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DUXFORD FLYING LEGENDS AIRSHOW, 10/11 July
Andrew Bates reports: Occupying its usual two-day slot in the air display calendar, the Flying Legends Airshow, held at Duxford over the weekend of July 10/11, once again provided visitors with the opportunity to view a bewildering array of piston warbirds being put through their paces. As an additional bonus for the crowds, and for the organisers after all their hard work, both days were blessed with warm and sunny weather, although it took a while for the early morning mist to clear on the Saturday.
Organised by the resident Fighter Collection, in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, it was readily apparent as to why this is the premier warbird event in Europe. Upon arrival at Duxford, visitors were greeted with an impressive line up of pistons, parked wingtip to wingtip, which literally stretched as far as the eye could see, taking up the whole flightline. A large contribution was made by the Fighter Collection, along with most of the other Duxford residents, but these were ably supported by a wide range of other UK based warbirds, either individually owned, or from well known organisations such as the Shuttleworth Collection. Military participation was also forthcoming, with the BBMF providing Hurricane IIC LF363 and Spitfire IIA P7350, and the RNHF providing a pair of Swordfish, W5856 and LS326.
A warbird show of this stature inevitably attracts some foreign participation, and this year was no exception. Apart from the Belgian based Lysander V9723/OO-SOT, and Swedish P51D Mustang 26158/SE-BKG, there were no less than eight French based aircraft in attendance. Including two Skyraiders (126956/F-AZDQ & 125716/F-AZFN) and two P51D Mustangs (474832/F-AZJJ & 472035/F-AZMU), perhaps the most popular French visitor was B17G 48846/F-AZDX. With Duxford based 'Sally B' still sadly grounded, this particular visitor was a most welcome participant in the flying programme.
During the morning, the ever popular flightline walk was available prior to the flying display. For a nominal sum, this enabled all the keen photographers the opportunity to get that little bit closer to all the participating aircraft, though it was sometimes a bit of a challenge to obtain a good photograph, with some of the aircraft parked so close to each other. This is by no means a criticism of the organisers, it was basically because there were so many participating aircraft available out on the flightline. Space was definitely at a premium.
As far as any static display was concerned, there was just the usual outside collection of airframes from the Imperial War Museum, with a few other well known, long term residents on view. For any regular visitors to Duxford, the only unfamiliar static participant was the newly arrived Nord 1002 Pingouin 10/N108J. Effectively a Nord built Messerschmitt Bf108, this aircraft, along with the IWMs Morane-Saulnier MS502 (French built Storch), was used to re-create a Luftwaffe field observation post. With personnel from the Living History Association dressed in appropriate uniforms, and with the period ground equipment available, this made a novel, but interesting ground display. As the morning progressed, it was no surprise to find all the hangars of the IWM full to bursting, as much of the crowd took the time to peruse the vast museum collection, with the superb American Air Museum attracting much attention. Perhaps overlooked by many, mainly due to its dismantled condition, was another new Duxford arrival. Sitting in one corner of Hanger 5 was the recently acquired B24M Liberator 44-51228. Following many years on display at Lackland AFB, Texas, this aircraft had been flown into Mildenhall inside a C5 Galaxy, and then transported by road to Duxford, for eventual display inside the American Air Museum.
The flying display itself commenced early afternoon, and whilst not a long programme when compared to other well known shows, it was certainly noticeable that there were no gaps in the flying, it was action all the way, from start to finish. Rather than put up individual aircraft, the organisers were able to arrange themed formations, thanks to the wide range of warbirds available.
Kicking off the flying display was the Grumman cat family, consisting of Wildcat, Hellcat, Tigercat, and Bearcat, all four aircraft appropriately belonging to the Fighter Collection. As this foursome proceeded to follow each other across the airfield with their distinctive sounding radials, they set the scene for the rest of the day. Whilst they were performing in front of the crowd, there were more aircraft starting up, and taxying out. Each new display participant would taxy past the crowd on the way to the runway, so that there was always something for the audience to see.
Themes continued to dominate the display, including a formation of Bristol Mercury powered aircraft; Blenheim, Gladiator, and two Lysanders, and a tribute to Sir Sydney Camm; Hind, Sea Fury, and two Hurricanes.
For the crowd, there were two separate formations that were particularly popular, both relying upon multiples of the same type each time. First there was a display by no less than seven P51D Mustangs. The sight and sound of this formation, as they chased each other across the airfield, was quite simply magical. As if this was not enough, a short while later the audience was treated to a total of ten airborne Spitfires. With Duxford having originally been the home of the first RAF Spitfire squadron, it was perhaps appropriate that this particular type was the most dominant aircraft in terms of numbers flown.
Other formations included the French B17G Pink Lady, which took to the skies with the B25 Mitchell and P47 Thunderbolt from the Fighter Collection, for a tribute to the USAAF. This was followed by two P40 Kittyhawks, which flew a superb dogfight sequence with the Hispano HA.1112 (Spanish built Bf109). The US Navy was also well represented, as apart from the previously mentioned Grumman quartet, there later followed three AD4 Skyraiders and two F4U Corsairs.
All too soon, the flying programme was drawing to a close, but what a finale that turned out to be. One after another, engines began firing up along the length of the flightline, and very soon, massed ranks of warbirds were queuing for take off. Seeing all these different aircraft types take to the skies, one after the other, was impressive enough, but to see them all flying together was an unforgettable sight. After the last departure, there were two separate formations in evidence, but after the first pass, the two formations became one. And so on the second flyby, for those in the audience who took the time to count, a grand total of thirty-four warbirds were to be seen flying together. The combined sound from this gathering of piston engines was quite unique, the like of which is rarely heard on such a large scale at airshows.
Considering that the majority of the formation were 1940s era combat aircraft, with, at the time a fairly short operational life span, it is quite remarkable that on the verge of the new Millennium it is still possible to see so many in their element, and in such pristine condition. This is testimony to all the owners, and their engineers, who made this whole spectacle possible.
So, once again, the organisers successfully presented an airshow worthy of the title Flying Legends. Its quite possible that a number of enthusiasts, with a taste for fast jets, would have given this show a miss. However, even if your tastes are decidedly modern, this spectacle is definitely worth at least one visit. Apart from the sight and sound of pure nostalgia, for the keen photographers, the wide range of, mostly, authentic military colour schemes made a very welcome change from the usual modern military diet of grey, grey, and more grey!