‘Scramble’ – Duxford’s Battle of Britain tribute
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK.
With the 2019 Airshow season now just a distant memory, the coming few months will allow us all the opportunity to reflect on what has to be viewed as another successful year for the aviation enthusiast and to safely catalogue and back up all our precious images. As far as production of the Aerodrome blog is concerned, I can now look at all the content I managed to secure throughout the year and begin to plan the interesting features I am looking forward to bringing you over the next few months, before the start of the 2020 season.
In this latest edition, we are going to be looking back at what was a hugely enjoyable Battle of Britain Airshow, at the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford airfield site and the continuation of an association with this famous old airfield and Britain’s most famous fighting aeroplane. You will be pleased to hear that the emphasis will be very much on images, but I will hopefully also manage to describe why this turned out to be one of the undoubted highlights of the Airshow calendar.
Marking two Battle of Britain anniversaries
Dawn at Duxford. A Spitfire stands ready for the first sortie of the day
As far as aviation heritage is concerned, the British people are extremely fortunate to have a venue as significant as Duxford Airfield to explore and experience, with the museum and its operational airfield open to visitors around 360 days each year. Effectively spanning the entire history of military aviation, the airfield at Duxford was originally opened in 1918 as a training facility, designed to prepare aircrews for imminent posting to the Western Front, however, the end of the Great War did not throw the future of this purpose built facility in doubt and only served to strengthen the future of flying activities at the site. Quickly establishing itself as a major fighter station, the inter war years would see further expansion of both facilities and aircraft technology at Duxford, as the aeroplane continued to be a vital component in the defence of Britain and as a capable deterrent to potential adversaries.
One of the most significant occasions in the history of both Duxford airfield and indeed the Royal Air Force occurred in August 1938, when No.19 Squadron was the recipient of the first Supermarine Spitfire fighter and over the coming few weeks, would trade in their Gloster Gauntlet biplane fighters for this cutting-edge monoplane, which clearly represented the future of aviation. Fascinatingly, as the first RAF airfield to welcome the Spitfire into Squadron service, Duxford continues its unique association with the aircraft as it is now home to one of the largest collections of airworthy Spitfires in the world. There is something truly special about experiencing the thrill of seeing a Spitfire displaying on these hallowed aviation grounds.
This early Spitfire Mk.1a served with RAF No19 Squadron at Duxford during the Spring of 1940 and made a forced landing on a French beach after an operation to cover the Dunkirk evacuations
Currently staging three two day Airshow events each year, the subject of Airshows taking place at Duxford airfield is a fascinating and historic one in its own right. The airfield selected for King George V’s spectacular Silver Jubilee flying display in 1935, Duxford was also the venue for Empire Air Days, as well as staging several Battle of Britain ‘At Home’ days, during its time as a serving military airfield, each one allowing members of the public to enjoy spectacular aviation action and securing their continued good will. As it passed from military to IWM/Council ownership, Duxford airfield continued to create its own Airshow history, starting with a first public Airshow event back in 1973 and going on to attract millions of spectators at the many events it has held during the intervening years.
Arguably, the highlight of each annual Duxford air display season is their ‘Battle of Britain Show’, which not only serves as a high profile commemoration of the savage air battles which took place over southern England during the summer of 1940, but is also an opportunity for show organisers to gather an impressive collection of airworthy Spitfires at this historic airfield, to take part in an evocative formation flypast as the highlight of the show. Viewed by many as the spiritual home of the Spitfire, Duxford played a significant role during the Battle of Britain, with its squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires rising to meet the massed formations of the Luftwaffe throughout the battle, as they struggled to protect Fighter Command airfields and attacks on the capital. It is therefore somehow fitting that during the post war years, Duxford has witnessed some of the largest formations of airworthy Spitfires and Hurricanes the world has ever seen, occasions which are always guaranteed to attract thousands of people to this magnificent old airfield.
