Gary Parsons reports from Duxford's last airshow of the year, held on 12 October
'It's a wrap!', proudly proclaimed the banner at the end of yet another airshow season. Duxford's traditional end-of-season affair was a familiar plot, as many of the regulars were joined by a small supporting cast to present a predictable, but nonetheless enjoyable, three hours flying.
The theme of the show was 'Lights, Camera, Action', capturing the spirit of the glamorous world of movies or, as one cynic suggested, another convenient theme wrapped around Duxford-based aircraft. Maybe so, but it's been a tough year for Duxford, and to criticise would be unfair - what it needed was a low-profile, safe show, with no unexpected surprises. To give a theme to so many well-known aeroplanes is, in our opinion, quite okay, as it spices up what would otherwise been a routine affair with some old friends.
With the OFMC and TFC providing most of the stars of the large and small screen in recent years, Duxford is the ideal venue to host such a gathering of starlets. The Fighter Collection's Spitfire EP120, which featured in the opening sequence of the film Pearl Harbor; Old Flying Machine Company's Spitfire MH434, which was probably the biggest star at the show, having appeared in numerous films and productions including Battle of Britain, Land Girls, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, to name but a few.
It was also a day of farewells - the afternoon climaxed with the swansong of the Old Flying Machine Company's 'Breitling Fighters', who after five years of operations gave their final display. With the P-40, Corsair and lead pilot Ray Hanna's departure to New Zealand, the UK airshow scene will be much the poorer in future. Ray, now in his mid-seventies, is seeking a well-earned semi-retirement, but will no doubt be involved in the flourishing warbird scene 'down under'. The future of the La-9 is also uncertain, as it too may well return to New Zealand next year. Also saying goodbye to display flying was Tom Moloney, whose Strikemaster was again flown with great panache - after nine years, Tom has decided to hang up his display helmet and will concentrate on his business ventures.
Oscars should go to all the pilots of the day, who had to contend with a viciously stiff on-crowd cross-wind, making landing on the grass particularly tricky, especially for the big-prop fighters. Landings weren't elegant, but at least effective! Such was the strength of the wind that the Storch literally took off within its own length, and was almost stationary on occasion. Despite the wind the sun made frequent appearances, rounding off a good year weather-wise - only the September Saturday saw any rainfall on a showday at Duxford this year.
Biggest star, in every sense, was of course B-17G 'Sally B', late of Memphis Belle (was it really thirteen years ago?!), We'll Meet Again and many other TV programmes of that ilk. As she's due to be laid up for winter servicing, let's hope that she's back for a full season in 2004. It will soon be thirty years since she first arrived in the UK - a remarkable achievement in itself and a tribute to the dedicated band of volunteers who keep her flying.
So 2003 is a 'wrap' - a year that promised so much with the Centenary of Flight, but ultimately delivered little. Concorde has retired without a proper send-off, the airshow scene was muted early on with Operation Iraqi Freedom, and tragedy was never far away in those early summer months.
Duxford, though, weathered its problems, re-grouped in September and faces a positive future - airshows need Duxford as much as it needs airshows. Long may it thrive.