Air Show Report : Flying Legends 2013
Flying Legends 2013 - IWM Duxford, UK
On 13 and 14 July, 2013, the Imperial War Museum Duxford hosted its annual Flying Legends air show. Ramon van Opdorp recaps the 2013 airshow.
Entering the historical grounds of Flying Legends is every year a highlight, smelling and hearing these historic aluminum warbirds, with on the background softly hearing the music from the 40's. Arriving at 08:30 local time, on my left side a small office door opens at the main gate, revealing the sign of the press call. As I enter the PR office I'm welcomed by Esther Blaine, Public Relations Manager at Duxford. Shortly after our small group is guided along the many historical buildings, holding as many historic aircraft inside. Our walk is followed to the control tower, with singing coming from behind the main entrance door. One of The Manhattan Dolls comes out and introduces herself, shortly followed by the two other members of The Manhattan Dolls. While we proceed to the three Spitfires, belonging to The Horseman Flight Team, I recognize a familiar face. Steve Hinton Sr. is briefing with the two other members of The Horseman Flight Team, Ed Shipley and Dan Friedkin. The team is introduced to the press, and a photo shoot is arranged with the three splendid looking Spitfires as the remarkable background. All kinds of photographic requests follow, and a photo shoot follows with the three members of the Horseman flight team and The Manhattan Dolls, both separate and combined. When the clicking of camera shutters comes to an end, the press call is ended. Everyone leaves with a satisfied smile on their face and a couple of gigabytes of images on their camera.
As the day evolves, temperatures rise to over 30 degrees and the sun is scourging. All the old birds that are setting themselves up for their practice flights seem to have no problem with the high temperature. Several formation flights and pre-display formations are flown, while a couple of the foreign visitors are coming in for landing. At six o'clock I leave with a feeling of great anticipation, looking forward to the coming two airshow days.
The Air Show
Walking down the flight line taking some photos close up, temperatures are noticeable rising against a blue and slightly hazy sky. At twelve o'clock the flight line is cleared, as the pilots and warbirds are getting ready for four hours of non-stop flying action. While I find a spot along the fence, the unmistakable sound of the F8F Bearcat can be heard in the background. A few days before Flying Legends, the founding father of this event announced that he would stop flying during public displays. Stephen Grey normally closes the Flying Legends show with a powerful display in his beloved Bearcat as the Joker, as the Balboo takes shape on the background. However this year things would be different, and to quote the announcer: "they start with the end, and end with the start". As Stephen Grey his son, Nick Grey, would end the show to mark a new beginning of Flying Legends.
The Bearcat is taxiing along the crowd line, canopy open with the focused face of Stephen Grey visible. Preflight checks are performed at the beginning of the runway, and the Bearcat is lining up. A clearance is received by flight control, and the massive P&W R2800 engine is pulling the aircraft over the runway, more than 2100 horses are released for what will become a memorable display. Stephen gives a penultimate display in the raw Bearcat, accompanied with fitting music by Pink Floyd (Shine on you crazy Diamond). As Stephen sets up for the landing, three Spitfires of the U.S. based Horsemen Flight Team are rolling down the grass, and fly in formation to the holding area. Shortly followed by two Hispano Buchóns along the same path, as in the background Stephen Grey's Bearcat comes to a stop. As Stephen rolls down the flight line a applause erupts, and Stephen, still focused, calmly waves back.
With the sound of the Bearcat fading, three Spitfires of The Horsemen Flight Team come blasting from the right side. It's the start of 15 minutes of precision flying at the highest level, performed for the first time ever with two Spitfire Mark I's and one Mark V. From left to right, Ed Shipley, Steve Hinton and Dan Friedkin show with surgical precision how to fly three Spitfires into inverted loops, flat low passes and top view fly-by's. The sound of these three lovely Spitfires is suddenly accompanied by more Merlin engine sounds, as four Spitfires are getting ready for the tail chase of the two Hispano Buchóns. After an epic display the three Horsemen break out of formation over the airfield, and come in for the landing. Over their heads the two Buchóns start their duo display with John Romain and Cliff Spink at the controls, approaching the field from the right. A delicate precision display followed, before a gaggle of four Spitfires splits up the duo, and a powerful tail chase starts. Each Buchón is now chased by a duo of Spitfires, perfectly representing the fights that took place in the 1940's over the same airfield, by using every corner of Duxford's airspace.
