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Duxford Flying Legends 2016

 

   

"...the magical feeling that Duxford based air shows have that we all know and love has not gone"

July hails the midpoint of the UK air show calendar, with what some may say is the World’s premier War bird event; Flying Legends. Based at the IWM Duxford in Cambridge, The Fighter Collection brings together piston powered aircraft from across the Globe to display to the adoring crowds, some of which them selves have travelled half way across the World to see the yearly spectacle. This specialist event displays all the grace, majesty and power these wonderful flying machines have to offer. Usually a strictly Piston Power only affair, this year was slightly different, with the inclusion of a Jet aircraft, but more on that revelation later.

Legends is a special kind of event, with the show ground taking you back to the 1940’s with re-enactors attired in period dress, the 1940’s Swing Style Vocals of the Manhattan Dolls, a Vintage Village with deck chair seating and Pimms Bar, and to top it off the mad cap antics of Laurel and Hardy with their Model T Ford.

 

 

Legends offers show goers various viewing options to compliment their day including a Gold Pass giving access to a hospitality marquee with special viewing area, and if you have deeper pockets there is the Bremont Flight Lounge which is unique to Flying Legends, offering VIP Parking, luxury marquee and garden enclosure located opposite the flight line. The Bremont Lounge includes refreshments throughout the day such as a Pimms & Canapé reception on arrival and a gourmet buffet lunch and afternoon tea as the day progresses.

The line up for 2016’s Flying Legends show holds an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, including an impressive grouping of 12 Supermarine Spitfires including three Mk.I airframes. Other notable mentions included a clutch of North American P-51 Mustangs, the Flying Bulls Collection, a selection of Curtiss aircraft, the newly painted Hawker Fury Mk. II and a very special pairing of P-51D Mustang “Miss Helen” and USAF F-22A Raptor.

After chatting to members of the Fighter Collection it was apparent that the flight line had been altered to meet the new CAA guidelines as mentioned in my review of the American Air show back in May, which highlighted additional struggles air show organisers face. The crowd line for this year’s Flying Legends differed in that the length of crowd line had been cut down and stopped short at the entrance to the Land Warafare Museum. Regular visitors to Duxford will know the line usually extends past the entrance to the end of the museum to what is affectionately known as “The Tank Bank”. In addition to this the crowd line was actually set further forward towards the airfield. Given that the length of the crowd line had been cut back, it was not noticeable in regards to viewers being cramped up, if anything it brought a more intimate feel to the show as static and taxiing aircraft were closer.

As is the norm at Duxford based air shows the flying was programmed to commence at 2pm prompt. Early indications were that weather was going to be against everyone, with low cloud, grey skies, strong winds and drizzle. As time moved forward and 2pm arrived the skies miraculously cleared revealing lovely blue skies, sun and fluffy clouds; an aviation photographers dream.

Just before 2pm the rousing sound of Rolls Royce Merlin and Griffon engines could be heard along the crowd line as they began to taxi out down towards the end of the grass landing strip and ran up to full power to allow the oil in those V12 engines to warm up and circulate around the arterial passages around the famous pulsating heart of the Spitfire. Once cleared the Spitfires roared off down the grass airfield and took to the air to form up, an evocative sight arcing back to Duxford’s days as an active airfield during the Second World War. Once formed up and all systems checked the Spitfires launched into their flying display with a sweep in from the left of the crowd line to begin their tail chase.

As the gaggle of Supermarine’s finest entertained the crowds the next stage of the flying programme began with engine start ups on two big Radials followed by the taxi out to hold of the Grumman F8F Bearcat and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair both of the Fighter Collection. Once clear to do so the mighty Naval aircraft thundered down airfield and quickly gained height to put on their trademark high power displays with some aggressive airfield beat ups by the Bearcat followed by tremendous power climbs completed by loop overs into dives before levelling out. The Bearcat and Corsair have become standard items at Duxford air shows and continue to impress.

Once completed the next phase of the flying programme was queued up with the trio of Curtiss Hawks. The display began with some lovely formation flying showing the three airframes, two of which having polished silver bodies which glistened stunningly in the afternoon sun that blessed the show. Once formation display complete there was time for some solo displays and fast passes before it was time to return back into land.

The time had come for a very rare and special display, not just for Flying Legends, but for the UK as a whole. With a brief pause the silence was broken by the appearance of the USAF’s Air Superiority and Air Dominance fighter, the F-22 Raptor flying in tandem with the P-51D Mustang “Miss Helen” to form the USAF Heritage flight, giving the adoring crowds several passes before a break to crowd centre, allowing the Raptor Pilot to position to begin a brief solo display. Not only is this special due to the rarity of such a visitor to the UK, but the presence of a jet powered aircraft at such a Warbird Mecca as Flying Legends is, as far as I can remember, unheard of.

