The Imperial War Museum at Duxford played host on the 19th August to the United States Air Force Europe and in particular the personnel and equipment of the 3rd Air Force-United Kingdom, based at Mildenhall, Lakenheath and Alconbury. The fifth American Air Day was held in exceptionally fine weather with the promise of sunshine and blue sky and a nice warm day which in turn had drawn out the crowds as the bus I was on was held up in traffic jams around the airfield.
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I eventually arrived on site at 10.30, having first checked in at the Friends of Duxford desk and avoiding the long queue waiting to get in at the main entrance, just as the first pair of F-15E Strike Eagles were performing their fly pasts. They came in from the east heading west turned and headed back again with a bit of noise as they climbed out before departing back to Lakenheath. I though I might have missed it as it was due to arrive at 10.15 but the MC-130H Combat Talon II Hercules from Mildenhall was no where to be seen. Apparently it was having mechanical problems and being worked on back at base. Off to the east you could see a tanker that was climbing out of Mildenhall and then turned westwards towards Duxford. Right on time at 11.00 a KC-135A of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing, with fuel boom extended, performed a single fly past over the airfield. The Merlin engine of the Historic Aircraft Collections Spitfire Mk V that was parked on the grass at the Aircraft Restoration Company compound burst into life. After taking off with what looked like John Romain in the pilots seat, headed north as it was taken up for a test flight. The pair of T-28 Fennecs were next up as I think one was off to Belgium for the Aero Para Club Der Kempen, International Oldtimer and War Bird Fly In and the other was to be at the Shoreham Battle of Britain Air Show over the weekend. The Spitfire returned and after a bit of a display touched down and parked up back at ARCo.
With the next scheduled flying at 13.30, apart from Classic Wings and a few visitors that is, I went for a wander around and to have a bit of lunch. Between the American Air Museum and the Land Warfare Hall was the arena for the USAFE K9 Display Team dog demonstrations. Over in the old WWII aircraft revetment the Bird of Prey bird-scaring unit had set up shop and there was also a HUMVEE with a few weapons on display. Some of the USAFE Squadron Booster Clubs had set up shop and were selling T-shirts and badges and the grassed area between the control tower and crash gate C was packed with American muscle cars and motorbikes. At 13.15 I headed back towards the M11 end as I could hear the pilot of the Hercules calling in on the radio as he was holding off to the north. It flew in low from the west with wheels down and stopped in the middle of the runway. The ramp was dropped and a fully armed Special Forces motorcyclist and quad bike roared out of the back and across the grass towards the control tower. The MC-130H continued towards the jet ramp and in a cloud of black exhaust fumes, slowly reversed up to the crowd barrier. Having shut down and preparations made, it was eventually opened up for the public to have a look around.
At the appointed time, a pair of F-15C’s flew over for their fly past. Listening in on the air band radio, they were asking how far out to go to turn and they were told by the tower that the F-15E’s had taken 5 miles to turn so followed suit. Cliff Spink then took the HAC Spitfire V, which had an air test earlier on, up for a flight and returned with some aerobatics over the airfield. He would be flying it later on down to Shoreham.
Richard Grace and Dave Pulestone closed this portion of the flying programme with an excellent aerobatics display in their matching Pitts S1 Specials. Shortly before the final fly past by the USAFE, the ARCo T9 Spitfire and Buchon fired up along with the HAC Hurricane and Spitfire Mk V and as ‘War Bird Flight’ departed Duxford for Shoreham. There was no formation fly past over the airfield as the F-15E’s were already on their run in for their 15.30 slot.
As I left to catch the bus home, the Hercules was still open for visitor to walk through and I believe left later without even a fly past over Duxford. The majority of A-10 Thunderbolts of the 81st Fighter Squadron normally based at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany that had been on deployment at RAF Lakenheath for the last couple of weeks had returned home the day before. There was speculation amongst the gathered photographers as to whether or not the two that had remained behind at Lakenheath were earmarked for an appearance at Duxford. If they were, then they didn’t turn up. Despite the fly pasts during the day by the USAFE being a bit lacking in mixed formations and there was no HH-60G Pave Hawk Helicopter this year, none the less a very enjoyable day out only really spoilt from a photographers point of view by the clouds always rolling in as the flying segments of the day started.
14.30 and time for some Duxford based aircraft to fly. The ARCo and TFC Harvard’s were first up with individual displays but no formation flying and were then followed by Mark Linney in the Golden Apple Operations yellow and blue Boeing Stearman.
The final Duxford acts took to the air. First up was the all yellow Beech Staggerwing flown by Anna Walker. This was followed by the Catalina with its low slow circuits of the airfield and surrounding countryside with various combinations of wheels and wing tip floats hanging down. This was followed by Mark Linney flying the Golden Apple Operations F-86A Sabre and as it’s up for sale will be sorely missed if it returns to its homeland.