Another year and another Flying Legends show at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. This annual event is organised by The Fighter Collection who aim to bring as many classic aircraft together for a unique and spectacular event. This year saw the return of some old favourites including the Flying Bull’s Lockheed P-38L Lightning and the welcome return of The Fighter Collection’s Goodyear FG-1D Corsair which hasn’t been seen in the sky for three years. This show was also host to not one, but two airshow debuts including the much anticipated Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” from The Fighter Collection as well as the UK mainland debut of Tom Schrade’s Sikorsky S-38 “Osa’s Ark”. The Flying Bulls were also unable to supply to more of their classic Warbirds including their Vought F4U-4 Corsair and North American B-25J Mitchell.
After exploring the museums and the flightline walk I eagerly anticipated the beginning of the show. Flying Legends is traditionally opened by a mass of Spitfires and this year was no different except for one distinctive difference. This year was opened by a trio of Supermarine Spitfires with a Mk. I variant owned by the Aircraft Restoration Company and the other two being Mk. IAs which are owned and operated by Dan and Tom Friedkin and Spitfire the One Ltd respectively, the former making its public airshow debut. This formation of the earliest mark of Spitfire hasn’t been seen in many years and was used as a memorial to Howard Pardue who was tragically killed in the USA whilst flying a Bearcat. Howard was a regular visitor since the beginning of Flying Legends in the early 1990s and was often found flying The Fighter Collection’s Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat or Grumman FM-2 Wildcat. This sedate formation was an ideal tribute to a man who will be missed by many.
Whilst some other components for the flying display were getting ready, the Flying Bull’s Lockheed P-38L Lightning began its display with spectacular style. This year’s routine has massively improved from last year when this spectacular aircraft display at this show for the first time. The display incorporated a lot of topside passes as well as a single pass with the wheels down. Once the Lightning was back on the ground the next display items came in.
This next display began with a formation of seven Supermarine Spitfires and a pair of Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons. Within this formation were seven different versions of the Spitfire including the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Mk. I, The Fighter Collection’s LF. VB and FR. XIVE, Max Alpha Aviation’s HF. VIIIC, the Old Flying Machine Company’s LF. IXB, Richard Lake’s LF. XVIE and Spitfire Warbirds PR. XIX. Once the Buchons had departed the Spitfires split into two groups. The two Griffin powered aircraft paired up and made multiple fast passes whilst the Merlin powered variants began a spectacular tail chase sequence. The two simultaneous displays really made a lasting impression on me and the audience which gave way to the next segment of the display. The two Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons which are operated by the Aircraft Restoration Company and Richard Lake performing a mock airfield attack whilst the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I chased them through the sky.
Upon the Buchons landing, two American Navy heavyweights sped across the crowd line for their displays. This performance came in the form of the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat performed multiple formation passes before performing their solo routines simultaneously. Both these aircraft are owned and operated by The Fighter Collection. The Corsair was acquired by the collection in 1966 and is a very original type and has never had to be restored and is one of the few examples of Corsair with fabric wings that is still flying. It was great to see this aircraft back in the sky again along with the other Warbirds on display. The Bearcat also performed admirably as always due to the fact that is the collection’s longest serving aircraft.
More American air power next with the debut of The Fighter Collection’s most recent restoration which was the eagerly anticipated Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu”. This World War Two fighter-bomber was joined by a Duxford regular which was also used in World War Two. This was obviously the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B”. Snafu remained in a storage container for many years until being obtained by The Fighter Collection where a full restoration was ordered to return this aircraft to flying condition. It wears the scheme of 84th Fighter Squadron P-47D 42-74742 – ‘Snafu’ which was the mount of Lt. Severino B Calderon in 1944. The Flying Fortress performed it’s well polished routine whilst the Thunderbolt performed solo flypasts and aerobatics simultaneously. The raw power of the Thunderbolt was rather sedate due to being in the sky with Sally B but was still great to see this aircraft back in sky which is highly appropriate as Duxford had many Thunderbolts based there. The display was completed with Sally B with the smoke on with Snafu flying in loose formation.
Taking a break from the World War Two theme of the previous performers, we turn back time to World War One with a trio of replica aircraft. The Fokker Dr.1 and Sopwith Triplane replicas are operated as part of the Great War Display Team which was joined by Nieuport 17 replica. This was the first time all three of these replicas have flown together and performed a mock dogfight routine whilst also flying in paired formations along the flightline. This was quite a different display from the usual power experienced from the Spitfires and Mustangs.
