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Vive les pilotes!

Vive la difference!

Gary Parsons looks back at the last airshow of the 2006 season, held at Duxford on 8 October. Pictures by the author and Jack Parsons

Duxford's Autumn Airshow, traditionally the last of the season and usually a fairly low-key affair, stepped up a notch to close out 2006. In fact, stepping up a notch is perhaps a bit of an understatement - in a year that has seen most airshows levering another notch over recent years, this Autumn bash was certainly Duxford's best IWM show of the year, and gave Flying Legends a run for its money in the entertainment stakes!

Headlining were the Patrouille de France, the world famous French aerobatic team, making their only UK appearance of the year. Where RIAT, Waddington and Leuchars all failed, Duxford took the opportunity of the end-of-season slot to attract the team, who are a close match for the Red Arrows with their aerobatic manoeuvres using eight Alpha Jet aircraft.

Christian Pratt, Duxford's Head of Commercial Services, commented "We are delighted to welcome the Patrouille to Duxford in this, their only performance in the UK this year. As a world-renowned aerobatic team they will combine precision and speed in an outstanding display of skill sure to thrill the crowd." Such was the unusual thought of the Patrouille performing over Duxford that when announced mid-summer, many thought it was unlikely to happen and a case of blinded optimism on the part of the Duxford team. But no, arrive they did, spending the morning strolling amongst the crowd before being whisked away to Cambridge Airport from where the team would operate. Opening the airshow at 13:30, a twenty-three minute routine followed to the delight of the large crowd, certainly Duxford's biggest yet for an October.

Au revoir, Magister! Maybe? By Dave Eade

With almost as many farewell performances as a rock band, Lt Col Paul Rorive said goodbye to his public at the autumn display at Duxford. On what was obviously an emotional day for him, the commentator handed the airwaves to Paul after his usual exemplary display in the Belgian Magister. With croaking voice he announced both his and his beloved Fouga's retirement from the display scene.

As with all popular performers it is easy to get blasé about the Magister routine, relying as it did on a mere handful of horsepower, but it would be difficult to fault the routine from the impressive take-off to brakes on.

Paul's career stretches back over nearly thirty years in the Belgian Air Force, having flown almost every fast jet in the inventory from T-33 to Mirage V. He also spent three years in the USA training pilots on the T-37.

In his fifth year as display pilot of the Fouga, Paul is CO of the Fouga unit and the circuit will not be the same without him. We wish him well.
Although Paul is now retired, there is a slim chance the Maggie will stagger on until next July with the Belgian Air Force - so you may not have seen the last just yet! Where have we heard that before...?!

As if the presence of the Patrouille wasn't enough, the Belgian Air Force was also heftily represented with a full solo display by the F-16AM Falcon and the maybe, just maybe, the last overseas airshow for the diminutive Magister (see sidebar). It's been a long while since an F-16 wheeled itself around the Cambridgeshire skies, pilot Michaël 'Mickey' Artiges then forming up with Rod Dean in Spitfire SM845 for a very special formation and flypasts.

Although the Red Arrows have finished for the season, the RAF still had a couple of acts to offer - Martin Pert completed his first season of displays in the 4 FTS Hawk, and the solo Chinook 'display team' made their last appearance in a very successful year for the two Odiham crews - each would take turns in displaying the aircraft, this time Flt Lt Richard Batey at the controls. The Royal Navy provided more rotary action with the 'Black Cats' Lynx display team, and the remaining military participation was completed by the Battle of Britain Flight with a pair of Spitfires for the final formation and tailchase.

Talking of the tailchase, these are now almost a regular feature of Duxford shows, but are no less exciting because of that - the sight of six Spitfires whirling around the sky while another pair provide formation aerobatics will always be something to savour, one not knowing which way to point the camera next. Led by Brian Smith in EP120, the formation included RAF Coningsby's Station Commander, Group Captain Bob Judson, amongst the more familiar Duxford-based pilots such as Lee Proudfoot, StuGoldspink, John Romain and Dave Ratcliffe.

