Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show 2021 - Cody Froggatt
Duxford is a place that can only be described as 'magic', the feeling, a sense that if it could be bottled would make millions. The Imperial War Museum's crown jewel for me, Duxford is one of the hearts and souls of aviation. Being the home of 'The Fighter Collection' (TFC), 'The Old Flying Machine Company' (OFMC), 'The Aircraft Restoration Company' (ARC), 'Historic Aircraft Collection' (HAC), 'B-17 Preservation Society' to name but a few. The airfield itself is an historic site dating back to 1918. In the second world war it was home to the first operational Spitfire squadron and Duxford's fighters were frequently scrambled against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. With September comes Battle of Britain day and IWM's final major air show of the season, 'The Battle of Britain Air Show'.
The 'Battle of Britain' theme goes deep into the planning, the airfield has historical aviation prestige and the setting allows for an immersing experience set in the 1940's. It isn't hard at all to become immersed in the wartime atmosphere when you are greeted to historical reenactors among the flight line walk or among the hangers, and see so many Spitfires take to the skies.
When I first arrived at the airfield I was allowed exclusive access to the flight line walk with the fog bearing down upon the airfield which I'd never seen at Duxford before, which proved to be a problem for photography but nevertheless interesting too. This exclusive access allowed me great opportunities to photograph the aircraft without any of the public around and I was deeply grateful to the IWM for allowing me to do this and I think the pictures have proven that the fog has provided an interesting opportunity to get a different aspect of these airframes.
After the year we have gone through and the sheer amount that the IWM had to cope with, after the cancellations throughout 2020, coming back to Duxford for the Battle of Britain show was a deeply healthy reminder to how much one can miss one of the major UK Air Shows. The show itself opened with the departures of three different spitfires, Mk.Ia N3200 from the IWM collection, Mk.XIV MV293 from The Fighter Collection and Mk.XVI TD248 from Spitfires Ltd as they flew off to form up for the open three-ship formation. These were followed by Hurricane's Mk.I R4118, the only surviving Battle of Britain veteran Hurricane's still flying from Hurricane Heritage, Mk.I P3717 from Bygone Aviation Ltd, Mk.I P2902 from Anglia Aircraft Restorations Ltd and Mk.I V7497 from Hurricane 501, who similarly flew off to form up their own four-ship formation.
The three-ship of spits arrived crowd left and performed a typical Duxford topside arrival. They made a few passes over the airfield before splitting off and beginning my personal favourite for these types of shows, tail chases. The chases always will keep a photographer, even a viewer for that matter on their toes to keep up with the action.They always provide for the best chances to capture these beasts. The display finished, with the impressive sight of seeing four of the twelve airworthy Hurricanes entered the flying circuit. With the immaculate sight of four Hurri's flying above three spits taxing below. A bold reminder to how great Duxford is for the sheer amount of historic aviation action that is up for viewing. They too, much like the spitfires performed a few passes in formation together before breaking, with R4118 performing a solo routine. The trio performed their own tail chases and formation passes. This was brilliant to see and with any hope future IWM shows will include even more Hurricanes within the static and flying program.
Once the Hurri's had landed the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew over crowd right with a change to the line up. Instead of the Lancaster and Hurricane, we were treated to a duo display by Spitfires Mk.IIa P7350, the last airworthy Battle of Britain veteran spitfire which originally flew with 266 and 603 Squadrons, as well as Mk.XVI TE311 which seems to be following me lately, having previously seen her the week before at the Abingdon Air and County Show
. Having not seen P7350 in the air for quite a long time, this was a real treat for me. I hold this aircraft in very high regard, being the only flying survivor of the Battle of Britain, any opportunity of seeing her should be grabbed at any chance. A few passes together were followed by a solo display from each, this was fitting within the setting and was a pleasure to see as always.
As TE311 barrel-rolled away from the display area, it was the turn for one of the highlights of this year's show - I gush quite a bit about Peter Teichman and the Hangar 11 collection every time I write a review and it is with a deep passion too. Especially about spitfire Mk.IX PT879, aka the Russian Spitfire. She left the Vickers Armstrong factory at Castle Bromwich on 4th August 1944 and was shipped via Murmansk to the 2nd squadron, 767th Regiment, 122nd Division of the Russian Air Force, a Spitfire Squadron. She crashed during a dogfight in Spring 1945 with just 29 hours on the airframe and was recovered off the Tundra as a complete aircraft by a capitalist-socialist farmer who must have realised that she would perhaps have value in time. Brought back to the UK by Peter Monk and later purchased by Peter Teichman she has been in restoration for years, to getting her as near authentic as is possible. Taking-off low and hard, Peter put her through her paces with loops, victory rolls and of course the classic way in which Peter does his topsides. This was a special display from a special pilot and equally a special plane too.
