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Season's end at Duxford
Gary Parsons reports that the last airshow in the UK of the 1900's was held at a sunny, if cold and breezy, Duxford airfield on 17 October. Always a chance with the weather this time of year, a preceeding week of low cloud gave way to unbroken skies and a brisk easterly breeze, keeping temperatures down in the low teens and testing the skills of the participating pilots at the 'Autumn Air Day'.
A sombre mood was evident throughout the day, the recent untimely loss of Mark Hanna to the aviation world was naturally the topic of conversation through most of the crowd. Mark's family was present, and to close the show a 'balbo' of machines from the Old Flying Machine Company paid tribute in the form of the L39 soaring to the sky from a formation of Corsairs and other piston-engined birds.
But, as no doubt Mark would say, the show must go on. Duxford's autumn affair is always a low-key one compared to their other events, and this year was no exception, all the aircraft bar a couple being based at the airfield. However, this is not to say that it isn't enjoyable, as the low-key nature provides a 'garden party' atmosphere and makes the queues in and out of the airfield tolerable, plus enabling easy access to the museum exhibits.
'Sally B' was, unfortunately, in the static line, still facing uncertainty about her future. An extremely thin season for the veteran campaigner was the result of engine problems late last year, so finances are stretched and a sponsor is desperately required. Let's hope that she will grace the East Anglian skies again next summer, where she belongs.
A light-hearted beginning to the flying was made by two young TV stars, Matt and Katrina, fresh from a round of ITV's 'Blind Date'. Their 'prize' was not a week's trip to the Seychelles or Bahamas, but a chance to go wing-walking with the 'Utterly Butterly' Stearman team! Quite what they made of that on a cold autumn's day at 100 knots will have to be found out when the show is broadcast early next year!
A two-and-a-half hour flying programme then followed, starting with Stephen Grey in his Spitfire MkV complete with clipped wings. Apparently Stephen likes all his Spits this way, as it increases the rate of roll and makes for a more sprightly airshow performer. Some extremely low passes clipped the Duxford grass before he gave way to the 'Utterly Butterly' Stearmans, complete this time with the regular gorgeous girls.
The next hour was a mixture of aerobatic types, such as Denny Dobson's Pitts, Sir John Allison's Yak 50 and an Extra 300L, and a first chance to see Carolyn Grace in her recently acquired Stampe. Accompanied by Anna Walker in her Jungmann, this must be one of the very few all-female aerobatic teams in existence, not that I'm a chauvinist or anything! The only multi-engined aircraft to take to the air was Beech 18 1164 of The Aircraft Restoration Company, polished metal gleaming in the sunshine.
Warbirds filled the last ninety minutes, first with The Fighter Collection's Hurricane Z7391, P40N Kittyhawk, Wildcat and FG-1D Corsair, and completed with the OFMC's parade of fighters. A cacophony of different sounds filled the air, most striking being Grumman Wildcat G-RUMW, ex-86711, which quite honestly sounded like a bag of bolts being shaken in a tin. But, as it flew perfectly with some gusto, I guess it's meant to sound like that! Not quite the silky purr of the Merlin-equipped Mustangs, but just as welcome. In between the warbird 'team' efforts, Strikemaster G-UNNY and a pair of Gnats from Kennet Aviation at Cranfield provided a slightly more modern perspective, the latter putting on a particularly sparkling routine against the low autumn sun. One was bedecked in Red Arrows colours, and trailing smoke took one back to those halcyon days of the late sixties when nine of them did their thing with Ray Hanna at the helm.
So the last airshow of the 1900's (I won't get drawn into the argument, but the new millennium doesn't begin until 1 January 2001) finished with a flying display of four warbirds looping and rolling in formation, something not seen very often at all. Duxford's year is over, but its appeal never diminishes.