REPORT: Duxford American Airshow 2016

The weekend of the 28th and 29th of May 2016 saw Duxford host the American Airshow, celebrating the re-opening of the American Aviation Museum and the friendship it shares with the United States Air Force. Our live feed of the show via Twitter gave updates on the show, ground and air movements, video clips and images. This was a success with much interaction from viewers. Scroll down for video…

Before the gates opened to the public, most of the aircraft were alread parked along the flightline. Photo: Jim Lucas

The show opened with the French Armée de l’Air Patrouille de France flying their eight Dassault-Brequet/Dornier Alpha Jets. Due to low cloud, the team flew their flat display. As always they thrilled the crowds – the French Air Force never fail to impress. On Sunday they were replaced by the Red Arrows.

La Patrouille de France are the national aerobatic team of France and one of Europe’s top jet teams. Photo: Jim Lucas

In recognition of the United States and United Kingdom in WWI, we were treat to a display from the replica Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a and the formidable Fokker DR1. We often look at air warfare as the iconic Spitfire, Mustangs, Tornados and F-15s, but the men who flew these forged the modern air units we see today.

Duxford-based B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B has been Europe’s only flying B-17 since 2008. Photo: Jim Lucas

The Second World war was signified by the Flying Fortress, B-17 “Sally B” – the only B-17 flying in Europe – a pair of North American P-51D Mustangs and a tail chase with two Hispano Buchons representing the Luftwaffe Messerschmitt BF109. Gracing the skies with elegant flying, the display gave the crowds the experience of seeing the old warbirds as they would have been during the conflict.

Meschersmitt Me109s were repsented by Spanish liscence-built Hispano Buchons. Photo: Jim Lucas

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight displayed a Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane. As a spectator and aviation photographer I was a little dismayed at their display, it lacked buzz and was very tame.

The Ryan STA was primarily developed as an early sport aircraft, but had military applications. Photo: Jim Lucas

The next section looked at Aircraft built before the US entered WWII; the Ryan STA gleaming in its bear metal finish looked awesome in the skies above Duxford. The twin open cockpit monoplane made its first flight in 1934 and was used as a trainer in the early days by the The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). It displayed with the Boeing PT-17 Stearman. Flown by many as a primary trainer, this fine example displayed its handling qualities, again open cockpits, these add another dimension to the flying experience. The T-6 Harvard, a sturdy flying frame and advance trainer in its time gave a solid performance. The Spitfire MK 1a and Hurricane Mk XII joined this section as part of a forged alliance.

It wouldn’t be Duxford without Spitfires! This early Mk.1a still has fabris-covered aeilerons. Photo: Jim Lucas

Representing the Cold War Arms Race was the Augusta Westland Apache Mk1. Flown by 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, Wattisham flying Station, “Gunship 1” arrived just prior to the show, the crew put the aircraft through its paces during its display, with several new solo manoeuvres compared to the team’s pairs routine in 2015.

Debuting with two Apaches in 2015, the Attack Helicopter Display Team are down to one Apache. Photo: Jim Lucas

The Red Bull Matadors took to the skies, the skill of these pilots certainly changed the outlook of the show with an action packed adrenaline packed routine. Both pilots are veterans of the Red Bull Air Race: Steve Jones is now the head judge, while Paul Bonhomme is the most successful pilot in the history of the sport, and now provides TV commentary after his retirement at the end of last year.

Due to the Red Bull Air Race World Series, the Matadors have been a rare sight at airshows recently. Photo: Jim Lucas

The next section of flying was to showcase the Vietnam War and the Cold War. The de Havilland Beaver and LeVier Cosmic Wind were representative of his section. We heard the iconic sound of the Bell UH-1H Iroquois take to the skies, this was joined by the Hughes OH-6A Cayuse, from MSS Holdings (see our separate feature on them here) these aircraft are both veterans of Vietnam conflict. The pair gave a stunning performance.

Unlike other pilots, Huey and Loach owner Phil Connolly is unconcerned about new CAA regulations. Photo: Jim Lucas

Along with these was the North American T-28 Fennec, known as the Trojan when in service with the US.

