The Duxford Spring Airshow is the first of four annual airshows at IWM Duxford in 2013 and this edition will definitely go down into the history books as a very special and moving event.
On May 26th , 2013, IWM Duxford commemorates the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the USAAF Eight Air Force's 78th Fighter Group at RAF Duxford in England. In fact, this year's show paid tribute to all of the USAAF personnel who were stationed in England during WWII and who fought dearly for our freedom. A lot of those brave men and women paid the highest sacrifice in doing so.
The show was also heald 70 years to the day that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited RAF Duxford to welcome the 78th Fighter Group to Great Britain.
From Eighth to Mighty Eighth
After the US was drawn into the Second World War following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans began fighting the War on several fronts. One of these fronts was the ETO or European Theatre of Operations. In order to fight the Axis Powers in Europe, the Americans started a massive “friendly” invasion of England starting late 1942 and early 1943.
One of those massive forces to arrive in England was the newly created Eight Air Force, the largest Air Force ever to exist. The history of Eighth Air Force begins on January 2nd , 1942, when it was officially activated at Savannah Air Base, Georgia. In quick order, on January 5th , Major General Carl Spaatz assumed command of HQ Eighth Air Force at Bolling Field, Washington, DC.
On January 8th , the order activating the "U.S. Air Forces in the British Isles" (USAFBI) was announced and as early as May 12th , the first contingent of USAAF personnel arrived in England to join the Eighth Air Force.
On June 15th , Spaatz arrived in England to establish the Headquarters of Eighth Air Force at Bushy Park, 15 miles (24 km) WSW of London.
Eighth Air Force was the command and control organization over its operational components:
- VIII Bomber Command (Established January 19th, 1942) tasked with strategic bombardment using heavy, 4-engined bombers.
- VIII Fighter Command (Established January 19th, 1942) tasked to provide fighter escort of heavy bombers
- VIII Air Support Command (Established April 24th, 1942) tasked to provide reconnaissance, troop transport, and tactical bombardment using 2-engine medium bombers.
This structure changed on September 13th , 1943 when Fighter Command was integrated into Bomber Command to facilitate operations. As a result three new Divisions were created (1st , 2nd and 3rd Bombardment Division), each consisting of several Bomber Wings and one Fighter Wing.
The first combat group of VIII Bomber Command to arrive in the United Kingdom was the ground echelon of the 97th Bombardment Group, which arrived at RAF Polebrook on June 9th , 1942.
Regular combat operations by the VIII Bomber Command began on August 17th , 1942, when the 97th Bombardment Group flew 12 B-17Es on the first VIII Bomber Command heavy bomber mission of the war from RAF Polebrook, attacking the Rouen-Sotteville marshalling yards in France.
During World War II, under the leadership of such Generals as Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, the 8th AF became the greatest air armada in history. By mid-1944, the 8th AF had reached a total strength of more than 200,000 people (it is estimated that more than 350,000 Americans served in 8th AF during the war in Europe). At its peak, the 8th AF could dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine bombers and 1,000 fighters on a single mission. For these reasons, the 8th AF became known as the "Mighty Eighth".
The 8th AF compiled an impressive record in the war, although this achievement also carried with it a very high price. It suffered nearly one-half of the U.S. Army Air Forces' casualties in World War II (over 47,000 casualties and more than 26,000 deaths).
Personnel of the Eighth also earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, 850 Silver Stars, 7,000 Purple Hearts 46,000 Air Medals. It also produced 251 fighter aces and 21 of those exceeded 15 or more aircraft kills.
Come the Duxford Eagles
One of the Fighter Groups belonging to the 8th AF was the 78th Fighter Group. The 78th FG was assigned to the 8th AF in November of 1943 and was one of the first groups to be trained specifically to fly the Lockheed P-38.
They sailed for England on the Queen Elizabeth and arrived at Station No. 345 at RAF Goxhill in December of that year. Their first glimpse of England was a very sober one with lots of fog and rain. Furthermore, living conditions at Goxhill were far from what they were used to back in the States.
The 78th FG's first commanding officer, was Lt. Col. Arman “Pete” Peterson, a 28 year old hailing from Flagstaff, Arizona. Peterson's tremendous character made him a much loved and respected leader of the 78th FG.
