Duxford Flying Legends 2009 Review
Saturday 11th July - Sunday 12th July
News that nearly all of The Fighter Collection's aircraft had been grounded pending a CAA investigation into their paperwork had put serious question marks over the ability of Flying Legends to go ahead as planned, in the minds of many enthusiasts. The show is run by TFC, with its fleet of aircraft being very much the core of the show. When the display list was announced it became clear that Stephen Grey, the boss of TFC, had pulled out all the stops to attract the finest warbirds that Europe has to offer. One of these machines would easily steal the show, being of a type that few would have been expecting to see in the skies above Cambridgeshire.
looks back at last summer's event. Additional photography by and .
Despite early 2009 predictions of a heat wave, the British summer had reverted to type, and the Saturday and Sunday mornings of Legends were no exceptions. Rain and misty low cloud greeted the early-comers to the show, and although both days improved, only the Sunday afternoon enjoyed anything approaching proper summer weather. Gusting winds played a part in the scrubbing of a small number of the lighter aircraft, and Sally B was still grounded with engine problems. With the negatives out of the way, the positives soon became obvious once the flight-line came into view. Just taking in the group on the hard standing near to the AirSpace hanger illustrated the potential for a very special show indeed. Parked there were six P-51 Mustangs, a 'Bf-109', two A4-D Skyraiders, and most surprisingly two 'FW-190's. Although the '190' owned by Spitfire Ltd is a regular 'static' at Duxford shows, its companion was the one setting the pulses racing. Owned by Christophe Jacquard, the Flug Werk FW190A-8/N F-AZZJ had only flown a few months previously, and was very much a late surprise addition to the Legends content, not even mentioned in the show programme.
Both of the FW-190s are new-build aircraft, designed and built by Flug Werk GmbH of Gammelsdorf, Bavaria, with the first example of the new type having flown five years ago. Flug Werk offer the FW-190s as a kit of parts, and have sold most of the twenty so far built, but there have been many issues with the constructed aircraft - such that the Spitfire Ltd example has been commented as unlikely to ever fly - with only three having so far flown, making the appearance at Legends of Christophe's 'Butcher Bird' very special indeed. This was the first chance for the public to see one of these masterpieces displaying at a show, wonderfully flown by Marc 'Leon' Mathis who also carried out the flight testing of the machine at its home base near Dijon, France. Prior to Legends F-AZZJ had barely double figures in flying hours, but was already the most flown of the type. 'Leon' could have been forgiven if he'd decided to just put the aircraft in the air for us to see. That didn't turn out to be the case, as we were soon to see.
For many years Legends' 'signature dish' was its end of show 'Balbo', where most of the participating warbirds fly through in formation, followed by its breaking into segments and each then breaking to land. A spectacle that is still thankfully part of Legends, but which has perhaps been usurped as the highlight by the opening sequence which sees a seemingly constant stream of warbirds taking to the skies, and, with some clever choreography, totally fill it with glorious sights and sounds of wheeling fighters and bombers. First up were the Spitfires. Joining the UK based Spits was another from Christophe's stable, the Mk XIX now with a standard prop configuration rather than the contra-rotating version previously seen, and the Mk XVIII SM845 now owned by Biltema of Sweden, but flown by Rod Dean, as it was when based in this country. Seven Spitfires made up the first act, supported - but in danger of being upstaged - by the Luftwaffe pair of the 'Bf109' (actually a Spanish built HA-1112 Buchon) and the aforementioned 'FW-190'.
With the Spitfires tracing figure of eights over the airfield in front of the packed crowd, the Germans swooped in as a pair from each end of the field, low and fast, creating the most amazing spectacle of foreground and background action that would be very difficult to beat. They then separated into individual displays, with Brian Smith in the Buchon being particularly impressive in his routine, but it will of course be the sight of the 'FW190' and the sound of its throaty radial that will remain longest in the memory. It would be wrong, perhaps, to separate one aircraft though from an incredible routine of which the Spitfire tailchase is still a highlight of a whole season of flying displays in this country, and long may it continue.
