Air Show Report : Flying Legends 2014
Flying Legends 2014 - IWM Duxford, UK
The Imperial War Museum Duxford hosted its annual Flying Legends air show again on July 12 and 13. Report and photos by Ramon van Opdorp
I started my eight consecutive pilgrimage to the Flying Legends airshow at Duxford with high hopes. With the participants list looking exceptional this year, I was convinced to come home with every memory card full of photographs. Sadly things worked out slightly different with damp weather at the start and the quantity of visiting aircraft was noticeably lighter than announced in the build-up. As thunderstorms and large areas of rain were circling over the European continent, almost all German, Austrian and French aircraft could not make it over the pond. Besides there were a couple of technical, and paperwork related cancellations.
All negativity aside, Flying Legends again put on a “legendary” show nonetheless. Facing all these challenges, name one show in Europe that has to cope with over fifteen cancellations and still end up presenting a flying display with eleven Spitfires (including four Mark I’s), the P-26 Peashooter, Super Constellation, P-40C Warhawk, and the list can go on. At the end of the day no other show will feature a warbird line-up to rival even the thinnest of Flying Legends.
A five star show
As many editions before, Flying Legends was again a show of stars. While in the build-up to the show, the participants list sported the return of all the TFC’s navy Cats, a stunning trio of Corsairs, two Ju 52s, a P-38 Lightning, five P-51 Mustangs, thirteen Spitfires and a most welcome return of the Seafire F.XVII. The weather gods among others had other ideas with this year’s edition. With the participants list noticeably stripped, there still was an impressive line-up, with new shiny stars.
To start of this five star list; personal star for me, and an extraordinary gem, was the little but nimble P-26 Peashooter. Making a 10000 mile trip inside a container, this only surviving airworthy aircraft arrived from Chino, California. The awesome looking aircraft was flown in the very capable hands of Steve Hinton. You’ve got to love the many details of this brilliantly restored aircraft, the bulky landing gear, open cockpit, the quirky hand-cranked inertia starting system and of course the fascinating history of this little fighter.
Out of 151 aircraft produced only two aircraft survive, this being the only airworthy example. The type was flown within the USAAC, the USAAC Panama Canal Department Air Force (patrolling the Panama Canal for possible Japanese, and even German attacks) and the Cuerpo de Auronautic Militar Guatemaltec (Guatemala Air Force). An interesting life was set for this little fighter. Whilst others laugh while seeing this little fighter, or frown when hearing the name Peashooter, I honestly have to admit I fell in love with it as it proved to be an exceptional sight over Duxford. The P-26 is powered by the P&W R-1340-25 Wasp engine, also known for powering the famous GeeBee Air Racer aircraft, flown in 1932 by Jimmy Doolittle.
Another aircraft I can strike off my ‘wish to see’ list, is the beautifully crafted Lockheed Super Constellation. In 2000, a group of aviation enthusiasts together with pilot Fransisco Agullo decided to form an association with the goal to ferry a Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation to Switzerland for conducting sightseeing tours for its members, as well as making airshow appearances. In 2004, after a nearly nine-hour ferry flight, this Super Connie arrived at Prestwick, Scotland. This marked the first time a Super Constellation landed in Europe in 25 years, and the return of the beautiful shapes of the Super Connie to European skies.
From start to finish, the Super Constellation’s display was an impressive sight to behold. From start-up of all four engines, with the large cloud of white smoke and oil vapour behind her, to seeing this veteran ‘art Deco’ style aircraft perform several fly-pasts while hearing those four massive 18-cylinder engines with a noticeable appetite for fuel and oil. Well, to sum it up, just goose bumps…
Another gleaming polished-metal gem appeared over the skies of Duxford. This rare and unique aircraft made her Duxford debut with a more than impressive display routine, showing all sides of this beautiful aircraft. Coming from the same nest as the P-26 Peashooter, this aircraft is also representative of the care and tremendous effort that is put into every aircraft to keep them flying.
As most other aircraft at Flying Legends, this remarkable aircraft has an impressive history to tell. Accepted by the USAAC in 1941, it was shipped to Puerto Rico shortly after, to fly coastal and anti-submarine patrols. Still within that same year, it was shipped back to the United States, and later on overhauled for Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union. In December 1941 it was eventually shipped to the Soviet Union, and its history becomes vague after this.