A lot would change in the first months of 1943 for the 78th FG however. First of all, the Group began the transition from P-38 Lightning to P-47C Thunderbolt as their Lightnings were redeployed to the North Africa campaign. In addition most of the 78th FG pilots were also transferred to the Twelfth Air Force as replacements. Only 15 of the Group's original pilots remained at RAF Goxhill, including Peterson.
The rest of the Group would be re-staffed with new Thunderbolt-trained pilots arriving from the States. The remainder of the 78th FG's airmen had to convert to the Jug, a transition they didn't like.
On a positive note, the Group would exchange Goxhill for Station No. 357 at RAF Duxford on April 3rd , 1943.
RAF Duxford was different from many other USAAF bases. Duxford was a fully-formed air base with a degree of comfort and durability. The air base was constructed in 1918 and expanded in the late 20's, early 30s.
As a result the main infrastructure and barracks were permanent buildings and offered much greater luxury then the Nissen huts at other airbases. Duxford was often described as “the Country Club of the ETO”.
78th FG veteran Clark Clemons remembered his first experience of RAF Duxford: “Pulled up in front of the club, it was like the Grand Hotel. You're kidding! And you thought, that must be the Headquarters. No, that's the barracks!”
The 78th suffered a major blow on July 1st , 1943, when their greatly respected leader, Arman Peterson, was shot down and killed over Holland.
On July 30th , 1943, the 78th FG became the first American combat unit to enter its victories into double figures. Captain London would also become the first American ‘ace' of the European Theatre of Operations. The Group's successes didn't, however, come without cost, with the downing of new commanding officer LTC Melvin McNickle on the same date, who became a prisoner of war – he was the Group's second CO to be lost in less than one month, and MAJ James J. Stone Jr took over command of the Group the following day.
The 78th Fighter Group, who became known as “The Duxford Eagles” transitioned to the P-51 Mustang in December of 1944. They were the last Group to convert to the type.
On April 16th , 1945, Mustangs from RAF Duxford operating over Czechoslovakia destroyed a staggering 135 enemy aircraft, and damaged 89 on the ground, making a new 8th AAF record.
On May 8th , 1945, the war in Europe ended. During the course of the next six months, the 78th FG was gradually de-activated and the personnel and equipment made ready for return to the US. On August 1st , 1945, an open day was held at Duxford so that all the local people could see the aircraft and meet the men and about 5000 visitors turned up. On December 1st , 1945, Duxford was officially handed back to the RAF.
In nearly 3 years of operations the 78th FG completed 450 missions and destroyed 326 aircraft in aerial combat, 25 probables and damaged another 123. In various strafing missions, the 78th FG also wreaked havoc to enemy airfields, trains, vehicles, barges, tugs, barracks and troops.
A further 358.5 were destroyed on the ground. During their stay in Europe they also lost 167 aircraft and 93 men.
Just before the show started there was another very special moment: WWII triple ace Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson, a veteran with the 8th AF, 357th FG, and guest of honor to the Eagle Squadron, visited Duxford and was given a flight in the dual cockpit TF-51 Mustang “Miss Velma”.
Bud flew two combat tours with the 357th and amassed a total of 16.25 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air during his stay at RAF Leiston with the Group. Bud would also be part of the following day's event, the Eagle Squadron's commemorative flypast of several former USAAF bases in the UK.
Stars of the weekend's event were without question the “Eagle Squadron”, a unique four ship formation of warbirds formed especially for the occasion of honoring and remembering all of the USAAF personnel who served with the USAAF.
The formation comprised of a Supermarine Spitfire, a Hawker Hurricane, a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and a P-51 Mustang.
These aircraft were chosen with a purpose: they represent the 4 aircraft which were flown by American airmen during the Second World War and who also were stationed at one time or another at Duxford during that time.
The name “Eagle Squadron” thus referred to the American volunteers who flew with the RAF during the start of WWII and who became known as the Eagle Squadron.
Eagle Sqn history
Prior to the US entry into the war, many US men volunteered to fly and fight with several countries.
This was nothing new as during WWI, volunteer US airmen joined the French Air Force and thus formed the famous Lafayette Escadrille. Later, US pilots served in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921 with the 7th Air Escadrille (Kosciuzsko Sqn), and there was offcourse the famous 1 st American Volunteer Group known as the Flying Tigers, who fought with China against the Japanese in 1941 and 1942.
