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Battle of Britain 60th Anniversary Airshow

Duxford, 9/10 September

Ian Herbert reports: Although living 150 miles away up in Yorkshire, the promise of twenty-odd Spitfires and a fair few Hurricanes made the two and a half hour journey pale into insignificance - this was one Airshow I just couldn't miss. And what a sight to be greeted with at the end of a long journey - a line of Spitfires, Hurricanes and other assorted warbirds stretching almost as far as the eye could see. A couple of trips up and down the flight line and a few photos later, it was time to make my way back behind the barriers and (try) to get a decent viewing spot, which was easier said than done.

So on to the flying display. A Harrier GR7 of the RAF was the first aircraft to do its stuff. Not exactly Battle of Britain material, but pretty spectacular. From this, the pace changed to being slightly more sedate, with various WW1 fighters, including a Fokker Triplane, Sopwith Triplane, Bristol Fighters and an Avro 504. As their display slot was drawing to a close, the sound of Merlins spluttering into life could be heard coming from the long line of Warbirds. Instantly, the whole crowd turned to look towards the line to be greeted by the glorious sight of three Spitfires and three Hurricanes taxiing out towards the grass strip runway. As they took to the air, the crowd was rewarded with the wonderful sound of six of Rolls-Royce's finest working together. A fairly impressive display followed, with the aircraft showing their manoeuvrability as the pilots started having fun. All too soon, though, they were coming in for finals and taxiing back to their slot in the impressive flight line.

An aircraft that shouldn't be forgotten was the British Aerial Museum's Blenheim, the only flying example in the world, looking great in 82 Squadron markings. It was a real privilege to be able to see something so rare being put through its paces.

Next came the American slot. B-17 "Sally B" coughed into life, and covered me and numerous others in oily smelling white smoke as each of the engines were started in turn. The other American participants were two P-51s and a P-47 Thunderbolt. Once they were all airborne, the P-51s flanked the B-17 while the P-47 did a solo display. The 'Jug' pilot must have had something in his tea before he took off, as he threw it through a spectacularly testing display routine that belied the aircraft's size.

A nice interruption in the warbird theme was the Meteor and Hunter display, which involved some fast, low passes from both before they departed. Great to see these old aircraft still flying. A display from a Sea Harrier again took the focus off Warbirds, and also put the RAF's GR7 display to shame, showing off the aircraft's hovering characteristics much better, although the noise levels were much the same!!! As the flying programme began to draw to a close, pilots started going out to their aircraft, in preparation for the spectacle that everyone was looking forward to see, the mass formation flypast. And so one after another, the assembled Spitfires and Hurricanes taxied out to the runway. Taking off in threes, they all took to the sky and disappeared to the North while four gloss black Hawks from 19 Squadron, normally based at Valley, tried to emulate the Red Arrows in a pretty impressive display of formation flying.

And so the time came for one of the most impressive sights you're ever likely to see at an airshow - twenty Spitfires and three Hurricanes all in the same place at the same time. They all came from the North, in formation, and then the groups of three banked off and came round to pass over the airfield separated at five second intervals. Looking to the skies that day you could have been forgiven for thinking that time had gone back sixty years - fitting, given the title of the airshow.

The only dampener to the day were the prices...an extortionate 20 entry fee, 4 for a programme, 3 to get onto the flight line...the list goes on. Those people at the IWM certainly know how to charge...The only thing that made the cost a slightly less bitter pill to swallow was the fact that you were free to look round the whole of the Museum, and see its truly astonishing collection of aircraft.

So all in all, the show was a fitting tribute to all the airmen who fought for Britain sixty years ago, to who we should always be grateful.

As we reflect on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, an amusing anecdote of how the Poles were converted onto RAF aircraft has come to light. As the training squadron took off, watching CFS wallah turns to Polish adjutant and says: "Fine bunch of chaps. Did frightfully well, even those who couldn't speak English. Except one - Major Xyzrytry (or whatever). Didn't seem to get the hang of a Hurricane at all at first. You'd have thought he was a bomber pilot before!" Polish Adj: "No. A navigator!" And that, apparently, is true! Said Pole went on to score several kills and reached 1945 as a Wing Commander!

With thanks to http://www.pprune.org/.


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