Wartime Duxford was as much about the Hawker Hurricane, as it was about the Spitfire, especially during the Battle of Britain
Playing the enemy during filming for the Battle of Britain movie spectacular, this former Spanish Air Force Hispano Buchon was one of 17 aircraft secured specifically for use in this film
Many avid aviation enthusiasts will be only too aware that Duxford airfield has taken part in not one, Battle of Britain, but two! During the summer of 1968, the airfield was one of the major locations for the filming of the iconic Guy Hamilton directed war film ‘Battle of Britain’ and would also serve as the home airfield for a spectacular collection of airworthy Spitfires and Hurricanes, not to mention former German aircraft types which had been purchased from the Spanish Air Force. If you have ever visited Duxford during its Imperial War Museum years, watching this magnificent film (for most of us, probably for the twentieth time) provides a host of opportunities to see fascinating views of an airfield which is now familiar to millions of people, including those taken from the air during a simulated Luftwaffe air attack.
With evidence of Duxford’s Battle of Britain film exploits still available if you know where to look, Aerodrome readers who are also Duxford regulars will be aware of the open space in front of the ‘Workshop Restaurant’, in between the Air and Sea and Battle of Britain hangars, an area which is now used for the display of static aircraft on show days. This large concreted area was previously the site of one of Duxford’s impressive and historic Belfast hangars, a structure which proved to be one of the most significant casualties of the filming at the airfield during 1968. At that time, someone thought it would be a good idea to add some realism to a simulated Luftwaffe air raid by blowing up this massive structure and whilst this certainly made for an impressive film sequence, there must be many times since that fateful day that the loss of this hangar is lamented by museum officials and aircraft owners alike. As it was, the film’s pyrotechnic specialists managed to inflict more damage on Duxford than the Luftwaffe could ever manage.
Quite possibly the most famous Spitfire in the world, Mk.IX MH434 was looking resplendent in her D-Day identification markings and performed the finale display on both days of the show
With Duxford’s annual Battle of Britain Airshow occupying the last major event slot in the UK calendar and the show always holding the prospect of seeing an impressive gathering of airworthy Spitfires, large crowds are more or less assured for this Airshow. Having said that, the 2019 show will certainly be remembered as one of the most popular in its history. Without doubt, the chance to experience Europe’s largest collection of airworthy Spitfire’s on the same airfield at the same time is reason enough to have people rushing to secure their show tickets, however, this year’s event further reflected the ambitions of a new display organising committee and held the prospect of a real feast of aviation for those making the trip to Cambridgeshire.
Clearly, the historic aviation commemoration of the Battle of Britain would again be forming the central theme of the show, however, this year’s event also had a strong secondary focus on the Battle of Britain movie, marking 50 years since the UK release of this important film. Of huge interest to the enthusiast, the participation list included an impressive number of aircraft which had taken part in the aerial sequences of the filming back in 1968 and allowed spectators the appealing opportunity to photograph arguably the largest gathering of these aircraft since the end of filming over 50 years ago. Gathered on the same airfield which played such a significant role during the production of the film, this year’s show offered something really unique and was definitely an aviation opportunity which was simply too good to miss, especially as the weather forecast was looking unusually positive, at least for the Saturday of this weekend show.
What made this particular event all the more impressive and will certainly mark it as one of the highlight Airshows of the entire 2019 season, is that display organisers did not rest on their Battle of Britain laurels and ensured that the display programme was absolutely packed with historic aeroplanes and imaginative formation sequences which made this a real celebration of aviation and a clear indicator to other show organisers on how to run a successful event. With so many interesting aspects to this magnificent show and certainly far too many to squeeze into a single review feature, we will be returning to Duxford’s Battle of Britain show in future editions of our blog, but intend to confine our attentions to the Supermarine Spitfire for now.
