Gary Parsons reports from Duxford on the Battle of Britain Flight's 50th birthday celebrations, held on 5 May. Pictures by the author and Bob Franklin
In a unique tie-up with the Imperial War Museum, Breitling and Classic FM, the entire airworthy fleet was flown to Duxford to fly some very unique formations; as well as the 'first four' fighters from 1957, all seven fighters flew in formation both with and without the Lancaster, and Spitfire P7350 formated with a modern-day Typhoon from 29(R) Squadron, also based at Coningsby, the BBMF's home base.
Visitors were able to meet people of the Flight - the pilots who fly the aircraft, the aircrew who support them and the ground crew who keep the aircraft maintained and serviced, as well as veterans such as Gerald 'Stapme' Stapleton, whose face evened adorned a rather spectacular Harley-Davidson!
At midday, the four original fighters of the RAF's original Historic Flight from 1957 were reunited in a stylish tail-chase, the three BBMF fighters reunited with Rolls-Royce's PS853, sold in the early nineties to release funds for the restoration of Hurricane LF363. Led by the BBMF's OC, Sqn Ldr Al Pinner in Hurricane LF363, while not quite as dynamic as a Flying Legends tail-chase, it was undoubtedly a spirited departure from the normal BBMF method of displaying and hopefully more will be seen of this routine in the future. Immediately following this, the Typhoon and Spitfire duo performed a couple of flypasts under murky skies before the Typhoon, flown by Flt Lt Jim Walls, launched into its full solo display routine, his first public display of the season.
A gap then followed before the main event of the day, the massed flypast. A flightline walk was available to the public, but such was the popularity of this event that it became very crowded very quickly, being some five or six deep at one point. Although the day was not billed as an airshow, there was certainly at least half a good airshow-sized crowd, estimated at between ten to twelve thousand. Despite the heavy overcast and bracing wind, it was testament to the popularity of the BBMF with the British public.
Shortly before 16:00 the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team jumped from the BBMF's Dakota, the first time in a long while this ex- C-47 had been used for a paradrop operation! Shortly after the Lancaster took to the air with all seven fighters, flying in formation for the first time since 1991, it is believed. Al Pinner and Gp Capt Russ Allchorn then performed the BBMF's 'Synchrony Pair' routine in two of the Griffon-engined Spitfires - the BBMF is unusual in that the OC, a Squadron Leader, can command a Group Captain! Lastly, the more traditional BBMF formation of Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane completed the display. It was Flt Lt Anthony Parkinson's first official display as a BBMF pilot in the Hurricane, 'Parky' being better known more recently as a Red Arrow and former Tornado F3 display pilot from a few years ago.
So, a short, but sweet, display - the formations are something unlikely to be repeated in the near future, and the pilots and crews were very accessible to the crowds throughout the day. Only minor grumble was the lengthy gap between the two flying segments, which was about an hour too long - and the weather, as after a fabulous April had seemingly moved back to March, rather than move forward into May. As an engagement event by the RAF it worked very well, and should be applauded - let's hope that it proves to be a model for future events, perhaps involving some front-line units. It was certainly an opportunity missed last year with the Red Arrows 40th birthday - maybe they can be enticed to celebrate 41 years this autumn?