Peter finished his display, landed and was followed in by the Curtiss fighters' with a formation of P-40F Warhawk and Curtiss Hawk 75, both from The Fighter Collection. Performing a couple of passes together before splitting off to perform their solo displays. Two incredibly rare aircraft indeed, especially to the European circuit, it's always amazing to see the Curtiss aircraft within the flying programme.
Once the Curtiss fighters had finished and landed, it was the turn of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, Sally B. Sally is a special aircraft, well loved throughout the UK and the European scene, and being the only airworthy B-17 in the whole of continental Europe. As always, her displays are majestic and immaculate, and this was no different as she put on a wonderful display for all those attending.
Once Sally had landed it was the turn of an interesting segment. Three Hispano Aviacion HA-1112 aircraft, also known as Buchons with G-AWHK from Historic Flying Ltd, G-AWHH from Anglia Aircraft Restorations Limited and G-AWHC from Ultimate Warbird Flights, who took the role of BF109s attacking the airfield. With the scrambling of P-47 Nellie B from Ultimate Warbird Flights and P-51D'S Miss Helen from Robert Tyrell and Contrary Mary from Ultimate Warbird Flights, defending against the attack by the Buchons. This was an interesting and well planned segment of this show which I personally enjoyed. This display was dynamic and unique, the added use of pyrotechnics really added to it with the simulated bombing and attack of the airfield. Having never seen a display like this before with US fighters and Buchons, i found it very enjoyable, and I hope that in future air shows this is put on once again.
Once the airfield was reclaimed by the US fighters, it was the turn for Team Raven to take to the skies.This was an interesting and unique, quaint display by the Welsh aerobatic team. Flying with home built RV8's this display was nice to see, having never seen Team Raven perform before, this was an enjoyable display indeed.
After team Raven finished, the Great War Display Team took off. Having not seen this display team in a number of years, I've now grown to appreciate them more deeply. The display is mad, in a great way, and is a perfect way in which to commemorate those pioneers of European aviation. A very poignant display with a mixture of dynamic flying and pyrotechnics.
Once the Great War Display Team had landed and cleared the runway it was time for Historic helicopters with the Westland Sea King, Wessex and Whirlwind taking to the skies. This is a great trio display allowing each of the aircraft to display their own unique qualities and allowing for some great photographic opportunities, and with the chance of shooting all three of them flying together. To see three generations of search and rescue helicopters flying in formation and solo displays is just amazing.There isn't any word you can put forth to describe what Historic Helicopters have been doing for the historic aviation scene in the UK and long may they continue.
Once Historic Helicopters were landed and taxied away, it was the turn off the Army Historic Flight with the de Havilland Beaver AL Mk.1, Auster Mk.9, Agusta Bell Sioux AH Mk1, and Westland Scout AH Mk1. An interesting display once again, having seen them previously at Abingdon, it was great to see them again and it was even better to hear the commentary of George Bacon. The Consolidated PBY Catalina Miss Pickup from Plane Sailing that was up next was put through her paces flying a good, nice, and gentle display with plenty of great topside opportunities.
After Miss Pickup had landed, it was a turn of the US Navy fighters with the Goodyear Corsair FG-1D and Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat from The Fighter Collection. They performed one pass in formation together before breaking off into solo displays. The Corsair started first with a dynamic and intensive display, performing some great loops and brilliant photographic opportunities. However, the Bearcat stole this part of the show and is just a pure aerobatic aircraft, there's no other aircraft that was flown by the US Navy at that time that could perform like it. With the cloud base being as high as it was, she was put through her paces like no other in this show.
Then as we came to the end of the day, Spitfire Mk.V JG891 took to the skies to be the joker, while twelve other Spitfires and four Hurricanes took off and were forming up into Duxford's iconic 'Balbo' formation. The Joker performed an amazing display, I haven't seen a Spitfire being thrown about like that for a long time, flown as if it was almost stolen. As the Balbo formation came into view, the commentators stopped commentating and Elgar's orchestral piece 'Nimrod' played as the sound of fifteen Merlin's and one Griffon engine filled the skies. I'd be a liar to say that I was not feeling emotional as the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end, as the sight and sound grew closer and closer. The Balbo was a perfect way in which to commemorate the eighty first anniversary of the Battle of Britain, given thanks to all those that had fought so daringly during the battle. The Aircraft Restoration Company's now iconic NHS Spitfire broke forth from the formation ending this year's flying display fittingly. A deeply emotional aircraft that carries so much emotion for us as a nation, it was a perfect and fitting way to end the first Battle of Britain show in a post lockdown world.
This year's Battle of Britain show was billed to be a big celebration, which we never got to see last year. This was a thrilling show with an ending that would leave anyone with a deep lump in their throat. It was a true pleasure to be invited down by the IWM's Media Team and I wish the best for them and IWM Duxford. Here's to next year!
Article & Photographs by Cody Froggatt.