Spitfires galore, both on the ground and in the air. Is it any wonder why Duxford’s annual Battle of Britain Airshow is one of the most popular events of its kind in the country
Anyone who has ever attended a Duxford Airshow will probably understand what I mean when I say that for me, these events consist of three distinct phases throughout the day. Once you have gained access to the airfield and decided where to position yourself for the day, there is quite some time to kill before the flying display section of the programme begins. For many, this time gives them the opportunity to visit display stands and make one or two essential purchases from the many trade stalls on site, before heading off to enjoy the important second phase of the day – an appointment with the impressive static aircraft display line up and the ever popular flightline walk. With the weather proving to be particularly favourable, all the protective covers on the respective aircraft were removed very early in the morning and aircraft arranged in themed groups down the length of Duxford’s hardstanding, offering some superb photographic opportunities in the early morning sunshine.
An appealing feature of recent Duxford shows has been the welcome attendance of a great many wartime re-enactors, who selflessly illuminate proceedings with their magnificent period attire, using these priceless aircraft as their enigmatic backdrops. Giving up their time to politely police the static aircraft line-up, ensuring no over-enthusiastic visitors get too close to the aircraft they have come to admire, the re-enactors are more than happy to continually respond to photographers requests for specific poses, sometimes not even receiving a thank you for their compliance and rarely being sent a copy of the photographs taken. Indeed, these people have become so popular in recent times that several displays can be found at different locations around the airfield, with their determination to be as authentic as possible offering a multitude of appealing photographic opportunities for visitors.
Given the fantastic opportunity to photograph the static aircraft display a few minutes prior to the flightline walk opening at this year’s show, I and a handful of other lucky photographers were in just the right position to benefit from a truly memorable few minutes in the company of a small group of RAF re-enactors. All dressed in wartime Royal Air Force attire and importantly, all being young enough to ensure a poignant recreation of a 1940s Duxford scene, the group were only too happy to help us attempt to secure some evocative images of the occasion, once again demonstrating the patience these impressive people are famous for.
A trio of images dedicated to the selfless work of Duxford’s intrepid band of wartime re-enactors and how they help to photographers obtain timeless aviation related images, which help to commemorate the heritage of this magnificent airfield
The undoubted highlight of this memorable few minutes was our request for the group to simulate a ‘Squadron Scramble’, running from the direction of Duxford’s control tower and towards the collection of Spitfires and Hurricanes positioned on the grass in front of us. Wearing heavy period uniform and with the sun beating down on them, they were asked to perform the simulated scramble several times, with one unfortunate young pilot being asked to run through the ranks of photographers and off up the airfield. By the end of our time with the re-enactors, they were absolutely shattered and were definitely forced to suffer for their art. They did, however, allow us to capture some memorable images, which will serve as a fine record of this magnificent event.
This final selection of images from this year’s Duxford Battle of Britain Airshow will hopefully help to illustrate why many people felt that this was Duxford’s best show of the year and will leave everyone wondering what organisers have planned for next year’s show, one which will be marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I certainly intend to be taking my place in what will surely be a bumper Duxford crowd.
Griffon Power. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfire PR.XIXe PM631 looking absolutely resplendent against the blue Cambridgeshire skies
Britain’s most famous fighter aircraft, the Spitfire is instantly recognisable to millions of people all over the world
Expert airmanship, the highlight of the show for many was the massed formation of Spitfires which took to the air as a show finale
Last minute advice. An old hand gives a pair of trainee pilots a few pointers before their latest Spitfire sortie
Spitfire royalty. Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX MH434 lands back after performing its beautiful Ray and Mark Hanna tribute display at the end of the show
The beast of Eastleigh. Representing a significant development to the original Spitfire design, the Griffon powered Spitfire had a much more muscular profile than its predecessors
Iconic shape, IWM Duxford’s beautiful Spitfire Mk.1a is an example of the first 19 Squadron machines to arrive at the airfield during the summer of 1938
One of our aircraft is late – someone has some explaining to do once he lands back at Duxford
A Duxford highlight, the sight of large numbers of Spitfires in the air at the same time is just one of the reasons why people come back to the airfield year after year
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our email@example.com address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 1st November, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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