A Fennec is a small fox with unusually large ears found in North Africa, sometimes kept domestically. Photo: Jim Lucas

The Bronco Display Team had the OV-10B Bronco and Shorts SC-7 Skyvan on display. The distinctive shapes of the two very different aircraft graced the skies above the airfield. This particular Bronco was built for the German Air Force as a target tug, but its primary role with the USAF was that of a light attack and observation airframe. The Bronco saw service in many conflicts including the Vietnam war. The Skyvan, also known as “The Shed, was suited to short, unprepared runways. As a Utility Aircraft it was used by many air forces around the world. The Skyvan displayed its ability to perform a tactical short-field landing.

The Bronco Demo Team brought both their planes together for this formation flypast. Photo: Jim Lucas

The Pacific and Pearl Harbour section of the show saw the Mitsubishi A6M Zero replica take to the skies. It’s the first visit to the UK for this airframe, which is actually a modified T-6 Harvard. It still gave a buzz amongst many of the aviation fans.

Even though it’s not a real Zero, this rare converted T-6 caused much excitement. Photo: Jim Lucas

Aloft with the Zero was Grumman FM-2 Wildcat, Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, Curtiss Hawk 75 and the Curtiss P-40C Warhawk. Iconic aircraft built in the US these were truly what the American Airshow about. The mighty machines saw action in many conflicts in the European and Pacific theatres. While all four machines are regulars in the skies of Duxford, to see them grace the skies together is nothing short of exceptional, as can be said for all the warbirds flown over the weekend.

Four Duxford-based favourites in the sky together – something you won’t see elsewhere in the UK. Photo: Jim Lucas

To the modern era, we had a KC-135 Stratotanker from USAF Mildenhall fly by with its refuelling probe extended, vital in today’s logistics with fast jets and long haul missions. Static on the apron was the CV-22 Osprey, a first for Duxford.

It’s not often you can see two transport aircraft landing in formation! Photo: Jim Lucas

A pair of C-47 Skytrains took off to display while the theme from “Band of Brothers” played: the music and the aircraft sent an emotional wave across the crowds watching. As part of supporting the troops and shaft of spear the Dragon Rapide and Piper L-4 Cub were flying to show their capabilities. Along with the C-47s this display brought a sense vulnerability, as these aircraft didn’t fly fast and were often in the enemy’s direct line of fire.

The Piper Cub was a very successful aircraft line, with 20,000 built. Photo: Jim Lucas

The show ended with the roar of the RAF with a Typhoon FGR4 from No 29(R) Squadron, RAF Coningsby.

Many enthusiasts say the RAF Typhoon display has been getting better and better in recent years. Photo: Jim Lucas

Displays in 2016 will see restriction brought in by the CAA, Duxford certainly saw those restrictions in place, the flying display had lost it dynamic edge, from the many years of attending Duxford I saw a display height that was a lot higher, pilots clearly had instruction to pull back on what they had done in the past. This by no means the fault of Duxford, they have to comply with regulations. Overall I was happy with the content of the show, what it represented and what it set out to achieve, telling the story of American and British collaboration over 100 years showing the impact of the American forces on Duxford and the eastern region from WWII to the present day. If you love the sound of the past, then Duxford is the place to be. They hold three shows over the year, the next big show is Flying Legends in July. Tickets are not available on the gate, so book early.

Duxford has long been known for one of the world’s best collections of vintage aircraft. Photo: Jim Lucas

Not forgetting the Imperial War Museum, many aircraft are exhibited, the largest is the B-52, housed in the newly opened American hanger. You will be amazed at how close you can get to the massive machines, many of which you can even go on board, including Concorde, the Comet and VC-10. Aircraft from many nations are on display and stories from the history of the airfield can be seen and heard.

In terms of value, you get an airshow and museum at the same time, you have the opportunity to get up close to the aircraft that will be flying by paying an extra £5 for the flight-line walk.  Pleasure flights in Harvards, Tiger Moths and Dragon Rapides, available for an additional cost, allow you to be a part of history and take flight in vintage aircraft.

Jim Lucas is an aviation photographer who runs the website