Duxford's Autumn airshow, 13 October. Gary Parsons braved the cold and the rain...
Espionage was the main theme at Duxford's final airshow of the year, but such had been the veil of secrecy no-one actually told the flying committee - or so it seemed! The only aircraft to really fit in with the theme was the Lysander, Shuttleworth's example making the short hop from Old Warden, its black colour scheme perfectly blending with the grey skies that hung over Cambridgeshire all day. Sure, there were a couple of Piper Cubs, but they're more observation and Army co-operation than covert. A sub-theme was the sixtieth anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein and the Air War in North Africa, not that anyone really noticed - but it was the reason for the inclusion of both P-40s and the Blenheim (which would probably have been there anyway).
So, accepting the fact we weren't going to get a SR-71 flypast or U2 touch-and-go, one must question the value of promoting themes if the hardware is going to be difficult to find. There were many SOE veterans around during the day, but they were difficult to spot ('cos they're spies, silly) for the general visitor and, at the end of the day, probably of little interest. Most who venture to Duxford airshows want Spitfires, Hurricanes and other assorted warbirds, of which there were plenty to enjoy.
Difficult to enjoy was the weather, a stiff easterly breeze and temperatures barely into double figures hinted that christmas is but ten weeks away. The balmy afternoon enjoyed at the September show barely five weeks before seemed an age away as the ISO meter was constantly racked up on the digital camera as the light fell away until cries of "Anyone got a torch?" could sarcastically be heard. Despite all this a fine afternoon's flying was enjoyed, full credit must go to all the pilots who warmed the cockles with some spirited displays, sending out the season in fine style.
Starting early at 13:30 in an effort to beat the front rapidly approaching from the south-east, the afternoon was kicked into action by the Breitling Fighters, led by Ray Hanna in the OFMC's P-40. Even though the day was grey the cloudbase was a reasonable 5,000 ft, enough for a full rolling show of loops in formation. The difficulty of maintaining close formation with such different types was easily masked by the four pilots - each aircraft has its own comfort zone, not to say the power differential between the Corsair and the P-40.
RAF participation was dispersed amongst the historic types, with Hawk, Tucano and F3 displays. Particular mention must go to Flt Lts Simon Stevens and Dave Chadderton in the Tornado, who made some particularly impressive low-level passes using full afterburner - well, it was their last display of the year, and probably careers! Not because they broke any rules, but after two years on the display circuit the task will move to a new crew next year - let's hope that they provide a similarly spectacular routine!
Continuing with the jet theme was a nice display by the recently-formed 'Viper Team', that of the OFMC's L-39 piloted by Mark Linney and Tom Moloney's Strikemaster. Brought together the week before the airshow, it's not often that you'll see such different types perform opposition passes. This is sort of touch that Duxford shows excel - another example was the pairing of an Anson and Beech 18. The Annie, Air Atlantique's T21 WD413, is one of only two airworthy Ansons in the country, if not the world, which seems remarkable for a type built in such vast numbers - so savour her you must, while you can. Not the fastest or tightest display in the world, but a glimpse back forty years or so to when we still had a sizeable air force and communications aircraft would hop from one station to the next - now it's e-mail I guess.
After forming up with Carolyn Grace's Spitfire at the September show, the Blenheim this time met up with TFC's P-40 and Shuttleworth's Hurricane. Somehow I managed to miss photographing this, just as I did in September...I must pay more attention in future. Not that I was bored, but it just proves how you only realise something after the event - proving how regular these unique occasions happen. Many will say "Oh, it's the same aeroplanes every time at Duxford", which is partly true, but as long as variety is built into formations, it'll be a long while before we tire of them. How anyone could tire of Sally B though, is beyond me - long may she take her customary slot at every Duxford event.
Beating up the airfield in fine style were three Spitfires, led by veteran display Rod Dean in MK912, last seen at Duxford at the controls of the F-86A Sabre in September, such is the versatility of the man. Together with FR XVIII SM845 and LF XVIE TD248 (which he flew at Legends in July) the rain was cast aside and the airfield reverberated to the sound of Merlins and Griffon - just what the public came to hear.
Closing the show, after two raucous Fennecs and just before the weather front moved in permanently, was Alistair Kay and the OFMC's P-51D 'Ferocious Frankie'. By then the light was measured in single lumens and the cold had seeped to the very core of most spectators (well, certainly me). Another year over, but already you're planning the next - 4 May will see the Spring airshow, so make a date. As for the airshow organisers at Duxford, don't get hung up on themes, just give us plenty of warbird action - and a bit more of it,too!