebrated over seventy years of US fighter development. The magnificent USAF Heritage Flight allowed the Duxford crowds a rare opportunity to see the latest US Air Force air superiority fighter, the F-22A Raptor flying in formation with arguably the greatest fighter aircraft of WWII, the incomparable North American P-51D Mustang – two of the most respected fighting machines in the history of aerial warfare.

In what was quite an aviation spectacle, the magnificent USAF Heritage Flight brought together a Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor air superiority fighter from the 94th Fighter Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, in Virginia and North American P-51D Mustang ‘Miss Helen’ which is based in the UK, but only rarely seen on the Airshow circuit. Despite the difference in aviation technology, these classic US fighters performed a series of impressive close formation passes, which must have been quite challenging for the two pilots to achieve. Both of these aircraft are from totally different eras of aviation, even though they were designed to perform the same task – the pictures attached clearly illustrate how close the aircraft were to each other and the significant size difference between them.

 

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Fighters from different eras - the Mustang and Raptor kept tight formation

 

One of the interesting aspects of historic aviation is how every one of the aircraft we love to get close to have interesting histories all of their own. These stories can simply be the fascinating overview of the restoration project itself, or as is the case with Spitfire EP122 we featured earlier, tracing the wartime history and combat record of a particular aircraft. The P-51D Mustang that took part in the Heritage Flight demonstration has an interesting story behind it and whilst it has been resident in the UK for quite some time, she could never be described as being overworked on the Airshow circuit. P-51D 44-72216 ‘Miss Helen’ was delivered to the USAAF in early January 1945 and assigned to the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group – the famous ‘Blue Nosers’ from Bodney. Coded HO-M(bar), the aircraft saw extensive action during the final months of WWII and has several confirmed victories to her name. Flown by a number of pilots, including Captain Raymond Littge as ‘Miss Helen’ and later by Lt. Russell Ross as ‘Miss Nita’, the aircraft took its place in one of the most formidable units of the war, which managed to destroy over 800 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground, creating 26 aces in the process. When ‘Miss Helen’ was delivered to Ray Littge, he was already an ace, with 10.5 victories to his name, including one of the Luftwaffes feared Me 262 jet fighters. Flying this aircraft on an escort mission to Dresden, the unit were released to search for targets of opportunity and found a Luftwaffe airfield packed with aircraft. As the blue nosed Mustangs launched their attack, Miss Helen was hit by flak on the initial run and began to lose oil – despite this, Littge went on to make an impressive seven attack runs, destroying three Me 109s and a further two Me262s in the process, before setting course for home in his damaged fighter.

 

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P-51D Mustang ‘Miss Helen’ running up prior to her display with the Raptor

 

Following the end of the Second World War, ‘Miss Helen’ served with both the Swedish and Israeli Air Forces, before being recovered by a UK Warbird collector and brought back to Britain in the early 1980s. Once restored to flying condition, she was used in the making of the film Memphis Belle, wearing an olive drab and grey scheme and the name ‘Miss L’ on the front fuselage. Having researched the history of this magnificent aircraft, the owner returned her to her original WWII markings in 2000, which she proudly wears to this day – ‘Miss Helen’ is thought to be the last original 352nd Fighter Group ‘Blue Noser’ Mustang known to exist and certainly one of the most historic aircraft at the 2016 Flying Legends Airshow.

The USAAF Heritage Flight display ended with the two aircraft performing a spectacular opposition break in front of the crowd, before both aircraft sped in to give their individual displays. With the Mustang showing why this was one of the most accomplished aircraft ever to go into combat, the F-22A Raptor played its part by giving us a short demonstration of its famed power and unbelievable agility. Even though it does not have quite the same pedigree as ‘Miss Helen, I think that most enthusiasts would agree that the Raptor would be a welcome addition at any future Flying Legends display.

