FLYING LEGENDS 2011, DUXFORD
Review and all photography by Simon Fenwick
For Jeremy Welsman's Diecast Review of Flying Legends, please click HERE
For Jeremy Welsman's Diecast Review of Flying Legends, please click HERE
Flying Legends is surely the foremost airshow in the world that is dedicated entirely to historic piston engined aircraft. Organised by the Duxford Based Fighter Collection in association with the Imperial War Museum, ‘Legends’ always springs a few surprises which are made all the more exciting because, bar a few exceptions, those surprises are kept secret until the show itself. Most shows announce their list of participants sometimes weeks in advance and then visitors are disappointed when something fails to appear, often for technical reasons. Not so with this show as the flying list is only fully apparent once you arrive for the show itself. As it was, a total of four aircraft didn’t make it due to the weather on the other side of the English Channel. These included Max Alpha Aviation’s TF-51 Mustang and Spitfire Mk.VIII and Christophe Jacquard’s Sea Fury FB.11 – this was particularly disappointing as this machine is fitted with wingtip smoke generators and would have been a real treat. However, there were plenty more treats in store over the two days of the show and it is to be hoped that it will be remembered for those rather than the incidents that happened on Sunday afternoon, of which more anon.
For many, the best way to get into the spirit of the event is to take the Flightline Walk, for a close up view (well as close as Health & Safety permits) of the aircraft, most of which will take part in the flying display later in the day. Here one can see the massed ranks of Spitfires, Mustangs and all the other participants. For the first time since the making of the Battle Of Britain film, there were three Hispano Buchons lined up together along with three Douglas Skyraiders, four members of the Hawker biplane family. The far end of the line resembled Croydon Airport in its heyday with a Dragon Rapide, two De Havilland Dragons and a Junkers JU52 all in attendance with period registrations.
This time last year it would have been impossible to see four members of the Curtis Hawk dynasty together and ready for flying. Over from France once again was Christian Amara’s P40N Warhawk and it was joined by two of the Fighter Collection’s fleet making a return to the sky this season. These were the P36 Hawk 75 and Pearl Harbour veteran P40B. The star of this group however was the first showing of TFC’s latest member of the family in the shape of the Merlin engined P40F Warhawk. This had only arrived in a container after painstaking restoration in Australia, only a matter of days before the show. Cutting it close doesn’t come into it as one could view the final touches being put to the aircraft out on the flightline early on the Saturday morning, supervised by Steve Hinton who then took it for the first flight later in the morning prior to it taking part in the flying display in the afternoon.
Steve Hinton, in fact had been kept very busy over the preceding couple of weeks, as he also put together two other kits of parts. These were the two P51D Mustangs, ‘Fragile But Agile’ and ‘February’ from Commanche Fighters in the USA and which were to be used by The Flying Horsemen. The former of these two was actually familiar to Duxford regulars as it was previously owned by The Fighter Collection and named ‘Twilight Tear’.
Many visitors to Duxford remember TFC’s previous Republic P-47 ‘No Guts No Glory’ and still shed a tear over its departure to the USA. On public view for the first time however was their ‘new’ razorback example. This is the P-47G-10 ‘Snafu’ (an old wartime acronym meaning Situation Normal All F***ked Up!). Following a five-year overhaul, immense effort was put in by TFC’s engineers to have it on show at this year’s Legends. Painted to represent an aircraft of 84th FS/78th FG which was based at Duxford in 1944. The famous Duxford ‘black and white checkers” are back! There is a few months of work left to carry out to make it airworthy but the wait will be worth it to see a ‘Jug’ back in the skies over Cambridgeshire.
Just before 2.00pm there was the sound of engines starting and then it started. Flying Legends is well known for its all action format. Some takeoff to hold, others are landing and all the while there are displays taking place. The first sequence was very much the Battle Of Britain film revisited with Spitfires, a lone Hurricane and the three Buchons representing the enemy. Following a formation flypast featuring all of these, the Buchons flew in from crowd rear – special dispensation having been granted – Cliff Spink, John Romain and Charlie Brown gave a very polished display starting with formation rolls and followed by a tailchase. The Hurricane and Spitfire Mk.I flew together and the sequence ended with the main Spitfire group carrying out the traditional Duxford tailchase while TFC’s Mk.XIVE and the French PR.XIX flew through low and fast.
There then followed an extensive US interlude commencing with the US Navy in the shape of three Douglas Skyraiders, the Grumman Bearcat and Chance Vought Corsair. While two of the Skyraiders diced above, the fully ‘tooled up’ version did the low and fast bit. Unfortunately, on Sunday, this was where the first of three incidents happened when the pilot of the solo machine appeared to come in slightly too early and had to pull out due to Spitfires landing beneath him. He was asked to abort his display by Show Control. Following the AD-4s, TFC’s Bearcat in the hands of Pete Kynsey and Max Alpha Aviation’s Corsair in it’s new and somewhat menacing mat black Korean colours and flown by Brian Smith showed off yet more power from the big radial engines.
Then it was the turn of the USAAF. Following The Flying Horsemen’s very tight display in their P-51Ds ‘Fragile But Agile’ & ‘February’, we were treated to another Duxford tradition, the Mustang Tailchase. Led by Alister Kay in ‘Ferocious Frankie’, this also featured TFC’s ‘Miss Velma’, Rob Davies returning to the cockpit of ‘Big Beautiful Doll’ and ‘Nooky Booky IV’ from France. At the end of their piece, ‘Frankie’ & ‘Miss Velma’ peeled off to accompany the B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally B’ as her ‘little friends’ for one pass before Peter Kuypers flew the big and much loved bomber for his first display as captain.
