Air Show Report : Flying Legends 2011
Every year, the Duxford Imperial War Museum organises Flying Legends, Europe's biggest warbirds air show. Ramon van Opdorp provides this article on Flying Legends 2011, which took place July 9-10.
IWM Duxford Air Show: Flying Legends 2011
For the fifth consecutive year I started my pilgrimage on Friday July 9th towards London, to visit the Flying Legends 2011 airshow during that weekend. Like previous years the participants list for Legends was looking good, with some very rare and exclusive aircraft making their (first) appearance.
Aircraft that certainly made my trip 100% enjoyable were the Red Bull P-38 Lightning, the newly repainted F4U-7 Corsair from Meier Motors, and the newly acquired TFC P-40F Warhawk shipped in from Australia just in time to fly for Flying Legends.
What more can one say about Legends than it being three hours of absolute "warbird heaven" showcased over an historic airfield? I have visited my fair amount of airshows over the world, and in terms of displays no airshow can even come close. Aircraft take-off and land together, and some are performing their display routine using every inch of the Duxford airspace.
Completely out of the hands of the organization, the weather was this year not what I had hoped for: Not really the most photogenic playground for photographers with on Saturday some showers and on both days "grey(ish)" skies! On a more positive note, it could have been my imagination but this year I found the displays even more photogenic compared to previous years, as almost all aircraft performed their routine with a couple more top-view fly-bys than usual.
30 Years Fighter Collection
This year the Fighter Collection celebrated their 30th anniversary. The three decades were represented by having three aircraft of each type; three A-1 Skyraiders, three P-40s, three HA-1112-M1L Buchóns, three Hawker Sea Furies, three Fokker DR.I replicas, and last but not least three De Havilland Dragons/Dragon Rapides. For this anniversary the organizers managed to pull much more out of their high hat as well, an overview follows later.
Even after having seen her perform last year, the Hawker Sea Fury FB II or ISS (Iraqi Single-Seat) with Frédéric Akary at the controls still amazes me with a yaw-dropping display. Imagine seeing, hearing and smelling the 18-Cylinder Wright R-3350-26WD engine with more than 2500hp that pulls this aircraft through the air. well, you can imagine the massive power and speed showcased by this beauty. Another "very" fast mover is the F8F Bearcat owned by the Fighter Collection. It's always a joy to see this beast gracing the skies as the Joker, before the "Balbo" is coming by.
No heavy engines or dazzling high speed passes, but a tight formation by a Hawker Demon, Hawker Hind and a pair Hawker Nimrods nicely showcased the vast development of Hawker aircraft between the 1930s with the Nimrod, Demon and Hind, and the 1940s with the fast moving Sea Fury.
Another very welcome "slower" display was performed by Mikael Carlson in his Fokker DR.I triplane. If you want to see manoeuvrability, this is the display you want to see, loops and rolls were flown by Mikael with a immensely tight radius. From the same era there was also the Nieuport 17.
The Skyraider is not really a fighter, however the type has one air-to-air victory against a Vietnamese MiG-17F on its record. The Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider owned by Kennet Aviation was this year painted in a new striking colour scheme, representing the United States Navy VA-155 Attack Squadron. Also back this year was the AD-4N Skyraider owned by "Skyraider Avignon", still in the same colour scheme, but this year with a full range of dummy weapons. This provided a more realistic look when imagining seeing this beast come down on you while searching for cover in the jungle of Vietnam.
This year had not as many large aircraft present as previous years, however in my opinion quality is always more important than quantity. The B-17G Sally-B gracing the skies and the Lancaster PA474 escorted by its "little friends" are always a pleasure to see.
Also the Lufthansa owned Junkers Ju 52 made a welcome return to Duxford. This aluminium beauty had her birth in 1936, and has an impressive history. This aircraft was used by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, owned by civilian operators in Norway, Ecuador, the United States, before returning home to Germany in 1984 where it was first flown in Germany again on her 50th birthday in 1986.
Just like recent years, the beautiful C-53D Skytrain from Norway performed an awesome solo routine display. This year however, she was accompanied by first-timer C-47A Skytrain owned by "Association Normandy" in an absolutely stunning duo display, showing every angle of these gorgeous aluminium transport aircraft. Some rare close formation flying was performed by these two rather large birds, finished with some close "high" speed passes.
As mentioned above, in addition to the regular Spitfires and Mustangs, some very rare aircraft made their appearance at Duxford. Every year some new aircraft make their first appearance, or show up in a striking new colour scheme. The list is long but distinguished, I have tried to keep it short.
Personal highlight for me was the P-38L-5 Lightning. This "silver bullet" was put through its paces using every inch of the Duxford sky with her whopping 1600 Hp per engine. This P-38 came out of the factory in April 1946 in Chicago. Despite not having seen any WOII action, it became very famous, especially in the United States, on another level. She was used as an air racer during the Reno Air Races from 1977 till 2001 in the capable hands of Lefty Gardner, one of the co-founders of the CAF (Commemorative Air Force) in Texas. The striking appearance in white, with red and blue lines, made her famous as "White Lightning". She probably still would have flown in the United States if it weren't for that unfortunate day in 2001 when, while returning to her home base in Texas, the LH engine caught fire and the pilot was forced to crash-land her in a nearby field. From then on efforts to get her back into the air were in vain, until Red Bull made an offer in 2005, as they loved to add another remarkable aircraft to their already impressive collection. Since then she had undergone restoration work and maintenance at Ezell Aviation till 2009, with the P-38 being shipped to Salzburg in Austria. Making her first ever appearance in the United Kingdom and at Flying legends this year.