After this harsh and wild tail chase, a delicate lady is slowly getting airborne, four massive Wright Cyclone engines overwhelm the crowd, as the B-17 "Sally B" is slowly getting into the air. Following her closely is her beautiful "little friend" P-47 "Snafu", blasting over the runway and in no time positioned on the right hand wing tip of the B-17. A subtle display follows with the B-17 performing a couple of fly-by's, and ending the display with a simulated shot engine, indicated by the white smoke on engine #2. While "little friend" P-47 is escorting the big lady B-17 back home, a unique sight of warbird history came howling over the grass airfield.
Four Curtiss built Hawks took to the sky, each with her own unique history and take on World War II. In the lead is a Hawk 75, followed by a P-40B and a P-40F, plus in the tail of the formation is the P-40N of Christian Amara. Positioning themself for the formation, two unmistakable distinct German aircraft followed their way into the Duxford airspace. A Junkers Ju 52 in the very capable hands of the Lufthansa crew is presented, with the backdrop of their display being a Bücker Jungmann flying Olympic routine figures with Anna Walker at the controls. From the left a small but distinct formation is coming in at high speed, the four Curtiss aircraft sweep the airfield and split up into two pairs. While all Hawk aircraft are flown confidently by their pilots, the P-40N of Christian Amara is the one that stands out, sometimes flying almost low enough to cut the grass of the runway.
Temperatures are still rising, and so are the speed and discipline of the displays. Two massive radial engines are started and positioned in front of the runway, thundering down the runway are Eric Goujon in the Red Bull owned F4U-4 Corsair, and Christophe Jacquard in his Sea Fury. A dynamic and powerful display evolves, with the screaming Corsair and the gentle smoke winding of the Sea Fury. Put through their paces, all heads in the crowd suddenly turn left to witness a historical sight, last seen at the start of the 40's.
Two Gloster Gladiators are getting airborne and swing to the right to position themselves for a historical display. As the sound of the two massive Corsair and Sea Fury aircraft fade away, the sound of Merlin piston power is heard instead as all four P-51 Mustangs are getting airborne. With the Merlins blasting from the commentator speakers, the two Gladiators are coming in for what will be a historical first for the warbird scene. While the passes are not screaming or blasting, the gentle maneuverability and "popping" sound of the Mercury engines are a real treat. While they slowly descent onto the grass, a four-ship of screaming and howling P-51 Mustangs unleash hell, and is getting the adrenaline rushing again. P-51 Mustang "Miss Velma" and "Nooky Booky IV" are already familiar faces, but P-51D "Moonbeam McSwine" and P-51C "Princess Elizabeth" were new to Flying Legends. These two blue-nosed Mustangs in the hands of Frederic Akary and Steve Hinton made quite an impression. The rollercoaster ride of hard and fast passes made me say "Wow" a lot. With the landing gear selected down, all four Mustangs are eventually brought to ease.
Still trying to check my photographs on the small camera screen, and getting my heartbeat back into a normal pace, the sound of three "purring" Hawker Biplanes becomes notable over the field. While they take formation and slowly head for a right hand turn, a more powerful Hawker engine can be heard too. A Hawker Hurricane started his chase after the three biplanes. As the formation of four Hawker built aircraft is approaching from the left, in the center of the airfield a very distinct silhouette becomes visible. The BBMF Lancaster is formatting with one little friend. As the Hawker formation is sweeping by, the formation is broken up into a fast and slow(er) section. The Hawker Hurricane starts a dynamic and fast display, while the three biplanes are diving in for a unique tail chase. After the three gleaming Hawker Demon and Nimrods biplanes put their wheels on the grass, the Hurricane is coming in for one more fly-by before landing. As he joins the Hawker biplane aircraft already back at their parking positions, four synchronized Rolls-Royce Merlin engines break the silence. The Avro Lancaster is coming in from the right, with shortly following on his tail another Hawker Hurricane. The Lancaster performs a couple of slow passes with the Hawker Hurricane following like its shadow. As the formation starts heading back home, a small three ship formation of Piper Cubs is taking to the air.