Many US recruits simply crossed the US border and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. A considerable amount of pilots came to Europe to fight for Finland against the Soviets in the Winter War. Others once more alongside the French in a revival of the Lafayette Escadrille.
After the fall of France in 1940 however, many of these pilots joined the RAF. Also, a lot of washed out pilots from both the USAAF and US Navy made the trip overseas and joined forces with the RAF.
The reason was that the standards to be accepted in the US Forces in those days were extraordinarily high (this was later proved because the US lowered these standards themselves after the US went to war). The RAF and RCAF happily accepted to give these washed out students a second chance and not without success as many of those students went on to have excellent careers in those services.
It must also be noted that not all of the US volunteers were grouped into national formations such as the Eagle Squadron.
It is also not known for certain why the Eagle Squadron was formed exactly. Many consider it to be a form of propaganda, in order to let the British people know that they were not alone in their stand against Germany.
The Eagle Squadron was nevertheless presented with great pride with the British newspapers.
After going through basic flight training, the US volunteers were sent to an advanced operational training unit were they were given further training on Miles Master trainers and subsequently Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires.
Although the Eagle Squadron consisted out of American airmen, they wore RAF uniforms and were given RAF ranks. The only distinction was the Eagle Squadron patch on the uniform: a bald eagle flanked by the letters “ES”.
The first of three Eagle Squadrons, No. 71 Squadron was formed in September of 1940 as part of the RAF buildup during the Battle of Britain. It became operational on February 5th , 1941. Not much later the other two squadrons, No. 121 Sqn and No. 133 Sqn were formed and fully operational. The Squadrons originally flew Hurricanes.
No. 71 Squadron was originally stationed at RAF Church Fenton, but was transferred to RAF Martlesham Heath in April. In August of 1941 they exchanged their Hurricanes for Spitfires which also resulted with a considerable boost in aerial victories. In May of 1942 they moved to Debden.
No. 121 Squadron was originally stationed at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey. They converted to Spitfires in November and made the move to RAF North Weald in December of that year.
No. 133 Sqn was the last Eagle Squadron to be formed and was stationed at RAF Cotishall in July of 1941. They moved to RAF Duxford in August and were also re-equipped with Spitfires.
The Eagle Squadron's first official victory came when P/O (Pilot Officer) William R. Dunn (No. 71 Sqn) shot down a Me-109 over Lille, France, on July 21st , 1941.
A total of 244 Americans went on to serve in the Eagle Squadron, alongside 116 British Squadron and Flight Commanders. Through the end of September of 1942, Eagle Squadrons pilots claimed 73.5 enemy fighters destroyed:
- No 71 Sqn: 41 kills
- No. 121 Sqn: 18 kills
- No. 133 Sqn: 14.5 kills
After they were informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor, most Eagle Squadron pilots wanted to join the USAAF and fight the Japanese in the Pacific. RAF Fighter Command turned down their request.
However, on September 29th , 1942, after the massive buildup of US forced on British soil, the Eagle Squadrons were officially turned over to the USAAF by the RAF. They became the 4th Fighter Group (aka the Debden Eagles) which was part of the 8th AF.
This presented some practical issues: which rank would the former RAF pilots be given under USAAF command was one of those. They were given similar ranks to their RAF counterparts, for instance a Flight Lieutenant would become a USAAF Captain.
Eagle Squadron pilots were also given USAAF wings, but were granted to retain their hard earned RAF wings (reduced in size) on the opposite side of their US uniforms.
Amongst the Eagle Squadron pilots were names such as Captain Donald S. Gentile, Colonel Chesley Pete Peterson and Colonel Donald Blakeslee.
- Don Gentile served with 133 Sqn and claimed 2 aerial victories. By March 1944 he became the 4th FG's top ace with 22 aerial kills.
Chesley Peterson had 130 sorties with the Eagle Squadron and became the youngest Squadron Commander in the RAF. With his transfer to the 4th FG, Peterson became the group's executive officer and, at age 23, the youngest USAAF Colonel.
Don Blakeslee served with both 121 and 133 Sqn, flying 120 sorties and scoring 3 aerial kills, and became deputy commander of the 4th FG under Chelsey Peterson.
Back to the show then: the four aircraft thus represented the mixture of aircraft the Eagle Squadron pilots flew during the War. It was also appropriate that they were displayed by a mixture of British and American pilots, namely Paul Bonhomme, Dan Friedkin, Steve Hinton and Ed Shipley.
