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Duxford Flying Legends 2011

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Flying Legends has long been established as Europe’s no.1 war bird airshow. It is renowned for its quality flying and its impressive lineup. This year on paper looked to be a very fine year. Stephen Grey and his team bought some of the worlds finest pilots and machines to Duxford for some truly unique formations. I attended the show on the Sunday, which was marred by some unfortunate events. As many will know by now, There was a mid air collision involving a French Skyraider and P-51 Mustang ‘Big Beautiful Doll’. Rob Davies had only sold the P51 a couple of weeks previous to the show, but was lucky enough to be kept on the books as an official pilot on the Mustang. I will not speculate on what went wrong but I did witness the 2 aircraft collide and the consequences that followed.

 

Thankfully the 2 pilots survived, with Rob parachuting from the Mustang at low level and high speed. The Skyraider was also skillfully brought back to Duxford minus about 5ft of the right wing but the P51 was completely wrecked. This accident happened in the finale to the show which involved a 27 aircraft balbo.

Back to the start of the day and the weather was looking not too bad. It was overcast, with the odd sunny patch, but no rain! As usual there was plenty to see and do on the ground. I managed to grab a seat in a WW2 bomber briefing re-enactment. This was absolutely superb and I hope Duxford bring it back for the September show. The briefing that took place was of an actual raid in 1943. The room was decked out with maps, chalkboards and aircraft recognition posters. All of the actors gave the feeling you were actually in 1943. I would say a must see if you have the opportunity.

So on with the show, and looking down the flight line, you couldn’t fail to be impressed. The unique sight of 3 Hispano Buchons lined up was almost as impressive as TFC’s newly painted Razorback P47 Thunderbolt.

This is expected to take to the skies later in the year, but was a highlight for me. Another impressive sight were the 4 Curtiss aircraft. 3 P40’s and the earlier Hawk 75, gathered. The Fighter Collections P-40F had only arrived earlier that week from Australia in a crate. The engineers did a fantastic job of putting it back together to fly for the show. I believe it flew on Saturday but not on Sunday. I think a big draw for people was the sight of a P38 lightning at Duxford again. Drinks giant Red Bull had bought 2 of their collection and they certainly drew attention.

Just before 2 o clock, the air was filled with the sound of Merlins (and 2 Griffons!) bursting into life. & Spitfires, 3 Buchons and a lone Hurricane rolled out onto the runway for formation take-offs, a trademark of legends air shows. As the 1st wave rolled on the grass, Spitfire EP120 seemed to hit a bump and staggered into the air, a real hold your breathe situation!! Once all were airborne, they formatted up for a formation pass from the left before splitting, leaving the 3 Buchons to display. Not since the filming of the Battle of Britain in 1968, have 3 Buchons been seen together. John Romain, Cliff Spink and Charlie Brown flew a cracking, tight display. Once cleared, a MK1 Spitfire and the Hurricane from HAC flew a ‘Battle of Britain’ pass before making way for the Griffon engined Spits to run in with 4 Merlin powered Spitfires in a tailchase.

Whilst this was happening TFC’s Bearcat, Meier Motors Corsair and a trio of Skyraiders took off. The 3 Skyraiders returned in a V formation for a couple of passes before splitting into a 2 ship and a lone ship display. Being on the ‘tank Bank’ end of the airfield, I thought it strange that one of the Skyraiders had disappeared well off into the distance and was circling. I later found out that it had almost come together with MH434 on landing. The Corsair and Bearcat returned to display, taking it in turns to show off this pair of immensely powerful radial engined aircraft. I must admit that the Meier motors Corsair looks stunning in its satin black finish.

Another eagerly anticipated pair of aircraft were the P51’s of the Horseman. The 2 aircraft were shipped from the States especially for the show. I have heard rumours that 1 of the aircraft is ex Fighter collection aircraft ‘Twilight Tear’. How true this is I’m not sure. Known for their extreme tight formation aerobatics, I couldn’t help being a little frustrated that there were long gaps where they disappeared from view. However, they brought back memories from previous Legends shows , where Stephen Grey and Ray Hannah would tail chase in the Bearcat and Fury so close together. The Mustang theme was completed by a 4 ship display by Alistair Kay, Keith Skilling, Rob Davies and George Perez. Big Beautiful Doll and Ferocious Frankie then formatted up with B17 SallyB to add fighter cover for a nice pass.

