Flying Legends 2003
Duxford, 12/13 July - Gary Parsons reports on Saturday's show
It was set to be a fine weekend's entertainment - the weather was glorious, the flying fantastic. Yet it was very difficult to find any enjoyment in the show after the crash of the Firefly in a field east of the M11 early on Saturday afternoon - although many hadn't actually witnessed it, the reaction of those who had and the tone of the commentary prepared one for the worst. Confirmation of the severity of the accident became clear at the end of the afternoon, with the sad news that pilot Lieutenant Commander Bill Murton, 45, and aircraft fitter Neil Rix, 29, had been lost. If there was any crumb of comfort, it was that no-one else was hurt.
One can only imagine the thoughts of the other display pilots as they bravely continued with the airshow after a half-hour pause - that too of commentator Sean Maffett, in whose well-known voice one could feel the anguish. But, the show must go on - life is about living, and doing that entails risk in many things we do. Driving to the airshow will always be a riskier exercise than attending, and in the same week when seven died in a minibus on the M56 it illustrates fate knows no boundaries. Of course the accident investigation must examine the way in which these old aircraft are flown and maintained, but to deny the privilege to fly and watch them would diminish life's enjoyment for many.
The show was a fitting tribute to the skill of display pilots everywhere - it seems churlish to describe the flying programme at length, so let the pictures do the talking. Long may the pilots be able to show their talent in the skies above Duxford.
Making its debut at Duxford was a genuine Duxford-based wartime Mustang, now back in her original wartime colours. 'Twilight Tear' was based at Duxford with the USAAF 78th Fighter Group towards the end of the Second World War. The personal aircraft of young American pilot Lt Hubert 'Bill' Davis, who flew the bulk of his 35 combat missions and achieved three aerial victories in her. Twilight Tear's survival is remarkable in that, at the end of hostilities, most of the Groups' aircraft were flown to a depot near Blackpool for scrap.
The aircraft was acquired from Scandinavia by the Duxford-based Fighter Collection in April 2002 and it was whilst carrying out a thorough over-haul and maintenance work that the aircraft's true identify was discovered - incredibly, Twilight Tear had come home. Immediately, efforts began to trace her pilot and his family. Sadly Lt Davis died tragically young in 1967, aged just 48, but his son and two daughters in America were traced and were astonished to learn that their father's aircraft, which he had named after a famous American race horse, had been found. They are at Flying Legends to witness Twilight Tear, restored to her former glory, make her air show debut and to pay homage to their late father's wartime exploits.
No less than eight second world war veterans were at Duxford for the weekend. Most famous and becoming a Legends 'veteran' was Col Clarence 'Bud' Anderson, now 81 but still regularly flying P-51s in the USA. Also present was Luftwaffe pilot GŁnther Rall, who has the amazing tally of 275 aircraft destroyed (all but three on the Eastern Front). It was clear that these old adversaries have clearly put the past behind them as they chatted and joked on the flightline.
A disappointment for many was the no-show of TFC's new Hurricane IV KZ321/G-HURY, it spending the weekend in the hangar while an undercarriage problem was attempted to be rectified. A product of 35,000 man-hours, KZ321 was restored over the last two years at Hawker Restorations Ltd's workshop at Milden in Suffolk and made its flying debut at Duxford the day before the airshow. Sadly a hydraulic problem meant that it couldn't participate in the flying, but hopefully there will be plenty of opportunities in the future.
Special import this year was Chino Warbirds' Cavalier TF-51D Mustang N20TF, appropriately re-sprayed in 78th FG colours to join 'Twilight Tear', 'Big Beautiful Doll' and TFC's P-47 in a unique Duxford-quartet tribute. The TF-51 is a result of an order from the Bolivian Air Force in 1966 for refurbished P-51s that had been delivered earlier in the mid-fifties - the aircraft were completely rebuilt, given new USAF serials and would serve the FAB until the mid-seventies. N20TF was later acquired by Tom Friedkin's Cinema Air (later Chino Warbirds) and suffered a belly-landing on 19 September 2000, damaging the fuselage and propeller. A 5,000 man-hour re-build followed and she was back in the air on 6 May 2003, with the express intent of being ready for Flying Legends. She will spend the summer at Duxford and return to the USA in the autumn.