My next favourite was the Red Bull owned F4U-5 Corsair. Built in 1945, this Corsair did not see any WOII action, however completed several missions in the Korean War and was involved in combat while flying for the Honduras Air Force in 1969 during the conflict with El Salvador. Recovered from Honduras in 1979, it had two owners in Texas, with the last owner using her for air racing.
Another Corsair was the F4U-7 Corsair of the German Meier Motors, which attended Flying Legends last year as well, but now spotted a completely different colour scheme as well as some minor airframe changes. The stunning overall matt black coat represents the VMF(N)-513 "Flying Nightmares" during its service in 1950s Korea. With Brian Smith at the controls this beauty performed a thrilling display screaming through the air like a streamlined butterfly.
A new kid on the block was the P-40F Warhawk, recently acquired by the Fighter Collection. Shipped only two weeks in advance, and arriving just three days before the show, the crew at TFC/IWM completed the nearly impossible task of getting the aircraft airworthy just in time for Flying Legends. The last test flight needed took place on Saturday morning and at 15:30 the same day it joined the other three Curtiss Hawks for the air display.
This P-40F was produced in 1942 at the Curtiss factory in the United States, and made her first appearance in the Pacific theatre. It is now painted in the colours of Lee’s Hope from the 85th Fighter Squadron, 79th Fighter Group, which was flown by Lt Robert J Duffield from Capodichino airfield, southern Italy in early 1944.
Certainly among my personal highlights was the recently overhauled and freshly painted, TFC owned P-47G-10 Thunderbolt. For this year's Legends however it was only in the static display, but having seen the size of this beast, I'm already looking forward to see her in the air with the immense Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 engine delivering its 2000hp. This beauty, despite having been built in 1943, did not see any WOII action. She was formally known as "Little Demon", but now renamed "War Eagle, SNAFU".
Still fairly new to Duxford was the recently finished HA-1112-M1L Buchón. This movie star featured in the movie "Battle of Britain", shot in 1969 at Duxford. Bought in 1966 off the Spanish Government by the CAF (Commemorative Air Force) in Harlingen, Texas, she is currently flying in the desert colours of Maj. Erich Gerlitz, Gruppenkommandeur of III/JG53 based at Quotaifiya, Egypt in July 1942. After a test flight on May 6th this year, the aircraft was approved by the CAA, and could now reunite with two other "Battle of Britain" Buchóns over the Duxford airfield for the first time since the movie shooting.
Another highlight for me was the Fairey Swordfish II torpedo bomber, owned by the Royal Navy Heritage Flight. This awesome looking aircraft was built in 1943 at Sherburn-in-Elmet, UK, and later that year boarded the MAC ship Rapana on North Atlantic Convoy duties. She is definitely a slow aircraft, but the design and handling which made her very capable as ship-borne aircraft has my interest. With seemingly no hard efforts this aircraft can climb very fast.
Back after a year of absence, the US based formation team "the Horsemen" this year flew
with two aircraft instead of three, in my humble opinion an improvement. Close formation flying is very hard I can imagine, what Dan Friedkin and Ed Shipley showed is something I rarely see. Especially the inverted loop showed the pilot skills, with both aircraft inches from each other perfectly synchronised. Icing on the cake was that they brought their own P-51 Mustangs from the United States; P-51K-10NT "Fragile but Agile" and P-51D-30NA "February".
P-51 "Fragile but Agile" had a somewhat mistaken history, because as it turned out two P-51s used the same registration. After research she could be tracked back to Sweden, where she flew for the Swedish Air Force. P-51 "February" did not see any action during WOII, but has a long and distinguished list of operators within the USAF. From 1945 till 1955, she operated for eight different squadrons, and in 1958 was sold to the Guatemala Air Force. In 1972 she came back to the US, and had been operated by several private owners before becoming part of the Horsemen.
And last but certainly not least, an aircraft that is definitely on the "slow mover" list. A first ever appearance of this rather odd looking aircraft, the de Havilland DH 84 Dragon I "EI-ABI". This rare aircraft made her way from Dublin, Ireland, where it is carefully cherished by owner "Aer Lingus".
I always like the fact that each of the old aircraft up in the sky have different stories to tell. I like to know and remember these little facts. Besides that, you can see the care and tremendous effort that is put into every aircraft to keep them flying, and this is highly appreciated by the immense number of visitors to Flying Legends year after year.
Some Flying Legends reviews and/or related blogs are only talking about the sad ending of the Sunday Balbo, with the air-collision of P-51 Mustang "Big Beautiful Doll" and the Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis A-1 Skyraider. A shocking amount of misinformation and speculation by "experts" somehow always follows any such show accidents. Flying Legends 2011 will sadly be remembered by many for this accident only.
As the authorities and the IWM will surely investigate this accident, as well as review Legends as they do every year, please leave the investigation to the professionals, instead of putting Legends in a bad light.
I just want to say that fortunately both pilots walked away unharmed and the AJBS Skyraider landed safely. It shows that these old ladies are flown by very capable pilots. The split-second decision of Rob Davies to jump has my deepest respect. The P-51 Mustang "Big Beautiful Doll" will be sorely missed in the airshow scene.
The Flying Legends air show is completely non-stop, it is the slickest run air show in the world. You can see, feel, smell and sometimes taste the immense power and history of these aircraft, with the best and bravest pilots in the world flying the most beautiful war birds on this planet. Furthermore, there are no fences around the aircraft on static. If you love warbirds as I do, what more do I have to say?
It is hard to describe the Flying Legends "feeling", you have to visit this event and see all the action for yourself to understand. I hope to be there again on Saturday June 30th and Sunday July 1st 2012 to again experience warbird heaven over the historic Duxford airfield.
Special thanks go to Esther Blaine and the Imperial War Museum Duxford, for their hospitality, effort and generous help in making this feature possible.
Report and photos by Ramon van Opdorp ( view portfolio )