We'll meet again...
Duxford's 2002 Airshow, 7/8 September.
Andrew Bates was there. Pictures by Gary Parsons and Damien Burke.
Duxford's 2002 Airshow, held over the first weekend of September, featured a flying programme with a distinctly American flavour. Dubbed "We'll meet again", the primary aim of the show organisers was to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the arrival in the UK of the US Eighth Air Force. From 1942 until the end of the war in 1945, the men and machines of the 'Mighty Eighth' flew countless missions over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. At their peak strength, the Eighth Air Force could muster more than 2,000 four-engine bombers, as well as over 1,000 fighter aircraft, for a single mission. However, whilst the Eighth's contribution played a major role in the ultimate Allied victory, it was not without cost. Around 27,000 men of the 'Mighty Eighth' were lost on operations from UK bases, the highest casualty rate of any Allied force.
It was, therefore, quite fitting in this special Anniversary year, that both show days were planned to be opened in style by the Eighth's modern day counterparts. As a tribute to their illustrious forebears, the 494th Fighter Squadron, from nearby RAF Lakenheath, was to provide an F-15E four-ship formation fly past. Unfortunately, due to 'operational reasons', it didn't quite work out as planned - Saturday saw just two Eagles making a single pass across the airfield, someone in the press office quipping that "the four F-15's were flying such a tight display, it was only possible to see two at any one time!" However, this proved to be just wishful thinking, there were indeed just the two.
By way of a change, Sunday's display saw the Eagles switch to stealth mode. Yes, you've guessed it, they didn't turn up at all. A great shame really, a four-ship F-15E display would have provided a memorable opening sequence for either of the show days. However, full credit must go to the show organisers, as this disappointment did not detract from an entertaining three-hour flying display.
In keeping with the commemorative theme of the show, a large slice of the flying action was devoted to warbirds of US origin. Admittedly, some of these were ex-US Navy aircraft, rather than Air Force types, but they were still just as popular with the audience. After all, Duxford wouldn't be Duxford without a generous helping of classic pistons. During the course of the afternoon a whole host of regular performers cavorted across the skies over Duxford, enthralling both young and old alike.
With some aircraft conducting solo displays, whilst others combined their slots, familiar Duxford favourites included Harvard, B-25 Mitchell, P-40 Kittyhawk, Wildcat, Hellcat, and Avenger. Arguably, the highlight for some of the Eighth AF veterans in attendance (including former Mustang pilot and triple ace, Bud Anderson) was the sight of B-17 'Sally B' being taken aloft and accompanied by a pair of P-51 Mustangs and a P-47 Thunderbolt. Representing the 'Little Friends' to the Eighth's bomber formations, the fighters continued a series of spectacular low passes as the B-17 landed following the conclusion of its display.
A Duxford show would be incomplete without a Spitfire in attendance (perish the thought), so it was good to see a trio of Spits tail chasing each other across the airfield, with a Hurricane and Blenheim thrown in for good measure. The Spit/Hurri combination would be repeated later in the day when the BBMF took their turn in the display programme, with the Dakota deputising for the Lancaster.
An unusual feature for a Duxford show was the inclusion of two formation display teams, both four-ship. First up was the 'Red Stars' with their Yakovlev Yak-50/52 equipped team, whilst later in the afternoon, the audience witnessed the Duxford display debut of the Khalifa Jet Team. This later team, based at Darois Airfield near Dijon in France, is the world's first civilian jet aerobatic team. Operating four L39 Albatros jets, the team is sponsored by the Algerian based Khalifa Group of companies, hence the name.
Another stunning jet demonstration was provided by Rod Dean in Golden Apple's F-86 Sabre. He was scheduled to fly in the company of the T-33, but unfortunately, the T-Bird went 'tech' on both days, so the Sabre had to go solo. It didn't seem to matter; it was still a fabulous display.
Despite all the classic hardware on display, there were a few modern acts 'imported' for the day, all courtesy of the RAF. As well as a cracking 208(R) Squadron Hawk demo midway through proceedings, the boys in blue provided a 56(R) Squadron Tornado F3 to open the show in style (as well as grab everyone's attention), along with a 20(R) Squadron Harrier GR7 to round off a fine afternoon's entertainment. Thus, Duxford's organising committee were able to add another successfully executed airshow to their ever-increasing repertoire.