Once again I have returned to one of the best warbird shows in the world. This is of course Flying Legends held each year at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. Everytime this show is held there is nearly always one or more debuts, welcoming a new warbird into the fray of flying displays and this year was not different. But this year also had several farewells.
After more than thirty years of service, ‘The Boss’ – Stephen Grey would be performing his final public display appearance. It would also turn out to be the final public display by the Fighter Collection’s Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” before it would be dismantled and shipped to the United States of American under new ownership after only debuting at Flying Legends in 2012.
Onto the newcomers to the circuit beginning with Frederick Akary in his North American P-51D Mustang “Moonbeam McSwine” which was making its first display in the UK having usually be shown flying his Hawker Sea Fury FB.10. There was also the excellent addition of Jan Roozen’s Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIA which displayed in New Zealand before being delivered to its new home in France. But the most eagerly anticipated debut was by the Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator Mk. II which was joined by the Shuttleworth Collection’s example to fly together, a sight that hasn’t been seen since the 1940’s.
Unfortunately, over the weekend there were several cancellations. The North American P-51D Mustang “Miss Helen” and the Flying Bull’s Lockheed P-38L Lightning were unable to appear due to engine troubles whilst the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish Mk. II and the Shuttleworth Collection’s Hawker Hind were reduced to static display only due to technical difficulties. When I attended the show, on the Sunday I was also disappointed to see that the Fighter Collection’s Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA and Grumman FM-2 Wildcat would also not be flying although the former did fly in the Balbo Formation.
In light of Stephen Grey retiring from airshow flying, it was very fitting that he open the show with a storming solo display in the Fighter Collection’s longest serving member, the Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat. The display was also accompanied by some of Stephen’s favourite music in the form of Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, a highly appropriate song that went well with the Bearcat’s throaty growl of its engine. After this highly entertaining display was concluded, ‘The Boss’ received a massive round of applause from the crowds when taxiing back to the flightline and when he was driven along the crowd line in a jeep. A fitting finale to an amazing career.
Next up was the highly anticipated appearance of the Bremont Horseman Flight Team who were flying Supermarine Spitfires for the first time. The team formed a trio of ‘baby spits’ including the Fighter Collection’s LF. VB which was joined by a pair of Mk. IAs. The team flew in tight formation with a series of loops and even a few quarter clovers thrown in before concluding their routine. Music also accompanied this display with the compositions James Horner.
Although not the same aircraft, the next display items are powered by the same engine. This was the pair of Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons which performed a formation aerobatic routine as a prelude to the next display. More Supermarine Spitfires then came into the fray with the Old Flying Machine Company’s LF. IXB, Air Leasing’s Mk. IXT, the Fighter Collection’s FR. XIVE and Richard Lake’s LF. XVIE which joined up with the Buchons in a very fast and intense tail chase with half the aircraft flying over the grass runway and others over the hard runway. Although the number of Spitfires was down this year, it did allow for a more intense display.
Some American icons from the Second World War took off to display next in the form of Duxford’s most famous resident, the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” which was also joined by the Fighter Collection’s Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu”. The pair flew a synchronized display although the Thunderbolt was a bit distant during its performance before the pair did a single pass during the Flying Fortress’s ‘smoking engines’ pass.
Earlier American fighters took centre stage with a trio of aircraft built by Curtiss. Among the formation was the Fighter Collection’s Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 and Curtiss P-40F Kittyhawk Mk. II which were joined by the Curtiss P-40N Warhawk Mk. IV from the Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis. The trio split into two groups with the P-40F performing solo passes whilst the other two sped across the grass runway.
Another regular visitor to the Flying Legends show was the Lufthansa Junkers Ju-52/3mg8e “Tempelhof” which has been displaying at this particular show for many years and put on its usual polished routine whilst a stunning aerobatic display was flown by Anna Walker in the CASA 1-131E Jungmann and concluding this German duo.