The first Eagle Squadron aircraft and lead aircraft was Hawker Hurricane Mk. X AE977 G-CHTK, which is owned by Peter Monk. Peter had his Hurricane repainted as P3866 for this occasion. Wearing the code UF-K of No. 601 Squadron, that aircraft was flown by two American volunteers during the Battle of Britain: Williams Meade Lindsley “Billy” Fiske III and Carl Raymond Davis.
Billy Fiske was one of only 11 American pilots to fly with the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Fiske, after completing his training at RAF Yatesbury and RAF Brize Norton, flew with No. 601 Sqn from Tangmere from July 12th , 1940.
His RAF Flight Commander, Sir Archibald Hope wrote of him: “ Unquestionably Billy Fiske was the best pilot I've ever known. It was unbelievable how good he was. He picked up so fast it wasn't true. He'd flown a bit before, but he was a natural as a fighter pilot. He was also terribly nice and extraordinarily modest, and fitted into the squadron very well.”
Williams Meade Lindsley "Billy" Fiske III
Carl Raymond Davis
On August 16th , 1940, Fisk became involved in aerial combat with Ju-87 Stukas. He shot down 8 of them before taking a hit in the reserve fuel tank. He managed to nurse his stricken Hurricane back to Tangmere but in doing so suffered major burns when the aircraft exploded just after landing. He was taken to Royal West Sussex Hospital for extensive medical treatment but died 48 hours later from shock. He was the first American to give his life in RAF service in WWII.
Carl Davis first flew Bristol Blenheims in November of 1939 and stayed with the Squadron as it transferred to the Hawker Hurricane. He achieved 9.5 victories before being shot down and killed on September 6th , 1940. The crippled Hurricane broke in two and crashed inverted in Matfield.
Today, the Hurricane was flown by Paul Bonhomme, a two time Red Bull Air Race Champion.
The second Eagle Squadron aircraft was Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Ia AR213 G-AIST, owned by Comanche Warbirds LLC and operated in the UK by The Fighter Collection. This aircraft was also repainted especially for this occasion as P7308.
P7308 was a Spitfire flying with No. 71 Squadron, coded XR-D, flown by Pilot Officer William R. Dunn, an early American ace. Dunn shot down five German aircraft between July and August of 1941.
After only four days of training on the Spitfire, Bill was posted at the Squadron and scored his first victory in July of 1941. In doing so, Bill scored the very first Eagle Squadron victory of WWII.
Bill made ace on August 27th , 1941, when he downed two Me-109s whilst flying escort for a Blenheim raid on the Lille steel factories. During this raid his Spitfire was badly damaged and bullets also struck Bill's legs and head. Me-109 20mm cannon fire blew the toes off his right foot and tore his instrument panel apart.
Spending a considerable time in the hospital during which doctors were able to save his right foot, followed by some leave back to the US. Bill's next assignment was instructional duties in Canada.
In 1943, Bill was enlisted by the USAAF and found himself back in England in March of 1944. There, he flew P-47 Thunderbolts with the 513th FS of the 406th Fighter Bomber Group belonging to the 9th AF.
In June of 1944, Bill scored his sixth and final kill. He stayed in the Air Force and retired a Lieutenant Colonel. He passed away in 1995.
Piloting the Spitfire for the weekend was American aviator Ed Shipley. Ed is one of the founding members of the Bremont Horsemen Flight Team and is a familiar face at the UK airshow scene. He has displayed at Duxford on several occasions during the Flying Legends airshow and has taken part in various Heritage Flight formations in both the US and the UK.
Third 2013 Eagle Squadron aircraft was The Fighter Collection's own razorback Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” G-CDVX. Snafu is the only airworthy P-47 flying in Europe and one of only two airworthy razorback Thunderbolts flying in the world.
P-47D-6 42-74742 "War Eagle" was the assigned aircraft of Capt. Julius P. Maxwell of the 84th FS, 78th FG. Maxwell flew a total of 133 missions between March of 1944 and January of 1945 and scored a total of two aerial victories on March 16th whilst flying War Eagle. He later scored a third kill which was also the 300th victory scored by the 78th FG at that time.
When his combat tour was over, the Thunderbolt was passed on to Lt. Severino B. Calderon who flew 90 missions with it, but scored no victories. The word SNAFU was added during the time that Calderon flew the aircraft.
