Monday, 6 September 2010

Nothing beats the real thing

Anyone seen Johnny?

Playing with 1/600th scale toys is one thing, but a day out at the Duxford's Battle of Britain Airshow to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain proves that you cannot beat the real thing.

I knew I was in for a good day when I got out of the car and found myself standing next to Johnny Danger himself. Yep, there was a fellow climbing out of a Ford Fiesta kitted out head to toe in the blue uniform, flying hat, flying boots and even squadron leader rank insignia to boot. As I found out later there were lots of renactors on site, staging Ops Briefings, sitting around in deck chairs, drinking tea and chatting up WAAFs with the same aplomb as was attempted seventy years ago.

There were plenty of other attractions too. My son headed straight for the Parachute Regiment Jump tower where he was kitted out by a moustachioed scouser (are there any other types?) and proceded to calmly step off a boody great tower in a fashion that John Frost would be proud off. I decided against it, opting instead to try an even more tricky manoeuvre at the Bacon Butty stall next door.

The Airfix tent provided great amusement, not only were they selling models hand over fist, but eager boys and their dads could sit at paste tables and make them on the the spot. What really made me laugh was the overpowering aroma of polystyrene cement and had anyone lit up a smoke inside that tent I am sure the whole airfield would have gone sky high!

The show was opened in some style by the Red Arrows, though sadly they were a man down after one of their fellows pulled out with engine problems, but the remaining eight put on a show tha had my son hooked from the moment they turned on their red, white and blue smoke. We also say some stunning displays of aerobatics from 1930's biplanes, Belgian Air Force F16 and even an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon, which nearly blew my eardrums out. Stunning though it was, I have to say I was rather concerned at such high speed and powerful aircraft attempting twists, turns and rolls so close to the ground.

Noisy Bastard

But the highlight was still to come. First, europes only flying B17, the Sally B, swooned us with some graceful circuits (after the F16 I was amazed at how quite and graceful the Fortress appeared) and she was followed by the heartwarming sight of the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight - a Lancaster in company with a Hurricane and Spitfire in close formation. I have seen this trio before and they always tug my heartstrings. Soon after, a Bf109 Bouchon (one of those used in the Battle of Britain film) took to the skies to be pursued by a finger four of Hurricanes. Now I am no girlie, but I have to confess that the sight of that finger four as it flew across the airfield put a tear in my eye. It was an evocative moment, made more so for me I think because the Hurricanes were all in a similar paint scheme, making it plausible that what you were looking at was a genuine section formation going into action (one of the Hurricanes taking part was a real BoB veteran). The loops, rolls circuits and skills that those five aircraft showed us truly demonstrated the grace and power of these veteran machines.

Bf109 Bouchon in 'Battle of Britain' Film colours (Yellow 10)

A stately fly by of RAF Hawks from No19 Squadron in a 'missing man' formation marked the start of a very well observed one minute silence from Duxford's biggest ever crowd (they had to close the gates with many still outside) and was followed by what the organisers had saved as their crowning moment: The 'scrambled' take off and fly by of sixteen Spitfires.

Dakka Dakka Dakka

This Spitfire fly past and display of sheer elegance and power was a truly breathtaking event that even awed my wife into silence. The sight and sound of those amazing aircraft will stay with me for a long time. I have seen plenty of Spits before, but never in this number. Watching them peel off for their individual runs across the display line was a delight. My kids, even the girls who had been playing cards ten minutes before, were spellbound by the beauty of their aerobatics, and for ten minutes the airfield was buzzed by Spits coming in for low passes from all angles. Never mind the X-Factor, if you ever wanted to see something truly spectular, this was it.
Stirring Stuff
There were many variants on display, including a SeaFire and a few dual canopy spits used for flying experiences, but the overall effect was phenomenal (have I said that enough?). Some people on the ground started to applaud, but that was bearly audible above the purr of the engines as the aircraft flew by.

Finally, and a full four and a half hours after the arrival of the Red Arrows to open the show, the finale was provided by the impressive Alpha jets of the Patrouille de France, resplendent in their red, white and blue, and we all went home happy, having had a great family day out for £50.

This was the Imperial War Museum's flagship event marking the events of that Spitfire Summer of 1940, and it did not disappoint. True to it's billing the show provided a fantastic day out, with trade shows and activities galore for all the family (but interestingly - no wargaming presence). Duxford looked superb, and seldom could there have been a more satisfying display of aerial entertainment or a more fitting tribute by the many, to The Few.I sank a few bottles in the mess that night as a kind of private tribute.

Mon Dieu! C'est la Patrouille de France

So well done to the guys at Duxford for organising such a fantastic event. I have stuck some images with this post, but the truth is that my skills in photographing even the slowest moving of aircraft serves testament to the fact that I would never, ever, have made it as an Air Gunner.

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