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Duxford Flying Legends 2017

 

   

"An outstanding display with impeccable precision flying..."

July in the UK is often regarded as the hottest month of the year, not just on the meteorological charts but within the Air Show scene too, with a number of the biggest and best air shows, not just in the UK, but also in Europe.  Flying Legends is up there as one the hottest tickets of the year as the Premier European War Bird show annual held by The Fighter Collection at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

This year’s show promised some fantastic acts with one of the major public draws being “The Horsemen”, the world’s only P-51 Display team.  This year The Horsemen are displaying with two North American Aviation Mustangs which, like themselves have also crossed the Atlantic; D Model “Frenesi” and B Model “Berlin Express”, which was actually flying the momentous Trans Atlantic Crossing from Texas.

Along with the flying display the show ground is also given the vintage feel with acts such as The Umbrella Big Band, The Manhattan Dolls and Laurel and Hardy to keep the crowds entertained before the flying display starts.

Sunday’s show opened in unusual style for the War Bird spectacle with a “pre show” display from the RAF Display team The Red Arrows.  The very Popular “Reds” display felt a little unusual at times as the display axis they used meant that anyone on the far West end of the air field up towards the Land Warfare museum received an excellent view to their 45 degree angle of view, but anyone towards the East end of the air field would have seen very little of the display. 

Due to the cloud height above the display area a full display was not possible, but Reds 1 to 9 managed to perform their rolling display, performing such formations as “Spitfire” and “Concord” as well as the more dynamic displays such as “the carousel” and “the detonator”.  During the display the team had to take a brief intermission around half way through and the aircraft had to go off and hold after another aircraft entered their protected airspace, adding to the disjointed feeling of the display.

As the Red Arrows came to the end of their display a faint rumble of Piston engines could be heard coming from the aircraft holding area as the first display items of the Sunday show fired up; “The Spitfires”.  A stalwart of Duxford air shows throughout the years, Spitfire’s have always featured heavily, and is one of the few places you can see these iconic aircraft in such large formations.  This years Flying Legends opening Spitfire segment consisted of 9 separate airframes of varying marks including clipped winged VB variants,  a Griffon engined Mk XVIII and Air Leasing’s Merlin engined Seafire LF IIIC .  The opening display item included the ever evocative tail chase sequence as well as a massed flypast.

As the Spitfires came towards the end of their display the Naval Fighters segment launched and took to the air.  The Radial powered airframes included the FG-1D Corsair and Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat, both of The Fighter Collection along with the Hawker Fury of Anglia Aircraft Restorations Ltd growled their way up into the skies around Duxford awaiting their display slot.  A rather brief but satisfying display giving some graceful formation topside passes to the crowd line, which always pleases the photographers out there. Since its introduction at last years Flying Legends the Hawker Fury has made its mark on the air show scene as a firm favourite with many.

The Fighter Collection also offered up their Curtiss Fighters, minus the chrome P36C, which wasn’t present on Sunday’s show.  The trio conducted a number of formation passes before the Hawk 75 peeled off and left the remaining display to the two P40’s to fly a series of tight and close passes.

Any Duxford air show just wouldn’t be a an air show without a display from the resident American Heavy Metal in the for of B-17G, Sally-B of B17 Preservation Ltd.  A flying memorial dedicated to all the American Airmen in Europe during the Second World War. 

The grand old girl took to the air joined by her “little friend” in the form of P-51D Mustang known as “Shark Mouth” owned and operated by the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation.  A slow and graceful display finished off with a smoky flypast dedicated to aircrew that never returned from their perilous day time bombing missions over Europe during those dark days of the Second World War.

The theme of graceful flying continued with a display from The Classic Formation with their polished trio of C-47 and Beech 18’s.  The Flying Legends regular shone and shimmered their way through the display in the bright July sunlight before returning into the circuit to land.

The pace picked back up with a “North Africa” theatre air demonstration between The Fighter Collections P-40F Warhawk and the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano Buchon.  The Buchon looked fantastic in its new, but temporary battle worn desert camouflage to represent Bf 109E-7 “Black 8”.  The display represented aerial dogfights of the day; with the Warhawk ultimately prevailing over is axis adversary, with the Buchon switching on the smoke before ending the display.  It must be said that the aircraft paintwork undertaken by Peter Medley at Flying Colours was fantastic to see, giving a great sense of a battle worn airframe. 

Duxford is well renowned for its historical ties to the Battle of Britain given that it was the home of No. 19 Squadron Spitfires during the Battle, and this often reflects in the flying displays.  Flying Legends was no exception, with a beautiful Battle of Britain flypast consisting of the Worlds only flying Bristol Blenheim and 3 mk i / ia Spitfires all lead by 5 Hurricanes, an undisputedly glorious sight. 

The formation quickly dispersed and each element of the group performed their own display to the adoring crowds.  Such a gathering of aircraft is always a glorious sight to behold but one may have thought this display would be more suitable for the September show, which is aptly named “The Battle of Britain Show”; perhaps this is simply a taste of what is to come in September.

The star of the show for many was the presence of “The Horsemen”, the World’s only P-51 display team.  This years Flying Legends was the first time the UK had seen the Horsemen since 2013; definitely a most welcome return.  Following an incident with the canopy of P-51B on the Saturday show of Legends, a last minute change was made with the display to now include a third “D” model in the form of “Miss Helen”, flying alongside “Frenessi” and “Sharkmouth”.  An outstanding display with impeccable precision flying, including a number of low level sweeping run ins from the West end of the flight line.

This years Flying Legends also saw the return of an Air Racing section, a repeat of a display seen earlier in the year at May’s Air Festival Show, a minor difference but with the addition of a Mystery Ship and Cosmic Wind, definitely a change of pace from the previous act.  A classy looking line up of beautiful airframes including the Shuttleworth based De Havilland Comet is always a welcome sight.

As the show progressed towards its finale the crowds got the chance to see a few more displays including a spirited performance form a single C-47 as well as further Naval display consisting of The Fighter Collections FM-2 Wildcat, which put on a high energy performance alongside a gentle lower level display from Plane Sailing’s PBY Catalina.

Flying Legends’ distinctive Balbo is always a unique display of massed airframes filling the skies with a loud roar of piston power, with this year being no exception.  It can be said that over the years the number of participating aircraft has dropped in number, never the less it is still an impressive site to see the line of vintage warbirds flying along the crowd line.  This years Balbo was tinged with sadness with TF-5D “Miss Velma” having to make an emergency landing in a field.  Luckily no one was hurt and the pilot walked away from the stricken Mustang, which has since been recovered.

As always, Flying Legends draws in crowds from all over the world with this year being no exception.  Its always a pleasure to walk around the show ground and listen to all the different accents and languages spoken by the show visitors and is truly a testament to both the effort and planning put into the show by The Fighter Collection and the strength and popularity of the international Warbird scene, and long may it continue.  Here is looking forward to next years Flying Legends.

 

Review by Jonathan Wintle

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