Duxford Flying Legends 2005 Review
Saturday 9th July - Sunday 10th July
Duxford's Flying Legends is without question the greatest warbird show in Britain. Probably in Europe. With only La Ferte Alais in France even coming close in terms of sheer volume of antique heavy metal with a military pedigree, it's no surprise that on the weekend of July 9-10 many thousands of British and overseas enthusiasts descended on Duxford to see what Stephen Grey and The Fighter Collection had managed to entice across the seas to Cambridgeshire for the 2005 show. And even the weather played ball. Eventually.
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Us aviation nutballs put enormous faith in those who predict the weather. And it was no small degree of trepidation that I set out for Saturday's edition of Duxford's Flying Legends airshow, even though Ceefax Page 401 had told me the vile murk and low cloud would have beaten a hasty retreat in time for the flying display. The cloud was so close to the ground as I drove down the A11, even the tops of electricity pylons were obscured. Should I turn back? With the wisdom of Page 401 firm in my mind I pressed on!
Arriving early at airshows is essential, but at Duxford it's reaching ridiculous levels. At 8am I drove into the North car park, to find that several hundred had already done so! Paying my £27 admission fee (of which more later), I got into the showground to find that a decent spot on the crowdline was already going to be a challenge.
The Land Warfare Hall end of Duxford is where most keen photographers like to be. The so-called "tank bank" offers a rare bit of elevation, and plenty of aircraft give a topside pass as they curve in across the crowdline. Unsurprisingly this, as with all other areas at Duxford, gets very busy. Even at this ungodly hour the fence was littered with windbreaks. Many selfishly occupying but a couple of people, yet taking up more than their fair share of space. One group of overseas enthusiasts, I'm told, had pegged out their acres of space the night before! Airshow organisers must start to act on such matters - because the windbreakers, mini-tenters and stepladder brigade ruin many a show for a good many people.
With the AirSpace building work continuing, Duxford's excellent museum is in a state of flux - not being a great fan of photographing museums, I restricted myself to a few minutes in each, all the time hoping, indeed praying, the murk above would clear.
As for the admission fee, I've been vociferous in my feelings about the cost of Duxford shows, and £27 is an awful lot of money for a three-and-a-bit hour flying display. But, in the case of Legends 2005 I'd say the high cost was more-or-less value for money given the excellent flying and variety of warbird types on show. Certainly the prices didn't appear to put many people off attending - I've not seen Duxford as busy as this on a Saturday show day for a long time. Clearly the formula of high quality line-ups and non-stop action works.
Before flying began there was a chance to pay to take the flightline walk. For a fee of £4 you can get up "close" to photograph the participating aircraft. In truth, you can't get that near to the machines, and for that, the flightline walk's value to the photographer is rather limited.
Flying started, as with all Duxford shows, around 2pm and good old Ceefax came up trumps. As soon as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane taxied out the sun began to break through - and by the end of the afternoon Duxford was bathed in hot sunshine.
The BBMF's Hurricane PZ865 suffered a minor engine problem as she taxied out, and wisely chose to stay on the ground. So it was Spitfire IIa P3750 who opened the display with a typical tidy, yet unspectacular BBMF routine. Lancaster PA474 "Mickey the Moocher" joined in too, but was unable to open her bomb doors in the normal way. The reason - they were full of poppies, in readiness for the following day's London flypast! But as one observer was heard to note - "if they can't open the bomb doors without the poppies falling out, how did they get them in there in the first place?" It's a fair point. Answers on a postcard please...
A rare transport duo were next up. Air Atlantique's Avro Anson was joined by a beautiful French-operated Lockheed 12. The Lockheed had displayed at last year's Legends, and in her bare metal finish looks simply superb. Her owner joined Sean Maffett to provide the afternoon's commentary - and the two managed to gabble on aimiably all afternoon, without a single mention of the 2012 Olympics!
The highlight of Legends for many is the Spitfire tailchase. For the uninitiated the idea is this - get as many Spitfires into the air as possible and "beat up" the airfield from every angle at high speed. It's magical - the sound of all those Merlins and Griffons is wonderful, and this year there was the unique contra-prop-Griffon-powered Spitfire to admire. The tailchase was followed by the unbeatable Ray Hanna in MH434. No-one displays a Spitfire better.
Newcomers to Legends included the beautiful Curtiss 75 Hawk - resplendent in French markings, and P-51C Mustang "Princess Elizabeth" which flew a wonderful tight pairs routine with Duxford wartime veteran P-51D "Twilight Tear".
Star of the show for many was the Sweden-based Saab B17 dive bomber. Easily the most striking-looking beast on show with its "cricket pad" undercarriage, the B17 flew a lively routine which opened with a simulated attack dive, using the odd gear arrangement as dive brakes!
Another overseas visitor was Switzerland's immaculate Alpine Fighter Collection operated B-25 Mitchell "Russell's Raiders", which flew with the Netherlands-based Duke of Brabant example. The sight of two B-25s thundering down Duxford's parallel runways was one of the many high points of Legends 2005.
Europe's two remaining airworthy B-17 Flying Fortresses "Sally B" and "The Pink Lady" flew "together" again. Rules being rules mean the two can't display in formation, but one or two photographers (not me!) may have managed to get them both in frame at the same time! It's great to see "Sally B" back in the air, thanks to Richard Branson, following her tussle with European insurance rules earlier in the season. The fight's not over yet for Elly Sallingboe and B-17 Preservation. They've won the battle, but sadly, the war is far from over.
Looking lovely in her new all-white scheme, Plane Sailing's PBY-5A Catalina flew an elegant display. She may not be as striking as in her former "Rasta Cat" firefighting colours, but in her new US Navy guise she really is a beauty.
Former World Aerobatic champion Oleg Federov took the controls of the Polikarpov I-15 and fair flung her around the blue skies. It was, I felt a rather overly-energetic routine. What we want to see are aircraft displayed to show them off, without hurling them around like Extra 300s. Topside passes, not steep climbs and loops are the hallmarks of a top quality warbird display. Ray Hanna and Andy Sephton's Spitfire displays are classic examples.
Other machines displayed included the Curtiss P-40, Douglas Skyraider, DC3s from both the BBMF and Icelandair's anniversary-schemed example, Anna Walker's Bucker Jungmann display, Gloster Gladiator (which flew with a Hawker Nimrod on Sunday), Grumman Hellcat, Wildcat and Tigercat (the Bearcat was sick all weekend), and several Hawker Hurricanes and P-51D Mustangs, including the Breighton-based example "Suzy".
These and many other of the participants took to the air again for the show's closing "balbo". The idea here is to get as many warbirds in the air for a mass formation flypast. 27 was Saturday's number, and even a non-warbird fan alongside me was heard to remark on how impressive this was. Especially with Stephen Grey in the Curtiss Hawk playing "Joker".
Saturday's Legends ended on a sad note - one of Classic Wings' de Havilland Dragon Rapides, giving pleasure flights after the display, suffered an engine fire while taxying out. Being of wood and canvas construction, the wing in question was soon gutted by fire. Full credit to the emergency services though, they were on the scene reassuringly quickly, and the aircraft should be able to be repaired without too much trouble.
So far 2005 has been a great year for airshows, and Flying Legends certainly lived up to its billing. A collection of great aircraft shown off by the best pilots around. Yes Legends is expensive, but there's nothing else like it - it remains simply the best warbird show there is.