Just a Normal Day at Duxford

Aircorps Art Dec 2019

by Nigel Hitchman

Just a normal day at Duxford: a friend told me that The Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator was outside and there was talk it was going to fly! This would be the biplane fighter’s first flight since a re-cover and the rebuild of its Bristol Mercury engine. The recalcitrant Mercury had suffered problems on the return flight from the La Ferté-Alais air show in France during July 2017, problems which couldn’t be resolved on site, and subsequently saw the Gladiator dismantled and returned home by road. Anyway the opportunity to see this magnificent aircraft in the air again prompted me to fly over to Duxford, it being only a 30 minute hop from home.

Upon arrival at Duxford, I found a very busy scene. Several warbirds were out on various ramps – a couple of two-seat Spitfires, a Hurricane, two Harvards, the Hawker Fury – and the Gladiator! I also saw the Curtiss P-40C under tow back into the hangar. Two Tiger Moths were also joyriding with passengers in the circuit, while a Dragon Rapide waited on the ground for its own passengers. And to top it off, Mark Miller’s superbly restored Dragon Rapide was on finals, returning from its own journey aloft.

After I got out of my aircraft, I met a couple of photographer friends who asked me if I had seen the two Mustangs which had just gone out the way I came in. These two Mustangs belong to the Friedkin family’s Comanche Warbirds. The fighters had just gone up for test flights, reappearing from the west after 30 or 40 minutes, with a run and break to land.

Berlin Express on the left and The Hun Hunter/Texas on the right. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

Brian Smith was flying The Hun Hunter/Texas (44-74391/N351MX). This P-51D was shipped over for Flying Legends 2018, but has remained in the UK since that summer, flying in several subsequent air shows, including various “Heritage Flights” with present-day US Air Force combat aircraft.

Meanwhile, Pete Kynsey had flown Berlin Express (43-24837/N515ZB). This P-51B had flown across the Atlantic in July 2017 (with Lee Lauderback at the controls) especially for that year’s Flying Legends event. However, during a high speed pass at the air show, the plexiglas in the canopy’s Malcolm hood shattered! Despite the obvious difficulties involved, the Mustang’s pilot, Nick Grey, had performed a successful emergency landing without further incident. Oddly, a second canopy also failed during a test flight, but the third proved to be sufficiently durable. The additional delays involved with fixing the canopy did cause Berlin Express to mis Flying Legends 2018 though, and just before Flying Legends 2019, both of these Mustangs departed for other climes – eventually ending up in Switzerland, where they remained for about a year. Indeed, the recent foray from Duxford is believed to be their first since returning from Switzerland, so we look forwards to seeing Berlin Express at Church Fenton for Flying Legends 2023!

As for other flying at Duxford that day, I had heard talk that the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane Mk.XIIA (RCAF5711/G-HURI) would be returning later in the afternoon, following the completion of its re-cover and repaint at Audley End with Vintage Fabrics. Sure enough, it appeared in formation with a Yak-52 photo-ship which had left sometime earlier. After a quick practice display, the Hurricane landed, revealing its new colors. While the Historic Aircraft Collection owns the aircraft, it is the Polish Heritage Flight that actually operates it at present. They have painted the Hurricane to represent two different examples which served with RAF 302 (Polish) squadron, which was briefly based at Duxford during the Battle of Britain: P2954/WX-E flown by Flt Lt Tadeusz Chlopik and P3935/WX-D flown by Flt Lt Julian Kowalski (later Wg Cdr). For more information about these two heroes, please click HERE.

Whilst awaiting the Hurricane’s arrival, I saw the pair of two-seat Spitfires take off together for a formation sortie, one of several rides they gave that day.

As for the Gladiator, it ended up not flying that day. It could be that this was due to the gusty crosswind conditions – never optimal for a first flight – but perhaps the aircraft simply wasn’t ready. Regardless, it was an interesting afternoon at Duxford, and this doesn’t even include looking inside the museum and other hangars either, each of which is chock-full of historic aircraft. Duxford is pure magic on any day of the year!

The two-seat Spitfires off for a formation flight. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)



Graphic Design, Branding and Aviation Art

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