Classic naval fighters were next on the agenda with the pairing of Christophe Jacquard’s Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 in Royal Australian Navy colours and the Flying Bulls’ Vought F4U-4 Corsair in United States Navy colours. The duo performed a varied display with the Fury making shapes in the sky with its wing-tip smoke generators in the sky whilst the Corsair charged through low and fast past the crowd line.
Next up to display was the graceful aerobatic marvels of The Aerostars which fly a formation of six Yakovlev Yak 50s which are the aerobatic version of the classic Yakovlev Yak 52. The team flew a stunning display of majestic aerobatics featuring formations and solo manoeuvres and were highly entertaining despite being somewhat overshadowed at a show like Flying Legends.
It was now time for the stars of the show to display, featuring the ever familiar shape of the Shuttleworth Collection’s Gloster Gladiator Mk. I and making its debut, was the Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator Mk. II. The sight of two of these classic fighters together probably hasn’t been seen since they were in service in the 1940’s. The pair flew a series of formation passes before dividing into two separate segments with the Mk. I flying low and fast along the crowd line whilst the Mk. II performed a series of rolls and loops high up in the sky.
Kicking the speed and noise up a few notches was a Flying Legends staple, the Mustang Tailchase which aims to show the true power of the North American P-51 Mustang. This year’s display featured four aircraft including the P-51C “Princess Elizabeth” from the Commanche Fighters LLC, the P-51D “Nooky Booky IV” from the Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis collection, the TF-51D “Miss Velma” from the Fighter Collection which flew a stunningly fast tailchase sequence whilst debuting at Flying Legends was Frederick Akary’s newly acquired P-51D “Moonbeam McSwine” who performed an aerobatic sequence among the howling Merlin engines. This year’s display was certainly superior to last year’s trio and will hopefully maintain this standard for years to come.
Toning down the pace some more was a special formation with multiple examples of aircraft built by Hawker Aircraft. Unfortunately the Shuttleworth Collection’s Hawker Hind was unable to join the formation due to technical problems. Opening the display routine was a single flypast consisting of Demon Displays’ Hawker Demon I, the Fighter Collection’s Hawker Nimrod I, the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Nimrod II and Jan Friso Roozen’s Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIA which was making its UK airshow debut after recently being shipped from New Zealand to its new home in France. The formation then split into two interlocked routines with the trio of silver biplanes performing some sedate passes before transitioning into a graceful tail chase whilst the Hurricane made several fast passes through this segment. The Hurricane then took centre stage with a stunning solo performance with as much grace as the biplanes from before. I certainly hope a five-ship of the Hawker biplanes can be achieved at future incarnations of this show but the Hurricane certainly was the star of this display.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performed on both days and on the Sunday I attended the Avro Lancaster B.I and Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC arrived together in typically fantastic fashion before peeling off to perform individual routines before joining up again to perform a final flypast before departing back to their home base at RAF Coningsby.
We once again go on another more sedate section of the flying display with a pair of Piper J-3C-65 Cubs alongside a singular Piper J-3C-90 Cub. Despite their small size the training trio did a good job covering the whole crowd line with a combination of formations, tail chases and solo manoeuvres and was highly entertaining.
Returning again to Flying Legends is the trio of Russian fighter, featuring the Yakovlev Yak 3M, Paul Boschung’s Yakovlev Yak 9UM and Rob Davies’ LET C-11 which is a Czech built version of the Yakovlev Yak 11. The fighters flew a few passes in formation before the Yak 3M separated to perform an aerobatic routine whilst the remaining par thundered along the crowd line at high speed. This particular display was by far one of the major highlights due to in no small part to the pilots who have definitely refined the display since last year’s show.