Each Cub is flown on her own piece of the display line, all three performing skilful moves with short turns and high pitch rolls in front of her section of the crowd. Soon after the sky is ripped apart again by three (very) fast moving Soviet Yakovlev aircraft. The trio consists of Rob Davies in the Yak-11, the Yak-3 flown by Richard Grace, and the Yak-9 with Paul Boschung at the controls. With Rob Davies as the leader they perform great aerobatic maneuvers. After the spectacular display, as Rob Davies breaks from the formation to roll in for the grass runway, I check my watch and see it's almost time for my personal highlight of the show. While watching the Yaks recover, I continue to check my watch until it's time to turn my head left. The small but punchy FM-2 Wildcat is rolling down the taxi way. Unfolding her massive wings, and in short pursuit of the FM-2 is the massive TBM-3E Avenger.
The unforgettable and lovely sound of the FM-2 Wildcat can be clearly heard across the field when she begins her display. However the Wildcat's sound is overwhelmed shortly after by the noise of almost 2000 horses that are unleashed inside the massive TBM-3 Avenger. However the inimitable and matchless sound of the FM-2 returns as both perform a yaw dropping display close to the crowd line. After they finish it becomes quiet, I scroll down the photographs on my camera display, but within seconds the silence is broken by the massive 2500 hp engine of the Royal Navy Heritage Flight's Hawker Sea Fury. A tight and powerful sequence by Ghris Gotke in the RNHF Sea Fury follows.
While still enjoying the shape and sound of this beast of a fighter, two "aerodynamically challenged" aircraft are taking off. The Lysander is put through its paces, with some rarely seen high speed passes. Another rarity to see flying is the Fieseler Storch. Floating around like a humming bird, making turns on a dime, and performing such low speed fly-by's that you wonder why it doesn't just fall from the sky. This peaceful and gentle portion of the air show was then interrupted by a Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 which took to the sky. The French WWII fighter aircraft started an impressive display as soon as the Storch and Lysander settled down on the ground.
Sporting new Swiss colors, the aircraft was using all airspace and climbed like a homesick angel. As the sun was slightly settling down, another sun was rising, or at least the sun was again shining on this beautiful bare metal aircraft. Every year the C-53 Skytrooper of Dakota Norway puts on a display with the transport aircraft being thrown around as if it's a fighter.
As all things, no matter how good they are, have to come to an end, Flying Legends began preparing for the big finale. Hearing the roar and puffing of 21 aircraft engines at once, I realized the end of the show was near. However before the grand finale could commence it was up to Nick Grey to mark the new era for Flying Legends as announced at the start of the show. Nick Grey performed one of the best biplane displays I've ever seen. His Gloster Gladiator display was dazzling like a meteor, having as much speed and turns of the monoplane fighters but with the soul of a Jazz musician. I certainly look forward to the next Flying Legends in the hands of Nick Grey. After the mass formation of aircraft flew over the historic airfield, the mass of spectators slowly dispersed to head home.
Next Flying Legends
Looking past the large AirSpace museum building on my way back home, seeing all those old ladies resting on the grass field never gets boring, and still keeps amazing me. After 20 years of Flying Legends, which I luckily have enjoyed and experienced for seven years now, it is still unique, and captivating. Most of all Flying Legends offers high quality historic aviation, and is not just about quantity. I hope we can enjoy it for another 20 years.
The next Flying Legends air show is scheduled for July 12 and 13, 2014. For more IWM Duxford air show dates and other events goto the MILAVIA UK Air Show Calendar 2014 and/or the European Air Show Calendar 2014.
Report and photos by Ramon van Opdorp ( view portfolio )