“Welcome to Duxford-at-Sea,” never a good sign to hear this when you are actually about 100 kilometres in-land. Still, it described the scene well, the weather being what it was for the final UK airshow of the year, and had been throughout the airshow season: wet. Under the circumstances, one would have half expected the Royal Navy to show up with HMS Ark Royal instead of the Black Cats. Commentator Tim Callaway had his work cut out trying to motivate the spectators to stick around the airfield in the hopes of seeing a display.
Old Warden had decided to cancel its show on the same day because of the weather, but the Duxford organizers pressed ahead, despite this setback and the cancellation of the Vulcan, which was struggling with one of its engines and was therefore unable to fly. The Vulcan was just one of the stars which was due to appear at Duxford's final show of 2008. The Autumn show has been growing consistently in recent years, outshining the September airshow.
The flightline walk was free this time around, quite understandably so as only 3 aircraft had been towed out of the hangars in the morning, which did not bode well for the flying display. Like the airplanes, visitors also sought refuge in the many Duxford hangars, admiring the excellent collection of aircraft at the Imperial War Museum there, waiting patiently for the rain to stop and the cloud base to lift. After 13:00, spirits were raised as some additional aircraft were towed to the flightline.
With about 30 minutes delay, the air display got off to a hesitant start with a plane that does not mind a spot of water, the amphibious PBY Catalina operated by Duxford-based Plane Sailing ltd. This was followed by a very brave Chipmunk pilot, the RAF Tucano and Hawk solo displays, the Hawk pilot heard saying over the radio “I'm not sure about displaying, but I can make some noise”, indicating just how low the cloud base still was at the time. This low cloud base also limited the final European public display of Belgium's finest, Mickey Artiges with the Belgian air force's F-16 solo display, to just 2 fly-bys before returning to Mildenhall.
While the cloudbase lifted slowly throughout the afternoon and the rain subsided, it still prevented the Patrouille de France from displaying, another one of the star attractions at the Duxford Autumn Show, the team performing 2 fly-bys to the tunes of the Laurent Wolf's 'No stress (I don't want to work today)'. Funny that.
Flt Richie Matthews, the RAF Typhoon display pilot, managed to squeeze his flat show in later in the afternoon, and possibly filled the sky with even more clouds than were already there. Clouds proved to be no problem for the final military display of the afternoon, the aerial ballet of the Royal Navy Black Cats, though the wind did make for some difficult flying conditions.
A very different and rather insane display came from 9 times British aerobatics champion Mark Jefferies in his Extra 300. The audience will not forget that take-off any time soon!
Duxford is best known for its classic aircraft displays, however, and despite the weather, there were a few of those too during the 2008 October show. Popular aircraft wherever they appear, 2 T-28s performed a number of formation and solo passes. Air Atlantique's Dragon Rapide also gave a spirited display, flying in directly from its home at Coventry. The Fighter Collection showed off the Hawk 75, P-39 and P-40B Warhawk before the Old Flying Machine Company's Spitfire MkIX MH434 and P-51D Mustang 'Ferocious Frankie' brought the final Duxford show of the year to a close.
As luck would have it, after the final aircraft touched down, the sun broke through the clouds and not even an hour later, the airfield was basking in glorious autumn sunshine. The audience at Duxford was rewarded for its patience and endurance with an air display against all odds, which understandably did not run at Duxford's usual high pace. Special thanks and praise must go to the organizers who reshuffled their programme throughout the day, and to the pilots and crews who made sure aircraft went up in those difficult conditions. Let's raise a glass to them, and to a better 2009. Cheers!
by Chris Janssens Special thanks to Stefan Rosiers
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present