Elliott Marsh's 2010 blogGAR Entries

JUL 09 2010
Elliott's Flying Legends Preview

It has certainly been an exciting, tiring, wonderful few weeks for all at the Global Aviation Resource camp. We're currently approaching the end of the mid-summer airshow push, having taken in Cosford, Kemble, Biggin Hill and Waddington, amongst others, in the last few weeks. We've had some superb shows already this year, a trend set to continue this weekend at The Fighter Collection's Flying Legends airshow at Duxford.

Flying Legends has given me a spectacular catalogue of memories over the years: nine P-51D Mustangs tailchasing at low level behind three B-25 Mitchells; four Skyraiders wheeling round the sky; a quartet of Corsairs in formation; five Griffon engine Spitfires beating up the tank bank; two Junkers Ju-52s; the UK debut of the Horsemen Mustang team from the USA; two Grumman F3F biplanes; three Bristol F2b Fighters; a pair of Catalinas sharing the same piece of sky; Constellations in 1998 and 2004, and more recently, a sight I thought I'd never see - the menacing duo of FW-190 and Messerschmitt Me-109, flying against the backdrop of seven Spitfires. These are just some of the magnificent aircraft we've been privy to since Flying Legends stormed onto the circuit in 1994.

The 2009 show is a very difficult one to beat. Despite the vast majority of TFC fleet grounded due to Civil Aviation Authority permit issues, Stephen Grey and company managed a fantastic display, which was widely acknowledged at the time as one of the best 'Legends shows ever, with more European warbirds, many of whom were making their debuts, than any year since the late 1990s on show. So what can we expect in 2010?

Well, having spent Thursday at Duxford, I can say with a great deal of certainty that we're guaranteed another cracking show. With almost non-stop flying from 10am through to 6pm, Thursday's arrival and practice day offered some spectacular flying from both the local residents and some very welcome European visitors, with visiting pilots from the continent greeted by old friends and new colleagues. Highlights amongst the aircraft already at Duxford are the German contingent of Polikarpov I-16 Rata - full of grunt and agricultural Russian charisma - and the Bremgarten-based Meier Motors trio of Corsair, Spitfire VIII and TF-51D Mustang, the latter making its UK debut. Returning to Duxford after more than a decade is French-based Douglas Skyraider 127002/F-AZHK, resplendent in a stunning French Navy scheme.

My personal favourite routine of the day was that of the Sea Fury pair - Nick Grey and Frédéric Akary beating up the airfield in a spectacular 'ultimate big pistons tailchase'; a real adrenaline rush that will surely be one of the high points of the weekend. The rest of the day saw some excellent flying from the local aircraft; it was particularly nice to see Stephen Grey and Steve Hinton enjoying the Grumman F8-F Bearcat, an aircraft sorely missed at least year's show. Stephen in particular seemed to be very happy to be back in the driver's seat!

The weekend's programme offers your usual 'Legends favourites and some interesting formations: eight Spitfires tailchasing, six P-51D Mustangs sharing the same piece of sky, three Douglas Skyraiders for the first time since the late 1990s, two Sea Furies, a Hawker biplane formation of Demon, Hind and Nimrod, three Yak 3/9s and the I-16...the list goes on. As an enthusiast, what more could you possibly want?!

I'm quite astounded that there have been a number of comments on the usual internet forums suggesting that this year's show looks lacklustre. Sure, we don't have the FW-190 and the three B-25s, for example (no fault of the organisers, I add!), but look at it this way: what other show in the UK or Europe offers the quantity and quality of warbird action that we see year after year at Flying Legends? Indeed, the majority of visiting aircraft are seldom seen in mainland Europe, let alone at other UK venues.

Flying Legends is always one of the highlights of the season and this year, I'm sure, will be no exception. Looking across the flightline as I left Duxford on Thursday evening, it struck me how lucky we are to see 'new' warbirds making their debuts at a time when many airshows offer very similar line-ups. It is painful to even consider the vast amounts of money spent to bring these aircraft to the UK annually for our pleasure. Just go along and indulge yourself in pure 'Warbird Heaven' - there really is nothing else like it in Europe.

I can't draw this entry to a close without mentioning the recent announcement confirming that Air Displays International will no longer be organising the Biggin Hill International Air Fair, leaving the future of air displays at Biggin in doubt. I'm not going to comment further on the reasons why Biggin Hill Airport Ltd terminated their contract with Air Displays International; nor will I address the potential for future events at the venue. This isn't the time for speculation. All I will say is that, from the perspective of a lifelong enthusiast who enjoyed some 18 or so events at Biggin Hill, be they Air Fairs or the Battle of Britain Open Days, it is absolutely gutting news.

The airshow scene will undoubtedly suffer the loss of this longest running of shows, regardless of the format the event may return under new management. It has been suggested on some forums that the Air Fair is in need of new blood and new passion at the helm. The 2010 Air Fair was, in my opinion, the best in over a decade. The Battle of Britain set piece was as close to a spiritual experience as you're likely to get at an airshow. I certainly didn't come away questioning whether the organisers still had the passion and drive to succeed; quite the opposite, in fact!

Time will tell what the future holds for Biggin Hill, but for now, Air Displays International: you have my thanks, those of a grateful band of enthusiasts, and those of tens of thousands of people who have enjoyed 48 years of some of the finest, most original air displays this country has offered. If 2010 was the end, then my word, what a way to go out. In reflection, it makes Nigel Lamb's beautiful sunset display in Spitfire IX MH434 all the more poignant; the only way you could bring the curtain down on the last Air Displays International organiser air display at this most historic of airfields.

I would also encourage those who continue to cast wide, often unfair, criticisms at British airshows to sit back and take a moment to contemplate what this week has shown us: embrace what we still have, enjoy the pleasures we are still afforded every week from May to October and appreciate the continued efforts of a select few individuals who, against spiralling costs and ever diminishing budgets, do their absolute best to entertain us for a few hours during the summer. I urge you all, wherever you are, to get out there and enjoy your aviation. You never know when that which we take for granted will be consigned to the history books.

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