Next up was an interlude of a different sort with the aerobatic marvels of The Aerostars with their six Yakovlev Yak 50s which are essentially aerobatic version of the famous Yakovlev Yak 52. After performing formation aerobatics they split into different display components. The first being a solo display from one of the Yaks whilst the other five aircraft fly in formation before splitting into two groups. The first pair of Yaks performed alternate aerobatics and the remaining three demonstrated some more formation flying. The components then reformed and made several more aerobatic passes before breaking at crowd centre to conclude the display.
The theme shifted from World War One and Aerobatics to German aircraft from the Second World War. First up was the Junkers Ju-52/3mg8e “Tempelhof” which is owned and operated by Lufthansa Traditionsflug. Although not as aerobatic or graceful as the other airshow participants, this transport aircraft performed many glorious passes before departing for the next display items. This was due to be in the forms of the highly aerobatic CASA 1-131E Jungmann and the CASA 1-133C Jungmeister but had to be cancelled due to Kennet Aviation’s Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider having to land due to a technical fault. Despite the cancellation we were given an extra pass by the Junkers Ju-52 which was very well received.
Flying in to begin its display was the Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 owned by Christophe Jacquard. Unlike many of the warbirds at this show, this one has smoke generators on its wing tips. This particular smoke formed into spectacular rings which would usually be flown through by the pilot but the weather conditions made this impossible. Despite the setback, this Sea Fury was one of the major display highlights of the show.
A duet of the Curtiss Hawks was next up to entertain the crowds. These included the Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 and the Curtiss P-40F Kittyhawk Mk. II from The Fighter Collection. After making a single formation pass they split up for their simultaneous routine. Whilst the Hawk 75 performed solo aerobatics and tight turns, the Kittyhawk made very fast passes along the crowd line. The Hawks duo display was great to see despite the Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA was unable to join the routine on the Sunday when I attended the show.
Russia is next to take centre stage in the form of a trio of Yak fighters including Paul Vogelsegang’s Yakovlev Yak 3M, Paul Boschung’s Yakovlev Yak 9UM and the welcome return of Rob Davies who bailed out of his Mustang at Flying Legends last year during a mid air collision. This time he was flying his LET C-11. The display consisted of the Yak 3M and C-11 tail chasing each other whilst the Yak 9UM performed a spirited routine at crowd centre.
We turn back time yet again but this time in the 1930’s with the Hawker Nimrod I and Hawker Nimrod II operated by The Fighter Collection and Historic Aircraft Collection respectively. They performed a very elegant and graceful aerobatic routine with highly polished turns. It was unfortunate that the routine was somewhat spoiled by the dark clouds that started to descend upon the airfield.
The worsening conditions did not bother the display of the next item one bit. This display consisted of another trio of World War Two fighters but time they are American. These were the ‘Cadillac’s of the Skies’ or as they are better know, the North American P-51 Mustang. This trio consisted of “Dream Girl” from Max Alpha Aviation, “Ferocious Frankie” from the Old Flying Machine Company and “Miss Velma” from The Fighter Collection. Just like display of the Yak fighters, this routine consisted of two simultaneous elements. Whilst “Dream Girl” and “Miss Velma” performed a tail chase sequence, “Ferocious Frankie” displayed a brilliantly choreographed solo routine. Although not as thrilling as last year’s Mustang display this was still a very impressive routine.
A more unusual duo of aircraft next took to the skies as rather than being famous fighters, bombers or ground attack aircraft, they are famous for their short field performance and manoeuvrability. These were of cause the Fieseler Fi-156A-1 Storch owned by Peter Holloway and the Westland Lysander Mk. IIIA owned by The Shuttleworth Trust. Both these aircraft hail from The Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden and many thanks to them for still performing despite the death of Trevor Roach in the De Havilland DH.53 Hummingbird which crashed on the 1st July during a display at Old Warden. The routine consisted of both aircraft demonstrating their manoeuvrability in the high winds with some immaculate tight turns. The Storch was brilliant at showing of its near hover in the sky and the Lysander clearly showed that as well as being highly manoeuvrable it was also a very resilient aircraft.
