Legends, 13/14 July
Parsons samples the atmosphere at Duxford
This is how
airshows are meant to be...warm summer days drenched in sunshine, puffy
white clouds to form the perfect backdrop and spectacular flying to stir
the soul. Legends more than made up for the cold of May's season-opener,
and provided a feast of warbirds second to none 'this side of the pond'.
Organised by The Fighter Collection, under the leadership of Stephen Grey,
this year saw an unprecedented number of veteran pilots attending, including
some of the most famous USAAF aces of all: Robin Olds, Don Strait and
Gerald Johnson, all East Anglian based and returning to the fields where
they made history. It was hoped that Robert Morgan, first pilot of B-17F
'Memphis Belle' and based at nearby Bassingbourn would make the trip,
but family illness sadly prevented this.
General Robin Olds
son of Major General Robert C Olds, who played an important part
in the development of US Army Air Corps bomber tactics during the
1930s, Robin was born on 14 July 1922 during his father's service
in Hawaii. With his family background, it is not surprising that
Robin chose an Air Force career, attending the US Military Academy
at West Point and receiving a commission as a Second Lieutenant
in June 1943 and went to serve in World War II as a fighter pilot.
He was assigned to the P-38 Lightning equipped 434th Fighter Squadron
(FS)/479th Fighter Group (FG) in February 1944. The last of fifteen
fighter groups sent to the Eighth Air Force in England, the 479th
commenced operations from Wattisham, in Suffolk, in late May 1944.
Olds' first successes occurred on 14 August 1944, when he shot down
two FW-190s that he had encountered at low level over France after
becoming separated from his flight during a dive-bombing mission
- these were the Group's only kills on this date. He was awarded
three strafing victories four days later, and then on 25 August
he became the 479th's first 'ace' when he downed a trio of Bf 109s
over Rostock. One of only eight pilots to claim five or more kills
in the P-38 with the Eighth Air Force, Olds was also the 479th's
sole Lightning 'ace'.
September 1944, the Group converted to the P-51 Mustang and Olds
claimed his first victory in his new Mustang on 6 October - a FW
190 - during an escort mission in the Berlin area. He was then starved
of opportunities to add to his score until February 1945, by which
time he had been promoted to the rank of Major. During the course
of the month he claimed three Bf 109s and a FW-190 destroyed in
the air and a Do 217 and another FW-190 destroyed on the ground.
Continuing his success into March, Olds shot down a FW-190 and a
Bf 109 on the 19th and was also made Commanding Officer of the 434th
Fighter Squadron. Claiming his final aerial kill of the war (a Bf
109) on 7 April, he also damaged an Me 262 on this day. His final
successes in Europe came nine days later when he was credited with
five strafing kills during an attack on Reichersberg airfield.
the end of WWII, he had flown 107 combat missions, had twenty-four
V2 combat kills, of which thirteen were air-to-air engagements,
reached the rank of Major and commanded a squadron.
remained in the Air Force and was given command of the RAF's No.
1 Squadron (then equipped with Meteor IVs) during a six-month exchange
tour in 1949. Having achieved the rank of Colonel in 1953, he returned
to England again in August 1963 to take command of the 81st Tactical
Fighter Wing (TFW) at Bentwaters in Suffolk, flying F-101 Voodoos
until July 1965, when the wing converted to F-4C Phantom IIs.
1966, when the Vietnam War had come to the front burner, he took
command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in Ubon, Thailand. He flew
152 combat missions in the Vietnam War, 115 of them over North Vietnam.
He is credited with destroying two MiG 21 fighters and two MiG 17s.
Robin Olds was promoted to Brigadier General in May 1968 and became
the Commandant of the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs. He
retired in 1973.
abounded, the main theme being the 60th anniversary of the arrival of
the USAAF to these shores in the Second World War. Bolstered by an early
relative in the North American A-36A Apache, it
was the largest gathering of P-51s yet seen in the UK. Shipped over from
the United States especially for the show, A-36A 42-83731 is part of the
Friedkin Family Chino Warbird Collection, and was making its debut on
the UK scene.
Adolphus Dumfries Henshaw was born on 7 November 1913, the son of
a wealthy Lincolnshire businessman. Early in his life, he showed
the courage and daring which were to stand him in good stead in
his air racing and test pilot careers when he rescued a youth from
a fast flowing river. For this, he was presented with the Royal
Humane Society Award.
showed an early affinity for engineering and arrangements were made
for him to take up an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce. Before starting
his apprenticeship however, he worked for a time as a salesman for
one of his father's businesses and proved so successful at this
that he never took up his apprenticeship.
passion for flying began whilst he was still a teenager and he learnt
to fly in a Gypsy Moth, soon acquiring a Moth of his own. At the
age of only 19, he won the 1933 Kings Cup and began,his air racing
career in earnest.
1937, Henshaw acquired a Percival P6 Mew Gull and in 1938, won the,
King's Cup with the fastest time of 236.25 mph. The following year,
he concentrated his efforts on an attempt to beat the existing records
for the point-to-point London to Cape Town flight. Henshaw flew
from London to Cape Town, a distance of 6,377 miles, in 39 hours
and 23 minutes, smashing the previous solo flight record by 39 hours
and 3 minutes. It took him just 39 hours and 36 minutes to complete
the return journey, again breaking the existing solo record by a
staggering 66 hours and 42 minutes.
