Duxford’s Autumn Airshow tops key.aero poll
Mick Britton evaluates why Duxford's end-of-season airshow is the favourite amongst key.aero readers.
Mitch Beulen gives his final display at Duxford's Autumn Airshow in 2011. All images by Mick Britton
Checking the ‘Favourite Airshow poll’ on this website recently I was most surprised to see that that it was topped by Duxford’s Autumn Airshow at 14%, followed by the same venue’s Spring Airshow and RIAT in joint second place with 13%.
Not too many years ago such a thing would have seemed inconceivable, as it is traditionally the smallest of Duxford’s four annual airshows in terms of attendance and, in its early days, the flying programme had a somewhat random quality. This was to an extent inevitable given that by mid-October many of the resident warbirds were already laid up in their hangars undergoing winter servicing, so the display organisers were left with a limited selection around which to plan the flying programme. A similar constraint applied to military display aircraft, which are usually the display organiser’s first port of call - for instance in 2012 the Typhoon gave its last display at RAF Leuchars in mid-September.
The 2004 Autumn Airshow provided a tantalising line-up of Royal Navy aircraft.The show underwent a transformation in the early years of the new millennium when greater effort was made to market the event by introducing themes - sometimes rather nebulous ones that failed to deliver, as with the ‘Spyplanes’ in 2002. But more exotic participants were attracted with the result that whereas in the 1990s you were lucky to see any RAF fast jet in the flying programme, by the ‘noughties’ attractions on offer included the Patrouille de France display team and the Belgian Air Force solo F-16. It had acquired the status of a serious airshow able not only to match the standard of the other Duxford shows, but occasionally surpass them! A good example was the 2004 event - while lacking foreign participation, it did involve considerable participation from the Royal Navy and, with commendable imagination shown by the organisers, gave an airing to some of the museum’s exhibits such as the Fairey Gannet and De Havilland Sea Vixen positioned alongside the then current Sea Harrier and Sea King.
B-17G 'Sally B' is always a favourite at Duxford shows and usually signs off her season at the Autumn Airshow.But just wherein lies its appeal? It extends beyond the stars of the flying display or the rarity of the exhibits in the static - I believe it is more fundamental, lying in the sense of fulfilment from completing the annual air show cycle. The show’s atmosphere has been variously described as akin to a garden party, or ‘end of term’, but whatever turn of phrase is used it is rooted in the above. Everyone seems to let their hair down that bit more and appears more relaxed. The traders’ are usually a touch softer and there are bargains to be had if you cast around for them as end-of-season sales are in full swing, traders attempting to dispose of their remaining stock. As for the performers, they have had all season to perfect their display – they seem that bit more exciting - faster, lower, more fluid - altogether more polished. Occasionally it is more than just their final display of the season, but also of their career, as the Belgian F-16 pilot Mitch Beulen experienced in 2011 as he gave the final performance of his three year stint, signing off in some style. Those privileged to witness it will surely regard it as one of the best F-16 displays they have ever seen - rightly so, as it was delivered by a display pilot at the top of his game.
Duxford's home-based F-86 Sabre was another regular of the Autumn Airshows.Undoubtedly there are those enthusiasts who view the last show of the season as a test of their enthusiasm - ‘Out in the wind and rain. Driving home in the dark. Bring it on!’ - much as a true football fan will not hesitate turning out to a fixture on a cold winter night against a bottom-of-the-league team. In truth aircraft enthusiasts have more in common with football fans than they may care to admit; loyalty and obsession. Not that the elements always present much of a challenge at Duxford’s Autumn airshow; the storms of the equinox are usually past and while the day might often dawn misty, if not decidedly foggy, then usually the sun breaks through at some point and burns it away. Whilst recalling some shows that have been affected by falling light or strong wind, none has ever been rained or fogged off in the manner of the Sunday of the September Show in 2005.
I strongly recommend Duxford’s Autumn Airshow - if you’ve never been, give the 2013 event a go and discover what has made it this website’s favourite.
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