This year’s Flying Legends really did hit the mark. And that’s not just my own personal opinion, which may not have been the most robust given it was only my second outing at the show. Aviation enthusiasts all over the web were generally in agreement that Stephen Grey and his Legends team had pulled out all the stops in terms of aircraft participation and the usual high tempo flying display so highly regarded as part of the ‘theatre’ that is Legends.
It's fair to say it could all have been so different given the ‘grounding’ of much of the The Fighter Collection (TFC) fleet due to issues with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). An audit of paperwork connected with many airframes in the collection was unfortunately timed, to say the least, depriving the public the chance to witness the full might of the TFC fleet. With an effort akin to much of the war time spirit Duxford is famed for, it didn’t feel remotely like there were big holes in the flying programme.
Almost 30,000 people packed into Duxford over the course of the Legends weekend. The weather was in the most part kind, after a somewhat miserable start to Saturday, conditions improved through the day and Sunday was very pleasant indeed, just what the airshow public and ice cream sellers hope for in mid-July.
Headlining the event was the one off UK appearance by ‘The Horsemen’, the world’s only P-51 Mustang display team. Known as one of the most highly sought after airshow acts on the North American show circuit, team leader Jim Beasley led the trio of Mustangs through a tight, close formation routine using the ‘borrowed’ European based Mustangs, ‘Miss Velma’, ‘Big Beautiful Doll’ and ‘Ferocious Frankie.’ Jim flies a variety of types including the T6-Texan, F8F Bearcat and has also recently acquired a Spitfire Mk XVIII. He is also one of only twelve civilian pilots licensed to fly as part of the USAF Heritage Flight.
Possibly the biggest ‘solo’ highlight of the display was French warbird collector Christian Jacquard’s Flug Werk FW190A-8/N which had only returned to the skies on 9th May. The markings depict the type as flown by Lieutenant Horst Hannig when serving with 2/JG at Tricqueville in 1942 and together with Spitfire Ltd’s HA-1112-M1L Buchon they formed a German double act behind the opening Spitfire tail chase salvo.
Last year’s Legends boasted a trio of B-17s and in turn this year there were no less than three examples of the North American B-25 Mitchell. Vulcan Warbirds' B-25D ‘Grumpy’ had already made an impression on me at the 2009 Spring Airshow so to see her in tandem with the B-25J models of both the Royal Netherlands Historic Flight and Societe de Developpement et de Promotion de l’Aviation (SDPA) attractively camouflaged example was a real treat. Also joining them in their formation sequence was the P-40N Warhawk owned by Christian Amara.
Returning to the UK display circuit after an absence of almost 20 years was Sea Fury T.20 WG655. Making it a Fury double debut was Fury ISS 37514 owned by Frederick Akary, the aircraft in the colours of The Royal Australian Navy as worn in the 1950s. The T.20 example was ultimately restored by Sanders Aeronautics in the USA and was packed in a container for shipment to Duxford prior to the show.
A trio of Yak fighters was also a highlight of the show. Alain Capel’s Yak-3U and Paul Boschung’s Yak-9UM were joined by Chris Vogelgesang’s light blue Yak-3UA. The latter was involved in the only minor accident of the weekend, suffering a tailwheel collapse on landing but still managed to be repaired for Sunday’s show.
It was good to see the meaty hulk of two AD-4NA Skyraiders in the display comprising Kennet Aviation’s example and Jean Salis’ welcomingly dirty looking example in the US Navy markings of VA-176 Thunderbolts.
Sadly the duo of B-17s wasn’t to be given Sally B’s further recent set back but Association Fortresse Toujours Volant en France flew the flag for the big veteran bomber with Pink Lady.
Other ‘heavies’ in the flying display included the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster, the Dakota Foundation’s C-53D Skytrooper and the ever magnificent Lufthansa Tradiotnsflug’s Ju-52.
As ever the finale ‘Balbo’ was a stirring sight and sound. The ‘Joker’ routine prelude to the balbo was this year provided by Frederick Akary’s Fury expertly flown by Stephen Grey. The balbo itself was led by Miss Velma alongside Ferocious Frankie and the Fw-190 with Spitfires, a further Mustang and the two Skyraiders tucked in behind.
Legends is truly a show to enjoy for many reasons, the history connected with Duxford as an airfield, the atmosphere, the tempo of the flying and the feeling that so many people care passionately about these wonderful aircraft of yesterday.
I’ll leave the last word to the man himself, Stephen Grey; "Superb weather, outstanding flying, good friends, great atmosphere and we still managed to pull off our traditional surprise participants, with the Sea Fury T.20 and Focke Wulf 190. We are already working on ideas for next year's Flying Legends." I’m certainly looking forward to it.
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