Due to the Fighter Collection’s Grumman FM-2 Wildcat being unable to display, it was left to the return of another single engine ‘heavy’ to entertain the crowds on its own. This was the Grumman TBM-3R Avenger which was formally flown at airshows by Tony Haig-Thomas and is now owned and flown by Charlie’s Heavies. This powerful warbird flew a very tight routine close to the crowds and a particular highlight was when the bomb doors were opened to reveal a dummy torpedo. It was great to see a different warbirds returning to Legends after many years absence.
More naval flying was demonstrated with the solo Hawker Sea Fury T.20 from the Royal Navy Historic Flight which flew a very tight and punchy display and conclude this naval segment very nicely. This more than made up for the lack of the Swordfish due to technical problems.
Something a little different to the usual power and fury of most warbirds were once again present at this year’s show. This display consisted of Peter Holloway’s Fieseler Fi-156A-1 Storch and the Shuttleworth Collection’s Westland Lysander Mk. III. This sedate duet though not as enthralling as their performances at their home base at Old Warden, they were very entertaining and the Storch in particular much like the Cubs from earlier stayed very low and close to the crowd line giving us a very good view of this magnificent aircraft.
A lesser known warbird took to the skies next in the form of Daniel Koblet’s Morane-Saulnier D-3801 which is a Swiss built version of the Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 which is now painted in Swiss Air Force markings. This aircraft has displayed at Legends in the past but definitely not as good as this performance and I hope this lesser known gem returns to more shows in the future.
We concluded the main part of the flying display with another very regular visitor to Legends in the form of the immaculately polished Douglas DC-3C Dakota which is owned by Dakota Norway. This shining example of the famous American transport aircraft looked fantastic against the sunlight during its display and upon landing the next major part of the show was set in motion.
The Balbo Formation is one of the most spectacular sights in the airshow season and although not as large as the early incarnations, is still very impressive. Once the masses of warbirds have taken off and start forming in the distance, The Joker takes to the skies to entertain the crowds.
The Joker’s routine has usually been performed by Stephen Grey in his Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat but in light of his retirement to airshow flying his son, Nick Grey flew this routine in the Fighter Collection’s most recently restored aircraft, the Gloster Gladiator Mk. II and performed one of the best displays of the entire show in the early evening light and kept the crowds entertained until the finale came into view.
This year’s formation consisted of twenty-one aircraft on the Sunday that I attended and the sound was absolutely breathtaking. The formation was separated into several groups of different aircraft.
The first group was formed of the Fighter Collection’s Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” and North American TF-51D Mustang “Miss Velma” alongside the Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis’ North American P-51D Mustang “Nooky Booky IV”. The second group included the Flying Bulls’ Vought F4U-4 Corsair, the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury T.20 and Christophe Jacquard’s Hawker Sea Fury FB.11. The third group was led by the Fighter Collection’s Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 which was flanked by the Yakovlev Yak 3UA and Yakovlev Yak 9UM. The fourth group consisted of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon, the Commanche Fighters LLC’s North American P-51C Mustang “Princess Elizabeth” and Frederick Akary’s North American P-51D Mustang “Moonbeam McSwine”. The fifth group featured Richard Lake’s Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon and his Supermarine Spitfire LF. XVIE as well as the Old Flying Machine Company’s Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXB. The sixth group was made up of the pairing of the Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA and the Curtiss P-40N Warhawk Mk. IV from the Fighter Collection and the Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis respectively. The final group in the formation was a fourship of Supermarine Spitfires including the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s Mk. IA, Air Leasing’s Mk. IXT and the Fighter Collection’s LF. VB and FR. XIVE.
The formation then split into two sections before dividing into smaller groups as each segment peels away to prepare to land. This was truly one of best formations that Legends have put on in recent years.
With such a great show there were several highlights which reflect the fantastic quality of the flying display. In particular I feel that the North American P-51 Mustangs and the pair of Gloster Gladiators were among the greatest displays and I also feel that the Grumman TBM-3R Avenger and the trio of Yakovlev fighters also deserve a mention.
I look forward to returning to Flying Legends in the future.
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