Once in position, the Raptor entered in from the left to perform some high power turns and sudden vertical climbs before a level pass of two prior to completing with a high speed pass from left to right along the crowd line to depart away from Duxford.

It was now time for something a little more sedate and classical in the form of The Classic Formation, consisting of two Beech 18 airframes and a DC-3, all in a highly polished chrome finish. The Classic Formation is Europe’s only multi engined veteran aircraft display team, which made it’s Legends debut this weekend. The Switzerland based display team performed some lovely formation flying including passes in ‘T’, ‘echelon’, ‘delta’ and ‘colonna’ formations, each with expert flying skills to transition between the formations.

Next up, the Flying Bulls team which had previously taken off to held out of view. This Austrian based team, sponsored by the famous energy drink, consist of three fantastic Warbirds including highly polished B-25J Mitchell, Lockheed P-38L Lighting and the distinctively gull winged Vought F-4U Corsair. The team provided photographers with some lovely topside passes in formation along the crowd line before breaking up for a B-25 Solo and a synchronised display from the Lightning and Corsair including ‘smoke on’ for added display effect.

As the trio came in to land the next acts were rolling out to hold on the pan before taxiing out onto the air field. The roar of Merlins from Mustangs “Moonbeam McSwine” and “Shark Mouth” filled the air along with the distinctive drone of four Pratt & Whitney radials belonging to Duxford’s resident B-17G “Sally B” of the B17 Preservation Society. Once airborne the Mustang pair put on their duo display before breaking off to allow the “Shark Mouth” to form up with the bomber before performing flypasts as fighter escort. As usual with Sally – B’s displays there was a pass with smoke on shortly before landing to remember the 79,000 US airmen who paid the ultimate price over the skies of Europe during the Second World War.

As the allied aircraft completed their displays it was the axis forces turn to thunder through the skies in the form of two Hispano Buchons representing Me-109 fighters of the Luftwaffe. The pair performed some outstanding formation flying including some power climbs before looping over at the top, all whilst in perfect formation; a truly fantastic sight to behold.

Following this there was an early war display depicting the both the Battle of Malta and the Battle of Britain with a 4 ship formation of Bristol Blenheim Mk.I, Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I, Hawker Hurricane XIIA and Gloster Gladiator Mk. II of The Fighter Collection. The formation provided quite an evocative site, as the distinctive shapes of classic British design swept in from the left of the crowd line on an attractive fluffy cloud and blue sky back drop.

Following on from the early air war in Europe we received Pacific Naval themed display from The Fighter Collections Grumman FM-2 Wildcat and regular Flying Legends visitor, the Grumman TBM-3R Avenger “Charlie’s Heavy”. Some great flying from both pilots, displaying the airframes off to their full, with the Avenger looking particularly appealing against the glorious sky in its bright Pacific Ocean blue livery.

As this display wrapped up with some solo work from individual airframes, this reviewer became very excited at what could be seen (and heard) working it’s way down the pan to the hold area. What many could herald as the pinnacle of piston power, the Hawker Fury FB.10, only very recently returning back to the UK from Australia before being re-assembled and re-painted by Air Leasing. A late addition to the flying schedule, this, for a lot of people (including myself) was to be the star of the show. Flown by Richard Grace, this gloriously painted 50’s powerhouse of piston prowess wowed the crowds with some fantastic topside passes, thunderous low pass beat ups of the air field and several fantastic climbs to height before returning back down to display height along the crowd line. What makes this particular airframe rare is the fact that it retains its Bristol Centaurus Sleeve Valve radial engine, thrashing out in the region of 2,500 bhp to help it effortlessly rip through the sky. A truly magnificent machine and a truly magnificent display. Here’s hoping we see much more of this on the air show scene in the months to come.

Once the display routine had completed and come into to land the end of the day was in sight with only a handful of display items left, including an aerobatic display from the Bucker Jungmann, a DC-3 solo and of course the ever famous Flying Legends Balbo where a large number of the aircraft take to the skies together and form up to perform massed flypasts, providing a wonderful site and sound for any aviation enthusiast. This year’s Balbo was by no means the biggest I have witnessed, with 17 aircraft performing the flypast, but never the less an enthralling sight to see.

As this year’s Flying Legends show came to an end, any feelings of concern from air show regulars that may have been felt after the May air show have been well and truly squashed. The flying was fantastic, the line up was great and the weather nearly played ball completely, with only the early WWI era aircraft not being able to display due to the high winds the show experienced. It is difficult to choose one particular act that stood out as all the acts put on a great performance. That being said, two particular items from the programme did bring an increase to heart rates everywhere, these being the USAF heritage flight with the cloud making and fire belching F-22, and the recently repatriated Hawker Fury II, which tore up the skies with those five chunky propellers strapped to that monstrous Radial engine.

It was clear that the magical feeling that Duxford based air shows have that we all know and love has not gone anywhere. Long may it continue.

 

Review by Jonathan Wintle

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