Gary Parsons reviews the highlights of Duxford's September airshow. Pictures by the author and Jack Parsons
Windy, it was. Aeroplanes don't like strong, gusty conditions, especially when they're of pensionable age. The strong gales that descended on Duxford over the airshow weekend did their best to disrupt proceedings, especially on Saturday when they swept across the runway, but an airshow of sorts was still held - Sunday was better, though just as breezy, but the wind was straight down the runway and the late summer sun made an appearance to provide one of the more pleasant Duxford airshow days of recent times. In a summer of blue skies and excessive heat, so far Duxford seems to have found the only weekends that have provided less than ideal conditions.
This show was all about the Spitfire - in its seventieth year, it had been hoped that up to seventeen would be available to fly a mass formation to surpass that of the sixtieth birthday bash back in 1996. The weather had other ideas, forcing some to abandon the trip across to Duxford (the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight being the most notable absentees) with only eight taking to the sky late on Sunday for a flypast and tail-chase. Eight Spits isn't to be sniffed at though - with three new entrants on display on the ground, the total number on the flightline was certainly impressive. It also included all four UK-based two-seat T9s together for the first time, as far as we can recall.
Spitfires and Duxford go together - it was here in August 1938 that the Spitfire first entered RAF service with 19 Squadron, remaining operational until the 8th Air Force of the USAAF moved in during March 1943. Today, Duxford is home to more airworthy Spitfires than anywhere else in the world, and is the epicentre of restoration projects - this was exemplified by a brace of new restorations (RW386 and JG891) rolled out by Historic Flying Limited and added to the flightline, although both have yet to receive their certificates of airworthiness. New addition MJ271/'MH424' was also present, having made the journey by crate from Aviodrome in the Netherlands a couple of months ago.
RW386 was built at Vickers-Armstrong at Castle Bromwich, one of only forty Spitfires of an intended order for 1,500. After surviving the cull at the end of the war it found itself as gate guardian for the School of Technical Training at Halton, displayed as RF114 (later RW386/RAK-A). RW386 was exchanged for a replica Sopwith Pup in 1982 and made its way into Doug Arnold's collection at Blackbushe, registered as G-BXVI and intended for restoration to flying condition. It moved to Bitteswell and Biggin Hill before being taken to Audley End for rebuild in 1992, although a spell at North Weald in a crate between 1996 and 2001 delayed the process.
JG891 represents just how far Spitfires can be brought back from the dead. When found, it was a just a forward fuselage up to about Frame 11, with partial wings. The former owners sourced much material in Australia and New Zealand, including many of the systems, undercarriage legs and wheels, as well as more wing parts. Another Castle Bromwich machine, JG891 was delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force as A58-178 in 1943. An unfortunate crash while landing at Kiriwina in the Solomon Islands on 12 January 1945 cut short its war career, where it was left to decay. The stripped hulk was recovered in 1974 and restored by Don J. Subritzky in Auckland, where it was registered as ZK-MKV in 1986. Using parts from Mk. Vc EF545 the rebuild continued right through to 1999 when it was sold to Karel Bos/Silver Victory and moved to Audley End for completion by Historic Flying Ltd. JG891 has been painted to represent a machine of 249 Squadron RAF, based in Malta in 1942/43 and as flown by Flt Sqt Jack Hughes, RCAF. The aircraft has been fitted with a Vokes filter and four wing cannons to represent a typical machine in the North African theatre of operations. The filter was fitted to avoid sucking in the damaging sand and dust - these filters were not only ugly but also took the edge off performance.
Another aircraft built by Vickers-Armstrong at Castle Bromwich, MJ271 was transferred to the Dutch Air Force in 1946 as H-8 (later 3W-8). After active service it spent several years as a decoy at Volkel before being moved to the War Museum at Delfzijl between 1959 and 1973. A restoration (albeit static condition only) followed through the Anthony Fokker Technical School at Den Haag, after which it moved to the Aviodrome Museum at Amsterdam-Schipol on 22 March 1978 in the colours it now wears. The museum decided to focus on civil aviation in 2002 and so MJ271 was sold, eventually finding its way to Duxford for eventual restoration to flying condition. It is thought that the fuselage and wings are mostly original, but the wing spars may be corroded and require replacement.
Although none of the new Spifires flew, eight of the more familiar machines flew a formation on Sunday, braving the vicious headwind. A thrilling tail-chase then ensued as seems to only happen at Duxford - magical Merlins and Griffons sang across Duxford's rolling hills, just as they would have done some sixty-five years ago. The rest of the airshow was merely a supporting act - a good mix of the old and modern, the RAF especially supporting the event well, but it was Spitfires we had all come to see.
All pilots over the weekend deserve applause for making an airshow in the difficult conditions - take a bow, Duxford!