It wasn't just the Spitfires that beat up the airfield - Mustangs got in on the act too, as earlier in the afternoon three P-51s, with Alistair Kay in 'Ferocious Frankie' leading Nick Grey in 'Princess Elizabeth and Pete Kynsey in 'Twilight Tear', attacked the airfield in fine style. They followed the last display for the year of B-17G 'Sally B', fresh from a re-paint by Air Livery at Southend, although many may not have realised it!

Sally B's artwork, past and new
Old Sally B (above)
New Sally B
Old Memphis Belle
New Memphis Belle
New satin finish should prove more durable in the British climate

'Sally B' has been in need of a re-spray for some time, but with money always tight, and with the ongoing fight to change new EU insurance laws that grounded the aircraft in 2005, there simply have not been sufficient funds. Recently Adrian Tucker (Managing Director of Air Livery) rang B-17 Operator Elly Sallingboe, saying that if the aircraft could be brought to Southend immediately, he would offer a very special price for a complete respray. Within four days the aircraft was flown to Southend on Sunday 17 September. There, she was stripped back to bare metal, primed and resprayed in the same colour scheme as before, complete with Sally B and 'Memphis Belle' nose art.

"It is so good to have Sally B back to her former glory," said Elly Sallingboe. "This respray was long overdue to continue protecting the aircraft from the elements. Now, with this new lease of life she should be okay for many years. We thank Air Livery for helping us with such a super deal and brilliant respray, and our members, friends, sponsors, and the aviation insurance world for their generous support which has made this possible."

It's certainly good to see Sally B bursting with health after so many trials and tribulations over the last few years; however, we feel that there was an opportunity missed with the USAF's 60th anniversary next year - a new paint scheme would have generated more interest and, if a 100th BW scheme been chosen, a chance to work with the Mildenhall-based unit much more closely in the future.

Sally B wasn't the only aircraft to sport a new coat of paint - fresh from Historic Aircraft Collection's workshops was Hawker Nimrod II K3661/G-BURZ after a lengthy restoration. It was hoped that it would make its display debut in the capable hands of Charlie Brown, but lack of an airworthiness certificate meant Charlie substituted with HAC's Hurricane Z5140. Only the second Nimrod to become airworthy, K3661 was completed on 5 September 1934, going immediately into storage at Cardington and later the packing depot at RAF Sealand.

On 23 October 1936 it was issued to 802 Flight in the Mediterranean, coded 562. Initially 'C' Flight Commander's aircraft, its tailfin was painted yellow, as were the spinner wheels and fuselage band. It served from 1936 to June 1938, during which it suffered two landing accidents.

Smile, you may be on camera - the BBC was filming part of a forthcoming episode of the drama series 'Silent Witness' during the airshow. We don't know the plot details, but think the batman probably did it...

In 1972 K3661 was discovered on a rubbish dump in Ashford, Kent, more or less complete but well corroded. The aircraft was recovered and donated to the RAF Museum and stored at RAF Henlow, from where the fuselage was sold off to Mike Cookman. Aero Vintage acquired the fuselage in August 1991, and later that year the wings from this aircraft and those of Nimrod I S1581 were also acquired from the RAF Museum. Many parts were found at the Battle of Britain Museum at RAF Hawkinge, where it is believed the aircraft may have been used as an airfield decoy or been with a local ATC squadron.

Restoration commenced in 1992, helped by the fortuitous discovery of a large number of Nimrod drawings in Denmark. A Kestrel V engine was located and has been restored, making its first installed tests on 14 September at Duxford.

With the embers of a glorious summer fading, Duxford's Autumn Airshow 2006 has set a very high standard by which to follow in 2007 - the pressure's on now for the Duxford team, but until then we say "Vive le Duxford"!


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