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Duxford Autumn Airshow

11 October 2009

The advent of October always spells the end of the European airshow season. For a couple of years now, the Duxford Autumn show, the last of their 4 annual shows, has also been one of the most entertaining in terms of variety, if not in originality, drawing heavily from locally based aircraft. Due to the administrative problems The Fighter Collection is having with the Civilian Aviation Authority (CAA), leading to most of their fleet being grounded, this collection of local flyers is severely diminished though, forcing the Duxford organizers to look for acts elsewhere, which had led to some very different Duxford shows in 2009.

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The combination of fog, heavy low cloud and the occasional shower inevitably caused concern with the public during the morning of October 11, fearing a repeat of the 2008 washout. Luckily, the clouds lifted in time for the flying programme to start at 13:30, even if it remained quite breezy. Opening the show was the local F-86 Sabre, the world's oldest flying example of the type, which is set to leave Europe for the United States in 2011. In stark contrast, the MT3 Autogyro showed an entirely different type of display, perhaps not the most spectacular, but certainly worth watching given its rarity.

The afternoon would see other displays not featured on airshow programmes regularly, but which Duxford managed to combine in an entertaining block: a Piper Cub, Boeing Stearman, Cosmic Wind and Fournier RF4 motorglider are far from regulars at shows this size but still managed to capture the attention of the sizeable crowd.

Another fairly rare but nice display, flown in a tight display box and with some nice topsides, came from the Pembroke, operated by Air Atlantique's Classic Flight, which were to return later on in the programme with another of their aircraft.
With most of its fleet grounded and his planned Sea Fury mount unserviceable, Stephen Grey, boss of The Fighter Collection, took the controls of his TF-51 Mustang 'Miss Velma'.
The RAF took part with the Hawk solo display and a Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, piloted by Squadron Leader Al Pinner who was flying his last display as Commanding Officer of the flight, celebrating this by teaming up with the Hawk for a couple of flypasts.

Just about a regular now at the Duxford Autumn Show, the Belgian Air Component's F-16 solo display returned for the fourth consecutive year for a display to set off the wailing alarms in cars and children alike. Unusually, one of the crew members provided commentary for the display, something which will hopefully be repeated in the future.
The F-16 operated from Mildenhall, as Duxford's runway does not take kindly to afterburners, or the F-16 to runways of Duxford's length for that matter, so the display crew needed a taxi to and from their operating base. This was provided by Kennet Aviation's Wasp, also displayed at Duxford by the Royal Navy Historic Flight's commander John Beaty, and Air Atlantique's Avro Anson. The taxi service provided by these classic aircraft was keenly appreciated by the Belgians.

The Anson took part in the programme as part of the tribute to the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) theme. The Air Transport Auxiliary was a civilian outfit flying military aircraft from factories to frontline airfields during the Second World War in Great Britain. This freed up frontline pilots for operational duties rather than ferry flights. The ATA pilots were men who were deemed too old or unfit to fly combat, and also included a lot of women.
Joining the Anson was one of Duxford's Dragon Rapides, the superb aircraft in Scottish Airways colours, flown by Mark Miller, who also took two veteran female pilots of the ATA up in his aircraft prior to the flying display. Fittingly, two other female pilots also took part in the ATA section of the programme: Carolyne Grace, flying her T9 Spitfire, and Anna Walker in the Historic Aircraft Collection's Hurricane.

Pair displays were clearly the order of the day on October 11. Other pair displays included two T-28 Fennecs, two Chipmunks of the Aircraft Restoration Company and the brilliant Old Flying Machine Company's Mustang 'Ferocious Frankie' and Mk9 Spitfire MH434, flown superbly by Alistair Kay and Brian Smith.

Two different types of Extras also appeared in the show: the Blades with their four Extra 300LPs flying their usual high-class display, and Mark Jeffreys, piloting Extra's latest world beater, the Extra 330, demonstrating in breathtaking style why the 330 is set to dominate aerobatics competitions in the coming years.

The two Duxford heavies also made a welcome appearance. Mac McKinney showed off every conceivable angle of Plane Sailing's Catalina 'Sophisicat', its sleek lines accentuated by the sun against a dramatic cloud backdrop. Rounding off the show was B-17 Flying Fortress 'Sally B', back on the circuit after struggling with engine trouble for more than a year, requiring a number of engine replacements.

As tradition demands, Duxford basked in glorious sunshine as the show drew to a close, but the weather had been kinder than initially feared, allowing the programme to go ahead unimpededly. No longer the quiet season finale it once was, the Autumn Show once again presented an extremely varied line-up, providing a strong enough heart warmer to make it through a long dark winter. Just in case that didn't do the trick, they also served coffee. Cheers!

Report by Chris Janssens

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Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present