 

Long Distance Lockheed

Although Flying Legends Airshows are usually known for gathering an impressive collection of European based Warbirds for their events, there is always the chance that aircraft from further afield might make the pilgrimage to Duxford for the weekend. This year’s show will be remembered for the appearance of a beautiful Lockheed 12A Electra Junior, which had embarked on an impressive 4366 nautical mile journey from its home airfield at Moses Lake, Washington State only days earlier, with its owner desperate for his aircraft to take part in this unique show.

 

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The beautiful Lockheed 12A Electra Junior landing at Duxford

 

The description classic aviation could not have been more appropriate to any aircraft at Flying Legends 2016 than the delightful Lockheed 12A Electra Junior, which simply oozes aviation style from every rivet and chrome mudguard. Designed by the famous Kelly Johnson, the Electra Junior was all about style and luxury and was intended for the very wealthiest businessmen and celebrities in late 1930s America. It could seat up to six people in total luxury, but if an even more opulent aviation experience were called for, two of the seats could be removed for even more luxurious travel – almost no expense was spared in the construction of this aircraft. All this style and quality came at a price however and despite the fact that this was one of the most capable aircraft of its type in the world, only 130 of these beautiful aeroplanes were ever built. Compared to the very similar Beech 18 twin, the Lockheed Electra Junior was almost four times as expensive, but despite its relatively short production run, it does serve to mark a period in aviation history when style and luxury were very much the order of the day.

Owner Patrick Donovan decided to take his aircraft to Flying Legends after watching the 2014 show DVD last year, determined that his aeroplane would join this unique gathering – there was just the small matter of a 4300 nautical mile journey and the North Atlantic Ocean to negotiate in order to get there. Standing testament to the design and reliability of this 1930s aircraft, other than making some modifications to accept an additional internal temporary fuel tank and the necessary navigational and safety equipment requirements, Mr Donovan had absolute faith in his Electra and was sure it would get him to England without too much trouble.

 

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One of the best looking aircraft at Flying Legends 2016, the Electra Junior

 

Taking off from its home airfield at Moses Lake in late June, the Electra would have to fly over some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, with little hope of assistance if they developed a problem along the way. The route was carefully planned to keep them as near to inhabited areas for as much of the journey as possible, but the actual course flown would depend on a number of factors, not least of which was the weather. Their intended stops were at Edmonton, Canada – Rankin Inlet, in Nunavut Canada – Kangerlussuaq, Greenland – Reykjavik, Iceland and then finally on to Duxford. This would be quite an undertaking in a modern aircraft, but in this classic 1930s Lockheed Electra Junior, this must almost class the intrepid crew as something of modern day aviation pioneers.

Impressively, the journey was completed without too much incident and the aircraft arrived at Duxford looking absolutely immaculate. Although she is not a Warbird, the Lockheed 12A Electra Junior was a very welcome addition to the flying programme at Flying Legends and allowed UK enthusiasts a rare opportunity to see this classic and extremely beautiful aeroplane.

 

A Furious Debut for Legends 2016

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A sight for sore eyes - Hawker Fury FB.10 had only recently returned to the UK

 

Moving back to the subject of piston engined fighter aircraft, enthusiasts were interested to learn that an old Airshow favourite had just arrived back in the UK and would hopefully be taking its place on the display circuit. Former Iraqi Air Force Hawker Fury FB.I0 G-CBEL had been successfully operated in Britain for ten years, up to around 2002, before being sold to a collector in Australia. It was one of thirty de-navalised Sea Furys to serve with the Iraqi Air Force from 1948 and was the first modern fighter to be operated by the force. Obtained by a US Warbird collector and restored to flying condition over a number of years, the aircraft made its first post restoration flight in Texas in 1991 and was almost immediately crated up and sent to a new owner in the UK.