Unfortunately due to rising costs SallyB has not been as active as other years. They joined the display circuit late on this year to conserve costs. It was great to see the only B17 in Europe again and she never fails to evoke passion. After the customary smoking engine pass, she landed safely to allow a trio of pre war airliners to take the stage. This was another brilliant choice by TFC. 2 DeHavilland Dragons and the later Rapide brought a classic feel to the show. I really enjoyed seeing these 3 being skillfully put through their paces. These were then followed by the BBMF’s Avro Lancaster. It seemed to appear from nowhere, which I think was testament to the fact that the organizers had made sure that there was always something flying. Like the B17 she stands as a memorial to all the bomber crews of WW2.

Lufthansa’s Junkers JU52 is a familiar site to Flying Legends. Used heavily by the Luftwaffe in WW2 for troop carrying duties, this one is painted in genuine Lufthansa colours. The crew even wear Lufthansa uniforms whilst displaying the aircraft. Not the prettiest of aircraft the guys did a great job of making her look graceful. Following on with German types, Mikeal Carlson took to the skies in his Fokker DR1 Triplane. It was truly inspiring to see how maneuverable this aircraft is. Although a replica, it has been built to as near original as possible. Mikeal completed some truly tight turns showing why the Red Baron was so successful. Upon landing the triplane nosed over. Mikeal was unhurt with minimal damage to the aircraft.

Legends is well known for its unique formations and where else would you see 4 Hawker Biplanes in the air together? The V12 Kestrels sounded out across Duxford as the 4 four ship passed along the crowdline before splitting into a pair of Nimrods and a Demon and Hind. As the Nimrods performed loops the Hind and Demon performed some nice ‘lazy eights’ . 3 more Hawker aircraft were to display next. The Sea Fury was the cutting edge of piston engine aircraft design and was regarded as 1 of the ‘ultimate’ piston fighters ever built. TFC had gathered 3 for the display, one owned by them, one from Mistral warbirds and the other from the Royal Naval Historic Flight. Nick Grey led the Sea Furies into a series of high speed passes, wingovers and loops.

I was particularly impressed by the aggressive low passes by the Mistral Warbirds Fury. Once the Sea Furies had cleared another true warbird started its show. Its been a long time, but we now have a Fairey Swordfish to grace our skies once more. The RNHF have recently completed the long term restoration of LS326. Complete with a crew of 3, she was gently coaxed around Duxford. Nicknamed the Stringbag, Swordfish aircraft were famous for helping to sink the German Battleship ‘Bismark’. Her final pass was the familiar salute with flag flying, and as she departed for Yeovilton, something very special was waiting its turn.

The Red Bull P-38 Lightning attracted a lot of attention on the Sunday. Its amazing shape is made more pleasing by a highly polished finish. I did hear a few moans about the Red Bull logo emblazoned across the nose, but I personally wasn’t bothered. The backdrop was dark as she swept across the Duxford skies which made for some truly stunning photographic chances. The display seemed a little short for me (I could have watched it all day!!) but was a real treat. Red Bull also flew their corsair straight after the Lightning. This was followed by another Fokker DR1 and Neuiport 17 plus mobile air services Morane D3801 fighter.

As the show neared the end, Stephen Grey took to the Sky as the Joker in TFC’s Grumman Bearcat. This is a Legends tradition as the ‘old man’ shows he’s still one of the best display pilots around. As he displayed 27 aircraft took off and headed out to form up the ‘Balbo’. They did 2 passes before bringing each section in to run and break for landing. This is when the unfortunate accident between the Mustang and Skyraider occurred (as explained at the start).

On reflection, the Sunday show was not without its hiccups, but still the airmanship was of high quality. My particular favourite has to go to Mikeal Carlson in his Triplane. Stephen Grey and his team continue to bring us these superb line-ups year after year. I look forward to 2012’s Flying Legends, especially if the Razorback P-47 is flying. Maybe the ex TFC P47 ‘no guts no glory’ could be brought back over to fly a Thunderbolt 2 ship??

 

Review by Neil Darby - click HERE for Neil's Showcase