By Nigel Hitchman

What a fabulous airshow at Sywell Aerodrome, Northamptonshire, England on the 22nd and 23rd of June 2024. I think at the end of the year, I will look back and say this was the best warbird airshow of the year. Everyone I’ve spoken to rated it very highly in all respects, one warbird pilot said it was the best show he had been to in years, and an American friend who has been going to airshows in the US for 50 years (this was his first European airshow) said it was the best he’d ever seen.

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The airshow was the brainchild of Richard Grace and his team at Air Leasing/Ultimate Warbirds, and the aim was an airshow for warbird enthusiasts, run by warbird enthusiasts with a small number of other acts to attract the general public. Richard has attended and flown in airshows all over the world, so he is keenly aware of what works and what people want. Richard and his team seemed to get it exactly right and credit also goes to airfield owner Michael Bletsow-Brown and his team which organized a lot of the non-flying side. Even the car parking worked great with very few delays and the catering was good and not too expensive by airshow standards.

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The airshow was mostly the same on both days, with the exception of the opening display.  The Heritage Flight, which consisted of Fighter Aviation Engineering’s CAC CA-18 Mustang A68-110 (G-JERK) Jersey Jerk  and Republic P-47D Thunderbolt USAAF 45-45192 (G-THUN) Nellie B together with Lockheed-Martin F-35A USAAF 20-5580 from the 495th Fighter Squadron/48th Fighter Wing at nearby RAF Lakenheath, the show on Saturday and the Red Arrows had the honor on Sunday. Saturday also featured a short evening show with three solo displays featuring Jersey Jerk, Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V EE602 (G-IBSY), and — in his debut display — Danny Williams in De Havilland DH.82a Tiger Moth G-AMTV, which was a great addition that will hopefully be expanded in the future.

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The P-47 then joined up with Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress 44-85784 (G-BEDF) Sally B, currently the only flying B-17 in Europe and one of only three flying worldwide: it’s amazing to think it has been flying displays in the UK for almost 50 years now after arriving from France in 1975. A couple of passes together and then a solo display from the B-17 while the Jersey Jerk was joined by two other P-51D Mustangs, 44-72216 (G-BIXL) Miss Helen and 44-74427 (OE-EFB) Nooky Booky IV, who on Saturday performed an excellent three ship aerobatic display. Sunday the cloud was lower so the aerobatics wasn’t done but they were joined by a fourth P-51D from Rolls-Royce Heritage, 44-73877 (G-CMDK).

Meanwhile, two Hispano Buchons White Nine (G-AWHH) and Yellow 10 (G-AWHK) had taken off and chased off the P-47, but then were spotted by the three P-51s and we had an excellent tail chase all over the airfield before eventually the Buchons were shot down. These Buchons are painted to represent Messerschmitt Bf 109s and were used in the Battle of Britain film — Yellow 10 being resplendent in the paint scheme it wore during filming — and two more veterans of that production were also present in the bar-come-cinema where they were playing Battle of Britain all day, the screen flanked by the two-seat Buchon Red 11 (G-AWHC) and Spitfire Mk.IX MH415 (G-AVDJ), which has been sold to a new German owner just before the show. It will move to Siegerland to join George Raab’s Flying Legends fleet with his Corsair and Mustang.

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It was then time for 46 Aviation’s Boeing PT-13 Stearman (N450D) wingwalking followed by perhaps one of the most unusual displays of the day, a flypast from 2Excel Aviation’s Boeing 727 (G-OSRB). This aircraft is one of two operated on behalf of Oil Spill Response with the dispersant sprayboom clearly visible at the rear, the idea being that in case of an oil spill in the sea they can fly over it spraying dispersant to break it up and minimize the environmental impact. I must admit I preferred when it was the Air Atlantique DC-3s!

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Navy fighters was the next formation, with The Fighter Collection’s Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat Bu.121714 (G-RUMM) leading three Corsairs, one each from The Fighter Collection’s FG-1D Bu.88297 (G-FGID), Red Bull’s F4U-4 Bu.96995 (OE-EAS) and the Salis collection’s F4U-5NL Bu.124724 (F-AZEG), and TFC’s FM-2 Bu.86711 Wildcat (G-RUMW). The Wildcat broke off first for a solo display, after which the Corsair formation took their turn before a fast and high display in the Bearcat with some great zoom climbs and vertical rolls as well as Pete Kynsey’s trademark 16 point hesitation roll.

A pair of Hawker Hurricanes — Fighter Aviation Engineering’s Mk.I P2902 (G-ROBT) and the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s AE977 (G-CHTK) — gave a nice display with a pairs loop to start with and then some nice passes together, then it was the turn of the Hawker Fury (G-CBEL), an Iraqi Fury rather than a Sea Fury but now painted up as RAF prototype SR661. These were followed by aerobatic displays of Mélanie Astles’ Extra 330 and Steve Jones’ Gamebird GB1. Inbetween these was one of the stars of the show, Fighter Aviation Engineering’s Lockheed 12A Electra Jr G-AFTL, the very aircraft which Sidney Cotton made many clandestine photography flights over Germany and the Middle East in the days before the outbreak of WW2. This aircraft was bought in the US and restored at Sywell flying again a couple of years ago.

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The Flying Bulls gave a superb display with their four aircraft, the first time they have displayed as a four-ship in the UK and the first appearance of their newly acquired and restored Mustang Nooky Booky IV which had previously been based in France for many years. After a few passes as a four-ship, the North American B-25J Mitchell 44-86893 (N6123C) broke off for a solo display, followed by the Lockheed P-38L 44-53254 (N25Y) leading the P-51 and Corsair in an excellent aerobatic routine.

The highlight for me was seeing Mikael Carlson’s Fokker D.VII with its original Mercedes engine together with his Fokker Dr.I, which is powered by a 100hp Le Rhone rotary engine. Both of these aircraft were expertly built by Mikael to original specifications at his home workshop in Sweden and he dismantles them to take them by truck to airshows where they are reassembled on site, test flown, and then its airshow time. His displays are legendary, particularly the aerobatics in the Fokker Dr.I, but he also puts the D.VII through its paces with some tight loops as seen during his test flight earlier in the week. As he can’t fly both together, Stu Goldspink had the honor of flying the Fokker D.VII in the display. They both took off from their parking position across the grass directly into the wind, it was fabulous seeing them cavorting around and then landing back carefully into the wind.

This left just one more item in the display: the nine-ship Spitfire formation. This started with some fast flypasts by the two Griffon-engined Spitfire Mk.XIVs RM927 (G-SIXV) and MV293 (G-SPIT) which the other seven took off and formed up, the two Griffon Spitfires then catching them up for several excellent nine-ship formation flypasts on the last of which they broke up into an exciting tail chase from which five of them landed leaving a formation of three, the Old Flying Machine Company’s  Mk.IX MH434 (G-ASJV) and two Mk.Vs EE602 and EP120 (G-LFVB) gave an aerobatic display, followed most appropriately by the Grace Spitfire ML407 (G-LFIX, flown by Ben Cox on his first public Spitfire display) resplendent in its D-Day stripes to close the main show with several flypasts.

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A fabulous show, the first airshow at Sywell for 10 years, and great to see a new show in the UK at a time when several others have stopped. Let’s hope the organizers are happy with everything and we can be back again next year for one that’s even better.

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