Hawker Fury G-CBEL only arrived back in the UK during June and since that time, it had been test flown just once and repainted in this attractive scheme to mark the Sea Fury prototype aircraft SR611 (the real SR611 had been scrapped many years ago). Enthusiasts hardly dared to believe that the Fury would make it to Flying Legends and even if it did, it would surely only take part in the static display – how wrong could we be. In the days leading up to the show, reports quickly began to circulate that this beautiful new addition to the UK Airshow scene was listed to attend the show and what is more, it was down as a display item! We could hardly believe our luck, but even then, we had absolutely no idea what a treat lay in store for us.

 

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One of the highlights of the show was a full display by the fabulous new Fury

 

As this extremely handsome machine lined up on the runway, in the capable hands of young Warbird pilot Richard Grace, we were all expecting a relatively sedate series of flypasts, bearing in mind he had only flown the aircraft a couple of times previously. Against all expectations, what we actually got was a stunning display of airmanship in this powerful fighter, which for many people will have been regarded as the highlight act of the entire display – as one of the most potent piston engined fighters ever produced, the Hawker Fury FB.10 is something of a beast and must be a challenging aircraft to fly. Richard Grace managed to display his mount with apparent ease, performing a full routine on both days of the show and leaving nobody in any doubt as to the capabilities of this awesome machine. The aircraft will now be based at the home of North Weald Heritage Aviation, who have recently acquired a number of historic Warbirds and seem destined to become a big player on the UK historic aviation scene. This magnificent Hawker Fury FB.10 made a dramatic impact at Flying Legends 2016 and will hopefully be a regular display item at future Airshows all over the country.
As with all Flying Legends Airshows, there genuinely are so many highlights, that it really is difficult to fit everything into a single review article, but I hope what we have included has given you some idea of this latest event. There is a lot more to tell you about, so perhaps we could include these in a future edition of Aerodrome. For the aviation enthusiasts, Flying Legends weekend is much more of an experience than an Airshow, which leaves you feeling that you have been a part of something special. As someone who has been to every one of the 23 previous shows, I can say that Flying Legends is truly infectious and gets into your blood – for many, they simply cannot think of doing anything else on this particular July weekend. Once experienced, Flying Legends is a show that will always have you coming back for more – I am already looking forward to my 2017 Warbird fix.

 

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The magnificent Fury is destined to become a firm Airshow favourite

 

I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition, but I am already planning Aerodrome 52. As many of you have been attending Airshows and aviation museums over the busy summer period, you have been kindly sending us pictures from your visits – the next edition of Aerodrome will feature a selection of our reader images, so prepare to be immortalised on the web. If you would like to send us your aviation related pictures, or if you have any suggestions for a future edition of Aerodrome, please use our direct e-mail addresses at aerodrome@airfix.com or aerodrome@corgi.co.uk to contact us – we are always happy to hear from you.

I hope that you enjoyed this week’s look at the fantastic Flying Legends Airshow and importantly, that I managed to describe the unique atmosphere of these memorable events. If you have yet to sample the delights of a Flying Legends show, it really does come highly recommended and I would be extremely surprised if you were not captivated by the experience.

As usual, if you would like to join in the social media discussions regarding our latest blog, please head for either the Airfix Aerodrome Forum or our Corgi Aerodrome Forum and have your say. If you have any specific comments, questions or suggestions for future editions of Aerodrome, please do feel free to let us know by using either the Airfix Facebook or Corgi Facebook pages, our Airfix Twitter or Corgi Twitter accounts, using #aerodrome.

Finally, we would be most grateful if you would help spread the Aerodrome word and introduce like-minded aviation enthusiasts to our blog! If you have any friends or acquaintances who you feel would enjoy reading our aviation related blog, please pass on our contact details, so they know where to find us - www.airfix.com/uk-en/news/aerodrome or www.corgi.co.uk/news/aerodrome. You can also pick up Aerodrome on both the Corgi and Airfix Facebook pages.

Thank you very much for reading our latest blog and if you are heading out to an aviation event this weekend, don’t forget to send us your pictures.

Michael

 

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