Duxford Flying Legends 2006 Review
Saturday 8th July - Sunday 9th July
It's the time of year the British aviation enthusiast feels the pinch the most. With our Glastonbury - RIAT, just around the corner, most of us will have paid for our ticket, pre-booked our hotels and campsites, and more than likely splashed out on yet more camera gear. And still we aircraft junkies dig deeper for the warbird fix that is Duxford's Flying Legends, which falls on the very weekend before Fairford's extravaganza.
reports from cloudy Cambridgeshire. Photography by the author and .
This year's Legends didn't quite manage to pull off the star items that were rumoured to be in The Fighter Collection's pipeline. There was no Mitsubishi Zero, and no 'proper' Daimler-Benz-engined Messerschmitt Me109. Stephen Grey and his team didn't disappoint though, and the show was graced by several machines making their Legends debuts.
From Breighton's Real Aeroplane Company came the stunning Hispano Buchon - effectively a Spanish-built Me109 with a Merlin powerplant. There was also a first Legends appearance for the recently restored Supermarine Seafire. And from the European mainland came the Swiss-based, sole surviving airworthy example of the French Second World War Moraine 406.
Other gems included a superb bare-metal Douglas Dakota from Norway, a Dutch PBY5A Catalina, the French-based Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress 'Pink Lady', the freshly re-engined Curtiss Hawk 75 and the beautiful Polikarpov I-15 biplane. From the Netherlands came the Duke of Brabant Air Force's B-25 Mitchell, while German airline Lufthansa provided their Junkers Ju52 'Tante Ju' as well as the Messerschmitt Me108 Taifun.
Speaking of biplanes, Legends 2006 bore witness to something scarcely seen since World War One - a formation of no less than three Bristol Fighters. Normally Legends concentrates on machines from the second global conflict, but this was too good an opportunity to miss!
Legends is, and by some margin, Europe's premier warbird airshow. In truth only the French display at La Ferte Alais comes anywhere near. With the quality comes a high admission price. The on-the-gate charge for 2006 was £30 for adults, but with bumper crowds this year the price doesn't seem to be keeping the general public away. Even so, just how far can Duxford push the prices before the casual, average family decide enough is enough? Factor in a programme at £5 and a flightline walk at £4 per person and the pounds really do begin to add-up at a frightening rate.
The flightline walk is something of a must for anyone of a photographic bent. However, the time is surely coming where Duxford need to act and make the flightline more 'photographer friendly'. Rows of warbirds parked tightly, head-on, side-by-side does not facilitate anything other than bog-standard record shots. And the constant presence of 'press' photographers dawdling between the aircraft, getting in the way of the paying public's shots is an inconvenience and annoyance that really needs to be looked at. UKAR calls on Duxford to set aside 45 minutes between 8:45-9:30am before the flightline opens to the paying public for the press to be given free access to the aircraft. And how about parking one or two of the machines tail-on to the crowd? Warbirds are far more photogenic from the rear in any case. If the show organisers want to charge a fee for flightline access, then that fee should entitle the photographer to better access than is currently the case.
Another issue which appears to worsen with every show at Duxford is the continued growth of the Windbreak Brigade. By 8:30am this year the crowdline at the popular Land Warfare Hall end of the airfield was a sea of garish polyester. One unofficial enclosure, which we'll call 'Camp Windbreak' extended a full fifteen feet across, stretching back at least ten or twelve feet. Contained therein were no more than seven or eight selfish souls. Come on IWM, sort this out. What about a 'Windbreak Tax' - £10 per camp, all proceeds going towards the AirSpace project? You'd make a lot of unselfish paying punters very happy.
Commentary came with a Gallic twist this year. Bernard Chabbert was part of the team describing the action, and he certainly pulled no punches. He criticised the Aerostars (admittedly a bizarre choice for a Flying Legends line-up, though the commentators did their best to try and convince the crowd of the Yak-50's 'legendary' status) for a "botched" manoeuvre, and his facts were, being generous, a little open to question, especially on the wartime kill ratio of the Moraine versus the Messerschmitt 109. When you're commentating at Duxford, you're talking to probably the most clued-up airshow crowd in the world, so you'd better be pretty spot-on!
The flying display was among the finest at Flying Legends in recent years, and the three-and-a-bit hour show started in traditional Legends style with a ten-ship Spitfire tailchase. If you've not yet witnessed this Legends speciality, then you really should make an extra effort to get to the 2007 show. Even for the hardened aviation photographer, the temptation is immense just to put your camera down and stand and watch, open-mouthed, spellbound by what must be one of the best aviation set-pieces on the airshow scene. Breathtaking.
Aside from the items already mentioned, Legends 2006 saw fine displays from Anna Walker in both the Beech Staggerwing and Bucker Jungmann. There was also a de Havilland three-ship display of Dragon, Rapide and Fox Moth. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight contributed their Dakota on the Saturday, and Lancaster PA474 on Sunday, as well as a Spitfire and Hurricane. Spectators were treated to three examples of the Vought F4U Corsair naval fighter.
From nearby Old Warden's Shuttleworth Collection came the Gloster Gladiator, while the Real Aeroplane Company paired their Buchon with the beautiful black-painted Hurricane. A French-registered Yakovlev Yak-11 flew a most-energetic routine, and there was a healthy contingent of P-51D Mustangs, as well as the lovely P-51C 'Princess Elizabeth'. P-47D Thunderbolt 'No Guts, No Glory', despite apparent morning engine problems, displayed for the crowd, but sadly the recently acquired 'Razorback' variant wasn't made airworthy in time for the show, despite the very best efforts of all concerned with the show.
A Naval formation of Douglas Skyraider, Seafire and Sea Fury was a nice touch, while the home-based B-17 'Sally B', Plane Sailing's Catalina and Grumman Bearcat, Hellcat, Wildcat and Tigercat are familiar, if welcome additions to any Duxford show.
The annual Legends mass-formation 'balbo' to close the show was as impressive as ever, led by the Tigercat, with the B-25 taking up the rear, while Stephen Grey enjoyed himself playing the 'Joker' in the Bearcat.
Curious absentees from the British warbird scene were Caroline Grace's twin-seat Spitfire ML407 (which bore a placard saying in rather blunt terms 'we weren't booked for Legends'), Peter Vacher's recently-rebuilt Hurricane I and anything from the collections of Maurice Hammond or Peter Teichman.
Legends 2006 was a very good airshow, and The Fighter Collection remain firm in their rejection of jet aircraft. Legends is a celebration of the prop and the piston. Even so, the author couldn't help but notice a lovely 1/4 scale radio-controlled model of a Messerschmitt Me262 tucked away amid the static displays. Bearing in mind a certain full-scale flying replica currently living in Germany, I wonder if Legends 2007 might just see the rules being stretched a tad?