Following the rain, which had passed through during the night, it was blue sky with large white fluffy clouds and warm sunshine when I arrived at Duxford. Unfortunately there was also a rather stiff easterly wind blowing that was gusting to over 30 knots at times and whipping up dust storms with soil from the surrounding fields. A plus point was that it was blowing along the east/west aligned runways and not across them. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight had already cancelled any flying that day as the wind at RAF Coningsby was above the safe limits for them to take off and land in. The Aircraft Restoration Company BoB Buchon and The Fighter Collection P-40 had been added to the flight line as replacements for some of the cancelled acts along with the Historic Aircraft Collection Hurricane. Aircraft parked on the flight line had been positioned to point into the wind which made it a lot easier to photograph them on the flight line walk as the were almost side on rather than the nose on that is the normal for air shows. Some of the smaller and lighter aircraft didn’t even make it outside and stayed in the hangars and safe from the wind. As forecast, a rain front did appear around mid-day but because of the wind, it quickly passed over and was not enough to dig out the waterproofs.
It may have been the adverse weather reports, but crowd numbers appeared to be down to such an extent that there was plenty of vacant space on the crowd line. It was one of the few occasions that I found a clear spot near the grassed enclosure down at the M11 end of the airfield. The eastern end is an ideal location for some topside views along with landing and taxi shots. The air show started with Flight Lieutenant Dan Hayes in the distinctively coloured silver and blue display Tucano from RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Unfortunately it was another Royal Air Force display at height and with plenty of views of the dark blue underside and any topside passes were to far away to photograph with a 400mm lens. Well you could but it would mean a heavy crop of the image. There was a slight gap in the flying as a last minute decision had been made to cancel the Rapide as the gusting wind was above the safe limits for it. Next up was the Meteor NF.11 operated by Classic Flight based at Coventry airport. A very nice routine followed with close in passes, photography wise, with the occasional vapour trails being pulled off the wingtips and a slow missed approach and climb out. The pace slowed with a new display act of a pair of Vans RV-8 aircraft, trailing smoke, known as the RV8tors and flown by Alistar Kay and Anthony Hill. A piece of heavy metal was next on the menu in the shape of the Royal Navy Historic Flight's twin-seat Sea Fury T.20 flown by Lieutenant Commander Christopher Gotke RN. The Swordfish that was to have been at Duxford has still to have some safety paperwork signed off and as the Sea Fury is civilian registered and on loan the RNHF, it’s covering the events the Swordfish can’t attend at the moment. This was also the Sea Fury’s first public display.
The next portion of the show was to be the tribute to ‘Women in Aviation’ with eight women pilots and their respective aircraft taking part. Unfortunately, the gusting wind thinned the number out with Tizi Hodson in the Tiger Airways Slingsby Firefly T67M, Zan Blundell in the Yak-52, with the help of wing walkers while taxiing, and Polly Vacher in her much travelled Piper Dakota ably flying the flag for Women in Aviation. The rather large Catalina didn’t seemed to be bothered by the wind as it sedately flew figure of eight and race track circuits over the airfield lowering and raising wheels and wing tip floats. Stephen Grey followed in The Fighter Collection Hawk 75. This time it behaved itself as on a practice flight on Friday it decided to have an hydraulics malfunction but touch down safely. Hats off to the pilots and two girls of the Breitling Wing Walkers for another excellent routine in the gusting, windy conditions and fortunately with the strong wind, it quickly blew away the smoke trailing from the two Stearman’s which normally hangs around and obscures the view. As the oldest Commanding Officer of a Tiger Squadron, No 74, still flying operationally, as in war birds, F-86 etc, Cliff Spink was invited to the NATO Tiger Meet at Cambrai the weekend before. The Duxford based F-86A Sabre had been suitably adorned with orange and black Tiger stripes in honour of the occasion as Cliff threw the only airworthy F-86A in the world around the darkening skies of Cambridgeshire. Fortunately the rain held off.
The next part of the programme was to have been a pair of Spitfire’s and a P-51 Mustang. The Old Flying Machine Company Spitfire and Mustang took off accompanied by the ARCo Buchon and HAC Hurricane and there followed two separate routines and individual displays by these Duxford based war birds. Another change of pace as Diane Britten took to the air in her French registered CAP 232 and was throwing it around, trailing smoke, with manoeuvres that defy gravity. With the wind appearing to ease a bit, the show was drawing to a close. Another replacement act for the afternoon was Pete Kynsey in the TFC P-40 who I always enjoy watching what ever he is flying as he always seems to get the best display routine out of a whatever aircraft he is in. It was the turn of the ladies again with Carolyn Grace in her two-seat Spitfire T.IX and Anna Walker flying the Kennet Aviation Seafire Mk.XVII and after a couple of passes together they parted for separate routines. The last two acts of the air show were the Hawk from RAF Valley flown by this years display pilot, Flt Lt Juliette Fleming, which again was a black dot in the sky with plenty of underside passes and the excellent Royal Navy Black Cats in their Lynx helicopters.
The first show of the season at Duxford could have been a bit bare, display wise, but the war bird operators based at at the airfield stepped in and ably plugged the gaps. Photography was a nightmare as the lighting conditions were changing all the time as the clouds rolled through and the long lens on the font of my camera seemed to catch the gusting wind just as I was pressing the shutter release button. Plenty of photos with noses and tails missing or not centred in the frame. Apart from that a very enjoyable day out.
Flying displays cancelled were the Willis Wing U2 Hang glider & Pegasus Quantum microlght 912 Tug/Thruxton Jackaroo – DHC-1 Chipmunk – DH82B Queen Bee of Captain Neville’s Flying Circus/Chilton DW1/Ryan PT-22/Percival Prentice/Bucker Jungman/Piper L4 Cub/DH Rapide/BBMF/Hawker Nimrod x2
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The theme for the first Duxford air show of the season was ‘Women in Aviation’ and the contribution and achievements women have made in the development of air travel, both in civilian and military aviation, from the early beginnings of stick and string flying machines through to high tech supersonic flight. Many women pilots were invited to attend and display with their aircraft, unfortunately the good old British weather saw fit to deny some of them that opportunity.