On December 15th, 1944, whilst on loan to Lt. Earl Stier, 42-74742 was damaged beyond repair in a landing accident.
Snafu was a fitting part of the Eagle Squadron as it represents the “home team”, the 78th Fighter Group stationed at RAF Duxford in WWII.
Piloting the P-47 was veteran warbird pilot Steve Hinton. Mr. Hinton held the world speed record from 1979 through 1989 and also won six Unlimited air races in Reno. He won 4 consecutive Unlimited races in one year and remains the only pilot to ever do so. He is the president of the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California and has over 35 years of airshow flying experience. He has over 7,000 hours in WWII fighter aircraft.
Latest Eagle Squadron aircraft, but certainly not the least of them was North American P-51C Mustang “Princess Elizabeth” N487FS which was brought over from the US especially for this occasion. It is also owned by Comanche Warbirds LLC. The Princess was stationed and flown from Duxford by The Fighter Collection a couple of years ago but was sold to Comanche Warbirds in 2007 and consequently shipped to the US.
This year saw a welcome return of this magnificent razorback Mustang as she was disassembled, crated and shipped back across the Atlantic to be reassembled and ready for the Duxford May airshow.
This particular Mustang wears the markings of the P-51B 42-106449 flown by Lt. William T. Whisner of the 487th FS, 352nd FG.
A complete biography of the airframe can be found in our airworthy Mustangs section.
“Bill” Whisner joined the 487th FS, 352nd FG in the fall of 1943. He scored his first kill on January 29th , 1944 whilst flying a P-47. When the 352nd FG converted to the P-51 Mustang, Bill's Mustang was the only P-51 in the Group without personal markings, which was rather unusual within USAAF fighter squadrons. As it turned out, this decision would come back to haunt Bill as his Mustang was chosen by an 8th Air Force Press Officer to be named ‘Princess Elizabeth', in honour of the Princess' impending visit to RAF Bodney, home of the Bluenosed Bastards, without Bill's knowledge! Needless to say Bill wasn't happy with both the name and the additional press coverage he and his aircraft attracted!
Bill used the aircraft to destroy an Me-109 on May 30th , 1944. This raised his tally to four enemy aircraft destroyed and also marked the end of his first combat tour. He signed up for a second tour and that's when his fighter career really took off!
Upon his return to England and the 352nd FG he was given a brand new P-51D Mustang which he named Moonbeam McSwine, after a character on AI Capp's comic strip Lillie Abner. It was Bill's way of getting back at the name his previous P-51 was assigned.
Whisner made ace on November 2nd , 1944, but made fame on November 27th , 1944, when he scored “ace in a day”, downing five FW-190s during one single sortie.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on that day.
He also played a major role in Operation Bodenplatte, also known as “The Legend of Y-29”, where the Luftwaffe staged a last major offensive against several forward airfields in Belgium and northern France on New Year's Day of 1945. That day Bill downed an additional four enemy aircraft.
His final WWII tally stood at 16, but he was not finished. During the Korean War he downed an additional six MiG-15s making him one of the very rare fighter pilots to make ace in two wars.
He stayed in the USAF after the War and retired a Colonel in 1972.
Piloting the P-51C for the weekend is US pilot Dan Friedkin. Dan, along with Ed Shipley and Steve Hinton, is also one of the founding members of the Horsemen demo team. He actively flies the T-6, P-51, P-38, F-86, F6F, F8F, F4U-4, Hurricane and Spitfires. He is also the founder and chairman of the USAF Heritage Flight Foundation.
Dan was also the driving force behind the Eagle Squadron concept.
The Eagle Squadron took off at 1400hrs and opened the airshow with a missing man formation, followed by a minutes silence to remember all of the American airmen who served, fought and gave their lives during the European Campaign in the Second World War.
A very emotional and moving start of the afternoon…
They returned in a four ship formation and made several passes before splitting up into pairs for some more aerobatics and fast passes. One pair consisted of both the Hurricane and the Spitfire whilst the other pair representing the US built fighters in WWII.
To conclude the very emotional opening sequence to the Spring airshow local based Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” took to the skies and performed a formation flypast with the Eagle Squadron, thus also paying tribute to all of the 8th AF bomber crews who flew out of England, performing daily bombing raids over Europe.