Something far more gentle then took to the air harking back to the Glory Days of interwar air travel. With Mark Miller in his gorgeous Dragon Rapide, he was joined by two earlier Dragons owned by Torquil Norman and making its first visit across the Irish Sea, the newly restored example from Aer Lingus.
The next two items were definitely a case of ‘little and large’ with the BBMF’s mighty Lancaster being followed by the amazing antics of Mikael Carlsson in his Fokker Dr.1 Triplane replica. To watch his display, one would think he was flying some sort of aerobatic aircraft and not a replica WWI aircraft! Unfortunately, he rather came to grief, thankfully without any injury, on Sunday when the aircraft ended up on its nose on landing.
Continuing the German theme on from the DR.1 there was the wonderful Junkers JU.52 from Lufthansa Traditionsflug and the CASA ES-1 Jungmeister of John Brander illustrating the transport and training aircraft of the WWII Luftwaffe.
Over the past few years, TFC has had some problems which have led to much of their fleet being grounded. However, 2011 has seen the return to the air of more of their aircraft including the Curtiss Hawk 75 and P-40B. This meant that along with Christian Amara’s P40N Warhawk and the new TFC P40F, Legends visitors were treated to the sight of four of the Curtiss fighters in formation together for the first time in the UK since the Second World War. This certainly applied to the P40F, being as it is one of the very rare Merlin powered examples.
In 2010, Legends witnessed the unique opportunity since the 1930s of seeing three Kestrel engined Hawker biplanes together. With the return to the air of TFC’s Nimrod I, this year we had four. While the Demon and Shuttleworth’s Hind flew together, the two Nimrods, including Charlie Brown in the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Mk.II, performed formation aerobatics above. Soon there will be a fifth of this classic line in action as HAC’s glorious restoration of the world’s only flyable Fury was on view in one of the hangars. Test flying was due to commence as soon as paperwork permitted.
Next it was the turn of British naval aircraft. It is a delight to welcome back the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish. This famous aircraft has been through a painstaking and at times troublesome restoration and it is clear that the crew relish the opportunity to display the aircraft once again. Also representing the RNHF was the Sea Fury T.20 flown by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke. Another T.20 is the silver example owned by TFC and this displayed with Frederic Akary’s Iraqi Fury ISS which was flown with real power and panache.
Prior to 2011, the Flying Bulls had never visited the UK for a display. Based in Austria and financed by Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz, their ever growing collection includes Douglas DC-6, Alpha Jets and B-25 Mitchell among the fleet. Over at Duxford for Flying Legends were the aircraft which started off the collection, the Corsair F4U and the stunning P-38L Lightining. Some people complain about the fact that the aircraft feature the Red Bull branding, but in this writer’s view, if this keeps the aircraft where they should be – in the air – then no complaints are justified. The Lightning in particular had very little combat history and spent most of its life as a heavily modified air racer, particularly in the hands of air race legend Marvin ‘Lefty’ Gardner’ who painted it red, white and blue and named it ‘White Lightning’. The exceedingly shiny current chrome scheme really shows off this amazingly agile machine.
World War One was next and featured an excellent representation of a dogfight between Rob Gauld-Gaultiers’ Nieuport 17 replica and John Day in his Fokker Dr.1 replica. As can be seen from the photographs, they were certainly ‘dicing’.
As we come towards the end of another Legends flying display, Paul Boschung took to the air in his Yak 9UM along with the Morane D-3801 (licence built MS.406), now operated by Mobile Air Services in Switzerland.
It is not often that anything other than a sedate display is seen from the famous Douglas DC-3/C-47, but 2010 witnessed a stunning routine from Dakota Norway in their C-53 version. They were joined this year by a Legends debutant. This was the C-47B from Association Normandie. A true D-Day veteran, this ‘natural metal’ machine, together with the Norwegian aircraft gave a fantastic display.
While the Dakotas were displaying, Stephen Grey took off in his Bearcat signalling the start of the Legends finale. While he played ‘The Joker’, 28 aircraft took off to form up and fly through in The Balbo, the traditional end to every Flying Legends. Carefully organised by TFC’s chief pilot, Pete Kynsey, and led by him in TF-51 Mustang ‘Miss Velma’, this is always an aural assault on the senses and can’t fail to make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. With Spitfires, Skyraiders, Mustangs, Buchons, Curtiss Hawks and a mix of Corsair, Lightning, Yak and Sea Furies. This is piston warbird flying at its finest. Unfortunately, during the final run and breaks on Sunday there was what could have been a horrendous accident but which, thanks due to the skill of the pilots, resulted in no injury other than bruising to Rob Davies who had to parachute to safety from ‘Big Beautiful Doll’. The accident happened shortly after Rob had initiated his break, followed by Pierre Fages in the Salis Collection’s Skyraider. The latter hit the P-51 in the area of the radiator, breaking its back and at the same time slicing off a large portion of the Skyraider’s starboard wing. Fortunately, the aileron was left virtually intact, allowing Pierre to complete an emergency circuit and landing. Investigations are currently under way and the full report will be published by the AAIB in due course.
In closing, let’s not let the incidents cloud the fact that Flying Legends 2011 was a fantastic event once again. Well done to Stephen Grey, Jane Larcombe and all at The Fighter Collection who work so hard to pull it all together. Special thanks to all the pilots without whom we wouldn’t be able to see these classic machines in the sky and also to Esther, Gabriella and all the team for their unstinting work and assistance.