For visitors to Duxford who watch the show from the western end of the airfield, especially the 'Tank Bank', and therefore have a view down the full length of both the grass and 'hard' runways, the sight of all of the aircraft taxiing out and departing for their 'slots' must be similar to the squadrons who would have scrambled to defend the area during wartime. Not only are the immediate acts taking to the air, but the following ones also get airborne into the hold, so as to be able to seamlessly swoop in for their allotted display timings. It is not uncommon for over a dozen glorious warbirds to be lining up for take-off during the build up to these more 'manic' sections of the afternoon, as in the case when three P-51 Mustangs had departed along with the nine previously displaying aircraft.
Flying those three UK based Mustangs were Jim Beasley, Dan Friedkin and Ed Shipley, in 'Ferocious Frankie', 'Miss Velma' and 'Big Beautiful Doll' respectively. The trio are known as The Horsemen (from a song title by rock band Metallica) and are the world's only P-51 formation team. Possibly over hyped by British standards, and especially for those that remember the four warbird Breitling team led by the incomparable Ray Hanna, they are nonetheless a highly skilled team producing a well rounded routine, if somewhat high and distant from the crowd. Just as impressive by virtue of their size and volume were a following trio, this time of B-25 Mitchells, with Christian Amara's P-40N Warhawk tucked in behind. The sand and green colour scheme on the B-25 'Russell's Raiders', based at La Ferte-Alais, is particularly smart, and with it being joined by the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight 'Sarinah' (for a long time flown by the Dukes of Brabant Air Force) and 'Grumpy' (now owned by Vulcan Warbirds in the US) clearly illustrated the strong foreign participation of Legends 2009.
To further underline the cosmopolitan nature of the show, the Yakovlev design bureau monopolised much of the next section, with a welcome chance to see the very pretty and capable Yak 3 and Yak 9 'warbirds', whilst the Aerostars performed in their Yak 52 trainers. The pale blue Yak 3 of Christian Vogelgesang is an especially fine looking machine, but suffered a tail wheel collapse on landing on the Saturday. Repairs carried out during the evening allowed it to take part in the Sunday show. Two pairs of big radials were yet another delight. Kennet Aviation's Skyraider was joined by that from the Jean Salis collection, with the Seafire XVII also from Kennet adding scale to the awesome two. Continuing the Naval theme, was the rare appearance (and again helping to emphasize the quality of Flying Legends 2009) of two Hawker Fury types. 'Iraqi' Fury ISS 37514 owned by Frederick Akary sported a stunning dark blue Royal Australian Navy scheme, whilst Sea Fury T20 had been shipped over from the USA for the show and was the former Royal Navy Historic Flight WG655, ably flown at the show by Steve Hinton.
The later section of the show took on a more sedate, but no less appealing, look, with highlights being the pairings of the Shuttleworth Gladiator and Lysander, the 'Vacher' Hurricane and Shuttleworth Sea Hurricane, and the Norwegian C-53D (Dakota) and Beech Staggerwing of Edwin Boschoff. A Mustang tailchase injecting another dose of pace, whilst the two J-3 Cubs and the offering from the Great War Team of WWI 'warbirds' illustrated the opposite end of the speed spectrum. As is now traditional, the final act of a Flying Legends is the big formation, or 'Balbo'. For 2009 we had 21 warbirds taking part, and to see this number of classic aircraft lining up and departing in big groups is a stunning sight and sound. For the photographers it is a difficult event to capture, and perhaps it is best just to watch. Once the complete Balbo has made its passes, it breaks into sub-formations for further passes and breaks to land, and sometimes there are aircraft all over the sky. An incredible piece of planning by those involved, with special accolades going to Stephen Grey, who's show this is, and who also so gracefully filled the sky with his one machine whilst the 21 others were forming up. Using the 'borrowed' Sea Fury T20, Stephen again illustrated his love of big manoeuvres and power to fill the voids in the final set-piece. We can only speculate as to what kind of show Legends would have been had the TFC beasts been allowed to take part, but what we do know is that Legends 2009 was very much a classic.