Next aircraft to take to the skies was a Westland Lysander belonging to the Shuttleworth Collection. Although not a common aircraft widely used by the 8th AF, there were about 25 Lysanders which were used as target tugs by the 8th for gunnery training.
Both Fighter Collection P-40 Warhawks took to the skies for some nice passes. Nick Grey flew the Curtiss P-40B, the only remaining airworthy survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (also the world's oldest airworthy P-40B) with Stephen Grey flying alongside in the P-40F in the colors of Lt. Robert J. Duffield's “Lee's Hope”.
There would obviously be no fighter pilots without proper training aircraft and it just so happened that two aircraft which played a huge part in training USAAF pilots were displayed in this show: the primary trainer Boeing PT-17 Stearman and the advanced trainer North American AT-6 Texan/Harvard.
The PT-17 first flew in 1934 and it was not for long before it became a huge success when it was chosen by both the USAAF and US Navy as their primary trainer. Because of its rugged biplane design it proved an ideal platform for novice pilots.
No less then 8,584 were built during the 1930s and 1940s. Originally designed by the Stearman Aircraft it became known as the Boeing Stearman when the company became a subsidiary of Boeing in 1934. The Stearman flown in this show belongs to Golden Apple Operations Ltd.
The T-6 advanced trainer is a single-engined, low wing design with a retractable landing gear which first flew in 1937. It became the first huge success of the North American Aviation Company as was widely used by the USAAF, US Navy and the RAF as an advanced training aircraft.
The American designation was AT-6 Texan, whilst the US Navy designated its aircraft as SNJs and the British adopted the name Harvard. A total of 15,495 T-6s of all variants were built.
There were two Harvards taking part in this display: The Fighter Collection's Harvard II G-BTXI sporting original bomb racks and machine guns and ARCo's Harvard IV G-BGPB flying in Portuguese Air Force colors
May of 2013 also marked the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, so it was very fitting that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was also present at the show.
The BBMF operates a total of twelve aircraft, but its flagship undoubtedly remains the Avro Lancaster. PA474 was acquired by the BBMF in 1973 and is currently one of only two airworthy Lancasters in the world (the second flying in Canada). She was joined by two little friends: Spitfire Mk. IIa PS 915 and Hurricane Mk. IIc PZ865, the last of its kind ever to have been built.
The Hurricane was painted as JX-E “Night Reaper” of No. 1 Sqn fighter ace Flt. Lt. Karel Kuttelwascher, but the aircraft was given a rebuild in 2010. All finished this year, it was also given a new color scheme replicating Hurricane Mk. IIC HW840 EG-S of No. 34 Sqn, South East Asia Command, which was the personal aircraft of Canadian pilot Flt. Lt. Jimmy Whalen.
Chris Heames provided a jet break in the program when he displayed Graham Peacocks Hawker Hunter T7 WV372. The Hunter was originally built as a single seat F4 in 1955 but was converted into a two seat T7 in 1959 following repairs for an in-flight fire. The Hunter now wears the paint scheme of No. 2 Sqn. It was withdrawn from military use in 1996 and auctioned into civil hands. After a number of civilian owners it was acquired by Graham Peacock in 2012 and is based at North Weald.
First civilian act of the day was the TRIG Aerobatic Team flying a pair of Pitts S-1D Specials. The team's display combines a variety of classic aerobatic manoeuvres, including loops, rolls and stalls, as well as dizzying gyroscopic figures pulling G-forces ranging between +6g and -4g.
Piloting the Pitts aircraft are Richard Grace, son of celebrated Spitfire display pilots Carolyn and Nick Grace, and Dave Puleston.
Back to the main airshow theme of the Mighty 8th with another duo, albeit the very opposite of an aerobatic team: two Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota/Skytrains.
One of the all-time greats of aviation history, the DC-3 first started flying back in December of 1935 and over 16,000 were built. During its career the aircraft made a lasting impact on the airline and transport industry. The civilian version was designated DC-3 while the major military version was referred to as the C-47 Skytrain.
Dakota Heritage's example named “Drag-em-oot” came to the UK in 1943 as 42-100882 and is now registered N473DC, so it is still the same airplane which flew in WWII.
