Duxford Flying Legends 2008 Review
Saturday 12th July - Sunday 13th July
If there was to be one show to benefit from the cancellation of Fairford's big weekend then surely Flying Legends was it. The hours of dedication and cold, hard cash spent in keeping these magnificent warbirds in the skies deserved a bumper turnout at this year's show as many a 'RIATless' enthusiast made the diversion from Gloucestershire to take in Flying Legends 2008.
reports for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the Author and .
So, the much-debated clash between RIAT and Legends never happened, perhaps a sign from the airshow gods above that choosing between two flagship shows shouldn't have to be an option, in this or indeed any year. Duxford became so swamped with visitors that on the Sunday the gates were closed at around 1:30pm, with the famous old airfield full to capacity.
However to suggest that Flying Legends was merely a bolthole for those disappointed from the Cotswolds would be grossly unfair. The show had shaped up well for a number of months with the planned dramatic sight of no less than 3 B-17 Flying Fortresses in the air at once. With 'Liberty Belle' retracing her steps of years gone by, the regular (but perhaps last) appearance by French-owned 'Pink Lady' and resident 'Sally B' all together, the scene was set for an unforgettable sight over the skies of Duxford.
Of course no Legends show would pass without a degree of unserviceability and sadly this was the fate of 'Sally B', her engine difficulties ultimately ruling her out of the remainder of the 2008 season. Despite this setback the two big bombers who did make it into the air performed superbly together, with some particularly eye catching passes from 'Pink Lady', perhaps a final farewell if ever-spiralling insurance costs do ultimately ground her.
The show does have the feel of a genuine wartime re-enactment with numerous personnel dressed in themed wartime attire. This provides for some interesting photographic opportunities if one is inclined in such a way, as does the ever-popular flightline walk, though photography was close-to-impossible around the three heavy bombers, such was the intense public focus particularly on 'Liberty Belle' during the show. The sheer numbers walking the flightline certainly felt larger than at any Duxford show in recent memory.
The traditional Legends start to the show was a tailchase of Spitfires which included PL344, a Spitfire LF9E, the aircraft flying for the first time at a UK air display. Owned by Tom Blair, this Spitfire had previously been resident in the USA, despite her restoration taking place in the UK. After returning to the UK for overhaul in 2007, the decision was taken to base the aircraft in the UK for the summer of 2008.
Another Duxford debutant was Yak-3 D-FJAK owned by Chris Vogelgesang painted in the colours of 'White 100' a Soviet airframe from World War 2. The performance of the aircraft was very punchy indeed, the powerful Allison V-12 engine capable of taking the aircraft up to around 450 mph. The aircraft was rebuilt using original parts and spares in the 1990's by Jakovlev. The display at Duxford was flown by Mark Jefferies, former British Aerobatic Champion who clearly relished the performance of the aircraft.
Two noteworthy additions to the line-up from France were P-51D 'Nooky Booky IV' and P-40N Kittyhawk 'Little Jeannie'. The Mustang was prominent in the 5-ship Mustang tail chase which included TFC's 'Miss Velma', OFMC's 'Ferocious Frankie', Scandinavian Historic Flight's 'Old Crow' and 'Miss Helen' owned by Robs Lamplough. The tempo of the tailchase was pure Mustang with the howl and whine multiplied by five!
A very welcome return visitor to Legends was the Scandinavian Historic Flight's A-26B Invader performing some very welcome topside passes as good as anything produced by the Mustang five-ship. The aircraft also performed with the Duke of Brabant Air Force B-25J Mitchell after its nimble routine. Other noteable inclusions were TFC's P-40B Warhawk and Jonathan Whaley piloting Spitfire Mk1A AR213 which has recently been restored. The classic RAF and Luftwaffe dogfight scenario was enacted by Tom Blair's Buchon and Spitfire PL344. The contra-prop Spitfire PR19 is always an unusual sight and sound, in some ways looking and sounding more aggressive than her other Spitfire sisters.
The surge to the front by the big Duxford crowd was felt none more so than when 'Liberty Belle' swept into the air. Owned by Don Brooks whose father flew 39 missions in B-17's in the 390th Bomb Group during WWII, the aircraft cost $3.5 million to restore and costs $3500 an hour to operate. All who attended Legends over the weekend would surely agree it was money well spent. On her return to display at first she was flanked by two P-51's, 'Miss Velma' and 'Ferocious Frankie' subsequently returning to perform a number of solo passes to an enthralled Duxford audience. 'Pink Lady' was not to be outdone and descended to a much lower level to fully inspect Duxford's grass strip and surrounding fields and meadows. Whilst tinged with disappointment that all 3 B-17's couldn't get air beneath their wheels, the sight of three sat side-by-side may not be seen in the UK again for a very long time, if ever.
Fiercely debated during and after the show was whether Team Guinot properly qualify for a place in the Legends flying programme. Their display at Duxford did feature a new innovation over the weekend, being coloured smoke. Whether or not this could be attributed to the addition of any Guinot skin care products to the smoke system could not be confirmed, though the smoke didn't carry a new fresh-smelling bouquet it has to be said!
The massed 'Balbo' finale of Legends is just one of those sights which never fails to capture the imagination whether you are a die-hard warbird enthusiast or not. Leading this year's formation was TF-51D 'Miss Velma' handled by Pete Kynsey of The Fighter Collection, a magnificent sight whether viewed approaching the display line or from the rear, the mixture of different tones from the piston engines a sound not to be forgotten.
There was to be a slight mishap for P-51D 'Miss Helen' on landing after Sunday's show but this shouldn't detract from a very safe and well-executed Legends show. One cannot help but be enthused by the tempo of the flying display, aircraft getting airborne whilst the previous act is on finals or even spiralling out of their final display manoeuvre! Credit must also be given to the organisers who dealt with a bumper capacity crowd in terms of their access and departure to and from the airfield. Quite possibly, the smooth exit was due to many people deciding to stay behind a while, particularly on the Sunday to watch a few early-evening departures in some much sought-after sunshine in this wet English summer.