In the mid-90’s the airframe was acquired by Stephan Grey, after been found in the former Soviet Union. However it was in very bad condition due to battle damage sustained and decades of exposure to the elements. As most skin was replaced, the aircraft got shape again in an all-aluminium finish. Seeing the aircraft polished, got the owner thinking and researching, and found that a few P-40s had been stripped of camouflage and polished again in the 40’s. These aircraft were used by base commanders as their personal “hacks”, this beauty is now carrying the markings of the Chanute Fields, Kansas unit.
Another remarkable aircraft is the Spitfire FR.XVIIIe, one of the few Griffin powered Spitfires. It had an eventful life. This beautiful Spitfire was built in 1945, and also here made its first flight that year. After a short service within the 39 Maintenance Unit, it was shipped to Karachi, Pakistan by the end of 1945 to serve within the South East Asia Command. By 1947 she was transferred to the Indian Air Force, and ended her operational career in the 1970’s. From mid-1970’s on, she travelled between owners in the US and UK, and was restored to airworthiness in 1998 with her first flight into the blue taking place in 2000.
In 2009 she was sold to the Swedish Biltema Scandinavian Warbird operator. She sadly was involved in a landing incident one year later, claiming the life of renowned pilot Bertil Gerhardt. Shortly after, the remains of this aircraft were shipped back to the UK, and after an extensive restoration by the Historic Flying Limited Company at Duxford, she returned back to the sky in December 2013. Now gracing the sky in a striking, all silver paint scheme of the 1950’s Hong Kong based 28 Squadron.
Not exactly a new Duxford participant, but having returned back to the air after being grounded since 2008, again an aircraft with a memorable history. This Hellcat was built in 1943, and flown in several capable ‘Ace’ hands, with US Navy Ace Lt Alex Vraciu being the most well-known. Vraciu finished the war as the US Navy’s fourth highest scoring ace with 19 aerial victories, nine of which whilst flying this particular aircraft when assigned to Navy Squadron VF-6 aboard the USS Intrepid. As a reminder to this remarkable history, this Hellcat is flying in the colours and markings of Lt Alex Vraciu.
Absolutely stunning to see this Hellcat again gracing the skies. The F6F Hellcat must be considered one of the best carrier-borne aircraft of all time, with outstanding performance at any altitude. The type accounted for 75% of all US Naval aerial victories securing air supremacy across the Pacific Theatre.
As the United Kingdom is home of the Supermarine Spitfire, this type is always present in great numbers, with this year a rare selection of eleven Spitfires. Unique was the even rarer gathering of four Mark I’s to perform an impressive four-ship formation flight.
Always one of the main attractions during Flying Legends are the tail chases over the airfield. Most impressive for me this year was a classic chase by three P-51 Mustangs going after two Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchóns. Flying from side to side, with snappy aileron movements, diving in like a missile at low level, and in every direction in front of the crowd, it makes quite the impression.
Each year Flying Legends has an impressive list of participants, and every aircraft deserves a complete profile, or at least a few words. But to avoid getting to book-length article, I will just mention a few more aircraft that stood out to me. While present during almost every Flying Legends, I love the appearance of the Westland Lysander. A stunning design, and a surprisingly fast display flown by this bulky, all black “spy-taxi”. Secondly, the beautiful FG-1D Corsair always leaves a great impression with her yaw dropping design and slick looking wings. Alongside the P-38 Lightning, the Corsair is in my opinion the most beautiful shaped aircraft ever build. When introduced in 1940 it boasted the most powerful engine along with the largest diameter propeller of any fighter aircraft.
And last, but definitely not least, largely appreciated was the tremendous effort to make the appearance of the Jan Frizo-Roosen's Hawker Hurricane and P-51 Mustang Moonbeam McSwime possible. Both aircraft are based in Lille, France, and had to make a large detour via the south of France to avoid the thick layers of clouds and rain, before arriving in sunny weather during the show on Saturday.
This year Duxford was again the place to be if your heart is with nostalgic aircraft. I always like the fact that all these old aircraft have different stories to tell. And just to see so many aircraft in one place is remarkable and unique. Featuring a mass of Spitfires, the sleek P-40C Warhawk, the little but nimble flying P-26 Peashooter, the legendary Super Connie, and many other warbirds and classics.
Next year the UK and IWM Duxford will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, with hopefully again an impressive list of rare and unique aircraft for the Flying Legends show. I hope to be there again on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th July 2015 to experience warbird heaven over historic Duxford.
Special thanks go to Esther Blaine, the Fighter Collection, 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 )
Last Modified: 4 August 2014