It was piloted by Bill Allin who got his wings in 1943. Bill was stationed in Greenham Common. At one point the aircraft was used as a glider tower and had a large reel of cable. The cable would catch the gliders out of the fields and pull them into the air. Allin would fly low, tree-top level, into pastures with a cable streaming behind him. The cable would catch onto a line drawn across two poles and pull an attached glider, sometimes even two, into the air and tug it back for another mission.
Bill Allin named the plane after the job it performed : 'Drag 'em oot".
Allin and his aircraft participated over Normandy on D-Day. They flew with 80 aircraft and at 12:46 am on June 6th , 1944, Drag ‘em oot dropped 18 paratroopers near St. Mere Eglise.
It also flew on Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, Operation Dragoon en Operation Varsity.
In 2003, a C-47 fan from the UK wanted some information on a plane he had purchased that had flown with the 87th Troop Carrier Sqn of the 438th Troop Carrier Group during WWII. He came into contact with Bill Allin's son Gary and the plane was refurbished in Arizona. The owner wanted to know more about the history of the aircraft. As it turned out, the aircraft was exactly the C-47 that 1 st Lt. O.H. “Bill” Allin had flow. So it became that after 69 years, plane and pilot were once again reunited.
The second Dakota, N147DC, belongs to Aces High and was built in 1942. It served as a glider tug with the RCAF and also took part in Operation Market Garden and later in the Berlin Airlift.
It was back to the Boeing Stearman once more with the display of, unfortunately only one aircraft, the Breitling Wingwalkers. Pilot Steve Hicks and wingwalker Sarah Tanner nevertheless performed beautifully.
The De Havilland Dragon Rapide first flew in 1934 and was used as a liaison aircraft during WWII. The 8th AF borrowed six Dominies (military reference for the Rapide) from the RAF als light transports. This DH89A G-AGJG is owned by Mark Miller.
It was then time to go back to the US frontline fighter aircraft of WWII now with a solo display of The Fighter Collection's TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma”. Pete Kynsey performed an absolutely splendid display and really put the Mustang through its paces at Duxford.
The second civilian aerobatic team, the RV8tors were up next in their Vans RV8 duo aircraft. The RV-8 is a high perfor-mance, aerobatic, two-seat homebuilt kit aircraft. The aircraft were piloted by Alister Kay and Andy Hill.
Making a long awaited comeback is Golden Apple's North American F-86A Sabre after an engine overhaul in the USA. This particular aircraft 48-178 G-SABR is the only airworthy A model variant of the F-86 in the world.
The F-86 was the world's first operational jet fighter designed with swept-wings in order to achieve high speed performance. When the MiG-15 was butchering older models in the Korean War, the F-86 arrived on the scene just in time to win back air superiority for the Allies. The F-86 wears the recognition bands used by the 4 th Fighter Interceptor Wing early in the Korean War.
A little cat and mouse play was showcased in the form of Richard Grace's Spitfire IXT flying with John Romain in the Aircraft Restoration Company's Hispano HA-1112 Buchón. Spitfire Mk IXT ML407 was originally a single seat Spitfire and was credited with the first enemy aircraft show down on D-Day over the Normandy beaches in the hands of F/O Johnnie Doulton.
Back to the 8th AF theme once more with a pair of Piper L-4A Grashopper aircraft. The L-4 was essentially the military version of the pre-war Piper J3 Cub. Its low cruise speed and excellent low speed handling characteristics made it an ideal observation and liaison aircraft. he first L-4 is owned by FrazerBlades and is based at Duxford. Built in 1942, it was one of the first 82nd Airborne Division aircraft in Normandy in 1944. It now carries the standard liaison camouflage markings of 57-G, an aircraft of the 456th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division.
The second L-4 is owned by Robin Roberts and is painted as 57-H, the exact markings of Robin's father, Lt. George Roberts.
Time passed quickly as it was allready time for the final display act of the day, but what an act is was! The modern day RAF was represented by the Royal Air Force demonstration team, the Red Arrows. In their 49th display season, the Red Arrows are now back in their usual formation of nine aircraft. The Duxford Spring Airshow was their first active show for the 2013 season and they couldn't have opened their 49th season with more style…
Only moments before the Red Arrows' display, the Eagle Squadron took off once more, only to see them return in formation with all nine Hawk aircraft of the Red Arrows! It was a fitting end to a day full of emotions.
It makes one wonder if Duxford's Flying Legends can top the first IWM show of the year…
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