Gary Parsons reports on the last major event of 2008, Duxford's Autumn Airshow, held on 5 October. Pictures by Mike Kerr
It had the makings of being one of Duxford's best shows in ages - given some sunshine, less breeze and warmer temperatures, it would have been one to savour. With the Patrouille de France making its only UK mainland display of the year (as RIAT had been cancelled), the Belgian Air Force F-16AM solo and the prospect of the Vulcan, it had a heavyweight line-up to overshadow the rather limp 90th anniversary airshow just a month before. In the end, the Vulcan succumbed to mechanical gremlins, and the weather restricted both the Patrouille and F-16 to a couple of passes each.
Although visitors were denied the opportunity to see the Vulcan, crews who took part in the famous 'Black Buck' bombing raids on the Falkland Islands were on hand to meet the public. "This is what we do at Duxford", said Director of the Imperial War Museum, Richard Ashton: "By giving our visitors the opportunity to meet the men and women who made history, we bring history to life."
Bringing the airshow to life were the pilots, many of whom must have had second thoughts about taking to the air on such a dismal day. But take to the air they did, warming the souls of the watching crowd - also warming the air was Flt Lt Charlie Matthews in the RAF Typhoon, making his last public display before moving onto the front-line Typhoon force next year. Charlie had slightly better weather for his slot, enabling a flat, afterburner-laden routine to be performed, clearing away some of the clag of the afternoon. Thankfully the rain held off for most of the afternoon, the flying programme being kicked off by the Catalina, which at least probably felt at home in the watery conditions. As the second act taxied out, the RAF Tucano, the rain abated although the cloudbase was pretty much 'on the deck' and remained that way until dusk, when of course the clouds dispersed and blue skies could be seen. At least we had an airshow, unlike nearby Old Warden, which saw its autumn event cancelled due to a waterlogged flying field.
One aircraft being seen for the first time in a new livery was Air Atlantique's Dragon Rapide G-AIDL, now back in its RAF colours as an original Dominie with its original serial TX310. Built in 1946 by Brush Coachworks at Loughborough for the Ministry of Supply contract 6/Aircraft/5072/C20a, but surplus to requirements, de Havilland took delivery at Witney on 7 May 1946, registering it G-AIDL, the registration retained to this day.
G-AIDL was bought by Eric Gandar-Dower for his Allied Airways operation, naming it 'The Wanderer' as his personal aircraft. Painted silver overall with orange lettering outlined in red, it was the only machine in the Allied Airways fleet to be carpeted, fitted with cabin heating and a toilet! 'The Wanderer' roamed around Europe, taking Gandar-Dower to Spain, Switzerland and Austria, and used occasionally on scheduled services to Wick and the islands of Shetland and Orkney. Allied Airways was nationalised and absorbed into BEA on 1 February 1947, but Gandar-Dower managed to keep 'Delta Lima' as his personal transport until 1950 until it was seized early that year by the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire and was auctioned in April and sold to Goodhew Aviation, who put it up for resale, it being purchased in September by Fox's Glacier Mints and used as the company aircraft until 1959.
A succession of short-term owners led G-AIDL to the Army Parachute Association at Netheravon in 1967, where it took parachutists on their one-way trips for the next ten years. Parachute aircraft tend to be worked hard taking its toll on the cabin interior - parachutists are not the kindest of people to aircraft cabins, with large packs on their backs and even bigger boots on their feet! When the Parachute Association disposed of its Rapide fleet in 1977, G-AIDL was bought by Captain Mike Hood of Southern Joyrides Limited, based at Biggin Hill Airport in Kent but with offices in nearby Redhill. The aircraft was refurbished by Aviation Furnishings in a 1930s style, Southern Joyrides publicity stating that they offered the public "The opportunity of experiencing Airline Flying as it was between 1934 and the 1950s. No rush or fuss, this aeroplane, sometimes called 'a Gentleman's Aerial Carriage' enables you to see town and country in a manner forgotten since the jet age began."
In 1987 the aircraft was sold yet again, this time to Snowdon Mountain Aviation Limited, a subsidiary of Snowdon Mountain Railway Ltd. This company evolved into Air Caernarfon on l April 1992, with the aircraft continuing to be based at Caernarfon Airport. Air Atlantique acquired the aircraft in 1995, and it continues to be one of the mainstays of the fleet, providing pleasure flights throughout the year and, of course, the occasional air display.
So it ends…
Duxford's Autumn Airshow was a microcosm of the 2008 season - a weather-affected flying programme, leaden skies, cancellation from the Vulcan team and temperatures below the seasonal norm. It was perhaps a fitting way to say goodbye to one of the most torrid airshow seasons one can recall; good riddance to it we say. Here's to a safe and sunny 2009!