The next routine consisted of a rarely seen duo of aircraft. This included the return to Flying Legends of Plane Sailing’s Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A now displaying the nose art “Miss Pick Up” as well as the UK airshow debut of Tom Schrade’s Sikorsky S-38B Replica which was painted as “Osa’s Ark”. The pair never actually joined in formation but did perform alternating flypasts. The display was quite stretched out due to the wide turning circles of the aircraft but this was forgotten due to the rarity of seeing two different amphibious aircraft in the air together as well as the unusual appearance of the S-38.
Sticking with a similarly watery theme, we shift to two historic aircraft of the Royal Navy which are firm Flying Legends regulars. First up was the Fairey Swordfish Mk. II which was restored to flight in 2010. The display was particularly special due to the weather finely improving and allowing the crowds to truly appreciate this brilliant biplane. Next up we were treated to another variant of the Sea Fury in the form of the Hawker Sea Fury T.20 which was the last piston engine frontline fighter used by the Royal Navy and was even successful in the Korean war by shooting down an enemy MiG jet fighter. Both these aircraft performed really well and were incredibly entertaining to watch.
Some die hard Legends fans may not think that the next item belongs in the display among the classic fighters. I personally disagree due to the significance of these training aircraft which were used by the United States to train future pilots. These are of course the pair of Boeing-Stearman Kaydets of the Breitling Wingwalkers with the glamorous young ladies on the top of the wings. They performed some spectacular aerobatics as well as close formation flying and crossovers with plenty of smoke (*cough*). This was great addition to the line up and was thoroughly entertaining.
No Flying Legends would be complete without probably the most famous military transport aircraft of the Second World War. This is of course, the Douglas DC-3C Dakota. This particular Skytrooper is operated by the Dakota Norway Foundation and was thrown about the sky like some of the previous fighters. The sun reflected of the shiny silver of the Skytrooper and really enhanced the display. If there was an award for best kept aircraft, this one would win hands down.
The final display of the main show was finally upon us. This was in the form of a classic utility aircraft which played the role of what a business jet is used for today. The Fighter Collection’s Beechcraft D-17S Staggerwing performed a rather sedate but impressive performance with powerful passes with plenty of varied angles.
But this was not the last event we would witness at Flying Legends. That falls to probably the greatest airshow finale in the UK which can old be witnessed at this show. This is, of course, The Balbo Formation. The start of this mass formation always starts with the mass takeoff of the participants of the formation. Whilst the aircraft form up en mass, Stephen Grey takes off in the Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat to perform the role of “The Joker” to entertain the crowds.
After departing, the formation approaches and the rumbling of the different engines is getting louder and louder. The formation is divided into eight groups of two or three aircraft. The first group of the formation consists of the heavyweights in the form of the Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” leading the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair. Next up was a combination of American fighter and British Naval power with the North American P-51D Mustang “Ferocious Frankie” leading the Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 and Hawker Sea Fury T.20. The third group was a mixture of fighters used by the ‘Allies’ in World War Two with the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IXT leading the North American TF-51D Mustangs “Dream Girl” and “Miss Velma” with the Yakovlev Yak 3M and Yakovlev Yak 9UM following behind. Former advisories came along next with the Supermarine Spitfire FR. XIVE leading a pair of Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons. Coming in next was a duo of British World War Two fighters consisting of a Supermarine Spitfire LF. VB and a Supermarine Spitfire PR. XIX. The sixth group consisted of even more Spitfire action with a trio of Spitfires including a Supermarine Spitfire HF. VIIIC, Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXB and Supermarine Spitfire LF. XVIE. The Hawk trio makes a triumphant return in the seventh group with the Curtiss Hawk 75A-1, Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA and Curtiss P-40F Kittyhawk Mk. II. Finally, bringing up the rear was the Lockheed P-38L Lightning which departed once the formation had made its first pass.
After making another pass, the formation broke into two big groups which then made their respective passes before splitting into the seven remaining groups of aircraft which made individual flypasts before peeling off to lands.
Once the last aircraft at touched down, that signalled the end of another highly successful Flying Legends. The undoubted star of the show was the fantastically restored Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” but there were so many other brilliant displays. Major highlights also included the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and the Hawker Sea Fury FB.11. It was also great to see the Lockheed P-38L Lightning again since we only saw its debut display last year. This year’s Flying Legends has surpassed my expectations and was defiantly one of the best shows that I have attended so far. I look forward to attending Flying Legends in 2013 at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford.
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