February 1940, Alex Henshaw married Barbara, Countess de Chateaubrun
and Barbara, along with the Mew Gull and the Spitfire, were to be
the three greatest influences in his life. It was also about this
time that Henshaw met Jeffrey Quill, the Supermarine test pilot
with whom he was to develop a close and lifelong friendship. When
Quill offered Henshaw a job at Supermarine, he took it with alacrity
and moved to Castle Bromwich as the Chief Test pilot. During his
time there, from 1940-46, Henshaw flew over 3,000 aircraft from
the Spitfire to the Lancaster.
the war, Henshaw worked for two years in Johannesburg as a Director
of Miles Aircraft SA Ltd. On his return to Britain, he subsequently
became involved in a range of family businesses. In 1953, he was
cited for heroism for his part in the rescue of many members of
his community when tide and storm surge conditions resulted in massive
has written two books on his experiences - The Flight of the Mew
Gull tells of his epic and record breaking flight from London to
Cape Town and back in February 1939 and with his early life and
experiences as a young aviator. Sigh for a Merlin deals with Henshaw's
experiences as Chief Test Pilot at Castle Bromwich, the largest
factory producing Spitfires and Lancaster bombers during the war.
retired and living in Newmarket, Henshaw is a Past President of
the Spitfire Society and, in 1997, was presented by HRH Prince Philip
with the inaugural Jeffrey Quill Award for his services to aviation.
of someone who has lived life in the fast lane, Alex, at 89 years
old, blasted off home after the show in his Audi Quattro!
Bill Kepner (of the Eighth Air Force) got us our P-51s and within
24 hours of their arrival we were on our first mission. Most people
have about 200 hours in a frontline fighter before taking it into
combat. We had about 30 minutes!"
Jim Goodson, 336th FS/14th FG, Debden, 1943
rare dive bomber version of the famous fighter, 42-83731 is one of only
500 built and the only one still flying. The A-36A first flew in October
1942 and the total production run was completed by March 1943. It was
the first USAAF version of the 'Mustang' developed for Britain in 1940
and was originally given the name Apache, but was unofficially named 'Invader'
by its pilots. A-36As were assigned to the 27th and 86th Bombardment Groups
(Dive), later redesignated as Fighter-Bomber Groups. On 7 June 1943, the
plane went into action from North Africa attacking targets on the island
of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Africa. During
the Italian campaign, A-36A pilots flew bomber escort and strafing missions
as well as ground support bombing attacks. A-36As also served with the
311th Fighter Bomber Group in India. Dive brakes in the wings gave greater
stability in a dive, but they were sometimes wired closed due to malfunctions.
In 1944, USAAF A-36As were replaced by P-51s and P-47s when experience
showed that these high-altitude fighters, equipped with bomb racks, were
more suitable for low-level missions than the A-36A.
flew the Apache in several formations, first with the P-40 and later with
Ed Shipley in P-51D 'Damn Yankee', showing the contrasting
lines of the two types to good effect.
just the Yanks
many British veterans present too, both human and those made of aluminium.
A gathering of eight Spitfires and two Hurricanes paid homage to aces
such as Pete Brothers, Thomas Neil and Robert Foster. Bomber colleagues
were not forgotten too as the ARC's Blenheim
performed, as did the BBMF's Lancaster. A 'Mercury trio' involving the
Blenheim saw it formate with the Shuttleworth Collection's Gladiator
and Lysander, the latter looking rather out
of place in the summer sun with its all-black covert operations paint
and the Mew Gull
Mew Gull, with its centre of gravity dangerously far to the rear under
full fuel load conditions, was not an ideal aircraft for long distance
record flight, being immensely cramped and uncomfortable as well as being
demanding to fly. The cockpit was only two feet wide and just high enough
to clear the pilot's head and the view forward was so poor that Alex Henshaw
(see sidebar) devised a system of taxiing which involved walking
beside the aircraft with the canopy open and his hand on the throttle!
sold in 1939 and, after the war, was brought back to England from France
where it had spent the war years. Unfortunately, the aircraft was damaged
in an accident while landing and was then acquired by a Mr Fred Dunkerly.
Subsequent modifications were carried out with the intention of improving
forward visibility and the aircraft won the Kings Cup again in 1953 -
albeit at a slower speed of 213 mph.
the aircraft was acquired by Mr Desmond Penrose and, over a period of
three years, he restored it to its original factory specifications. It
has recently been acquired by the Real Aeroplane Company based at Breighton
Airfield in Yorkshire and remains as an important part of Britain's aeronautical
heritage. It flew in formation at Legends with Spitfires, in tribute to
the amazing career of Alex Henshaw.
much else to see - in addition to the TFC's regular contributions the
OFMC's Breitling Fighters performed their
formation routine, B-17G F-AZDX 'Lucky Lady'
joined 'Sally B' in gracing the sky (although
they didn't quite formate together - damn!) and a whole host of Navy fighters
supplied four and five-ship mini-balbos. With four F-4U
Corsairs, two Bearcats, two Skyraiders,
a Hellcat and Wildcat
beating up the airfield, Charlie Brown and the pre-war Nimrod
did the sensible thing and left them to it!
that you don't need a polished display routine to entertain - just get
five or six Mustangs in the air, beat up the airfield with some low passes
and watch the grins on the faces in the crowd. Special mention must go
to Maurice Hammond and Robs Lamplough who, in 'Janie'
and 'Big Beautiful Doll' respectively, kept the
crowd at the western end thoroughly entertained in fine 'beat 'em up'
style. Top marks!
final balbo flypasts mustered 31 aircraft out of a potential 33, a quite
remarkable achievement when you consider the age of some of these aircraft.
It's probably not so difficult to find 31 willing pilots, as many of them
are younger than the mounts they fly. When I win the lottery...
All too soon
it is all over. Our only grumble with Legends is that the flying display
is too short at two and a half hours - we want more! But, the final words
must go to Robin Olds, who when asked what he thinks when he sees so many
P-51s in the air remarked "I'm right up there with them".