Last Saturday I finally had a chance to visit the Imperial War Museum at Duxford (near Cambridge in the United Kingdom). The occasion was pretty juicy, as the regular September Airshow was scheduled for that weekend. I think it's almost since I have moved to the UK that I wanted to attend this particular event, as I am quite interested in aviation and warbirds from my very childhood. For once the British weather was also forgiving, with clear skies and high temperatures around 28 C, the ideal set to watch an Airshow.
The museum itself is pretty easy to reach from Cambridge's railway station. It's about 15 minutes with a free courtesy bus which runs every 30 minutes.
Apart from the Airshow itself, the IWM Duxford museum offers a pretty impressive display, including the only SR-71 Blackbird that you can see in Europe. A pretty amazing sight. I have to say that we couldn't see much of the permanent display, mainly because most of the attention was rightfully diverted on the flight line displayed in the amazing weather!
The display started at around 14:00 with a low altitude flyby of four F15C "Strike Eagles" from a nearby airbase. That in itself was a quite grand opening for someone like me, whom has never been to such an event before! One thing is to admire those flying machines in a picture, but to hear the loud shriek, smell the combustion gases and feel your body tremble from the vibrations it's all another story.
Following this, it was time for two Panavia Tornado GR2 to showcase a mock-up simulation of a close air support mission. Again, it was amazing to see the two jets working in pair with such precision, and frankly quite terrifying to hear the loud roar of their afterburners: you have to imagine being on the wrong side of their targeting devices, and understand how scary it would be to have those two things on a hunting spree for your head!
One of the highlights of the day was the appearance of the only Avro "Vulcan" still flying today. The "Vulcan" is a Cold War nuclear bomber with a distinctive wing shape, a very beautiful design if you ask me. Fortunately for us this type of plane never saw operative action, if we exclude a conventional bombing campaign over the Falklands in 1982. These days it spends most of its time flying from one airshow to another to dazzle the viewers with his majestic shape.
A lot of classic warplanes was also on display, including true American icons such as the PBY "Catalina" or the P51D "Mustang": the latter is a truly magnificent machine with a sleek design. I couldn't help reminding my childhood when I watched "The Empire of the Sun", there is a scene where the little boy is bewildered by their appearance in the middle of a strafing run... And that was pretty much it, even without shrapnel flying around and bomb detonations all around the place.
I have to say that for me the absolute pinnacle of the show was in the aerobatics exhibitions! First a lone Bucker Jungmann biplane, dancing alone in the trailing smoke on the notes of classical music. Then two bright red Folland Gnat jetplanes running head on at high speed. But it was the Aerostars display which just got me drooling: imagine a bunch of monoplanes in close formations, drawing long smoke trails in the sky. And then all at once one would break formation and pull up high, stalling the plane and being brought back by the gravity, before regaining control and suddenly turning crazily in a convoluted corkscrew trajectory!
In the finale, the Spitfires and a Hurricane faced once more the BF-109 replicas (Hispano Bouchon) in a remembrance of the Battle of Britain.
So yeah, I think you can tell from my description that I really enjoyed watching this Airshow, and I advise anyone who is a truly aviation "aficionado" to attend at least once to one of those events. Unfortunately I cannot compare the Duxford one with others, as it's my first one, but I have a feeling that I have saw a good one indeed!
Want to see more pictures? Just head on my Duxford Airshow September 2012 photoset on Flickr!
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