A first ever visit to one of the country’s most famous airfields as I set out for a day amongst the legends at IWM Duxford.
An ‘airshow with a difference’
We arrived at the sleepy but iconic Cambridgeshire venue for the fourth ‘Flying Day’ of the year.
Whilst not an ‘airshow’ in the traditional sense, the two hours of flying was scheduled for the early afternoon which enabled us to have a look around the extensive hangars which housed fascinating and historic types both old and new.
Where else would one see the first Tiger Moth nestled alongside a prototype for the Eurofighter Typhoon?
We arrived at around 10.30am and wandered up the flight path past Sally B and the Catalina (both of whom are based here, more on the latter in a bit) and entered the ‘AirSpace’ hangar. Here, the first aircraft we encountered was the beautifully maintained and perfectly restored Handley Page Victor – one of Britain’s three famous ‘V’ bombers and towering over us with its impressive stature and size.
My Duxford debut
I had a look inside the Concorde prototype, whilst there was also early variants of the RAF’s warhorses – a Harrier and a Panavia Tornado – hanging from the ceiling.
Over 30 aircraft are on show in this area alone, with other notable types including one of only two TSR2s, an Airco DH9 and an English Electric Canberra.
The next hangar featured an eclectic variety of Duxford’s airworthy machines, owned by the airfield’s private companies and featuring several classic warbirds such as the Vought Corsair, a P51 Mustang, P47 Thunderbolt, several Spitfires, and the P-40F.
Duxford’s maritime exhibition holds a number of naval aircraft and vessels alike, with highlights here including the Sea Vixen, Westland Wasp vintage heli and a carrier-borne Vampire.
A step back in time
With time now ticking down towards the opening flying display, Hangar 4 told the story of our nation during the Battle of Britain. We sat in a Spitfire cockpit and read the story of a crashed Messerschmitt Bf109, forced down over Sussex with an engine blowout, and now sitting proudly amongst her comrades at IWM.
Dominating the Duxford flightline is a series of historic airliners from the very earliest days when Britain became the pioneers of transatlantic travel. Here, I went inside a DH Comet, the world’s first turboprop airliner in the Vickers Viscount, a BEA DC10 and the De Havilland Trident. You get to see inside the cockpit, see the menu the passengers had on board back in the day as well as crew uniform, flight plans, maps and memorabilia from when these airliners operated on UK soil.
Just as we began to find our spot for the start of the small but unique flying display, a heavy shower forced everyone back inside. But it soon passed and the displays started at 2pm exactly as scheduled. Each of Duxford’s Flying Days follow a theme, with the airfield’s links to our nation’s aviation history a strong backdrop. This month’s theme was 19 Squadron, based at Duxford during the Second World War and boasting a certain Mr D.Bader amongst its alumni.
The flying display
Kicking things off was a lovely pairs routine from Duxford’s very own Consolidated Catalina PBY-5A, a once common but now sadly declining feature of the airshow circuit. She flew in formation with an even rarer but no less beautiful old bird in the form of the never-seen-before Lockheed Electra 12.
A pair of Hurricanes then took centre stage before Phil Hardisty and Alex Lewton led a graceful and balletic two-ship routine in their De Havilland Chipmunks.
On the day England’s pride of Lionesses battled through to the World Cup semi finals, it was perhaps fitting a lady pilot broke with the overall intensity of the day. Diana Britten upped the ante in her self-built French aircraft, the Mudry CAP232, to tear around the Duxford airspace with an unlimited aerobatic display full of twists, tumbles, gyroscopic stall turns and knife edge passes aplenty.
The penultimate display featured another gorgeous pairs performance as the Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator teamed up with another Duxford resident, the Hawk 75, for a flypast as a duo before both broke away into eye-catching solo routines.
What would Duxford be without that very epitome of any Battle of Britain airfield? Closing the 90 minute programme of flying came not one, not even two but a trio of very rare and early Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is. The low, evocative growl of the iconic and spine tingling Merlin engines proved a captivating culmination to the schedule and, as ever, conjured up memories of Britain in the 40s with a wonderful showcase of our nation’s most beloved aeroplane. Whilst all the displays were good and very varied, my personal favourite was the graceful lines and throaty roar of the Hawk 75 piloted by warbird legend Pete Kynsey.
An av geek’s dream
With that, we headed over to the far side of the airfield to finish off the day in style with, in my view, my favourite museum of the lot – the American air one.
The first thing you notice when you walk in here is the sheer size of some of the aircraft. The exhibition is dominated by the almighty frame of the USAF B52 Stratofortress. It’s hard to believe this actually landed here to take up residence at Duxford – the authorities had to close the M11 to allow the enormous bomber extra room with all weapons and accessories stripped away to make it light enough to land!
The SR71, F-111, F-15E Eagle and another B17 were all fabulous to see here. An A10 Thunderbolt hangs from the ceiling whilst a collection of historic American biplanes are dwarfed by their massive neighbours. A particularly emotional moment was a small segment in the far corner dedicated to the 11 September attacks of 2001 including a few charred pieces of twisted metal from one of the twin towers.
After a brief detour via the Land Warfare hall, the time had come to head for home. I arrived back home in Sussex shortly after 10pm, tired but happy to finally seen all that IWM Duxford has to offer. Until next time…