IWM Duxford Flying Legends Airshow Report

Saturday 11th July - Sunday 12th July 2015

With the sound of clicking magnetos, the momentarily dull clanking of cylinders, the phut-phut of smoke as oil ignites on spluttering start-ups - these are the sights and sounds which are synonymous with The Fighter Collection's annual Flying Legends Air Show. The event has become quite the quintessential place to be in a busy July UK airshow season and rekindles the nostalgic and pioneering past of what was at the time cutting-edge military aviation. Now in its 22nd year, the piston prop extravaganza attracts aircraft and spectators from near and far; Flying Legends has truly become the mecca for warbird enthusiasts nestling within the confines of this historic WWII airfield. There have been rumblings of opening up the floor to classic jets - there are the die-hard warbird enthusiasts who vehemently reject any such notion and their point can be taken as there is ample opportunity throughout the season to witness these particular aircraft at alternative venues. It's probably best not worth mentioning the Heritage Flight featuring a USAF F-15E Eagle in formation with TF-51 "Miss Velma" and others back in 2007!

Tim Croton made the pilgrimage to The Fighter Collection's warbird extravaganza. Additional material and photography from the UKAR Staff Team.

Every airshow regardless of its stature seems subject to a certain amount of criticism and some of it, it has to be said, is valid. Duxford past and present is no exception - these gripes range from the amount of stall holders taking up valuable space along the crowd line to the perceived expense of ticket prices for what is essentially an afternoon show and the frustration towards people who still persist in pitching up windbreaks and tents forming their own private enclosures unchecked. These are some of the reasons cited as to why people view the airshow from outside the showground. It does appear that Duxford courts more of these controversies than most; a case of hyperbole perhaps?

Without getting into a debate about it, TFC must still be doing something right as crowd numbers were incredibly healthy over the two show days, in addition to the large number of visitors to the museum in the days prior to the show hoping to catch some arrivals and rehearsals. The added bonus that the event didn't clash with the Royal International Air Tattoo as in previous years may well also have been a contributing factor to this.

With many rare and exotic warbirds advertised, this show, at least on paper, promised to be one of the better editions of late. As the months rolled by leading up to the show weekend, expectations were running high as "A"-lister aircraft were added to the line-up and notable "Legend" debutants in the form of a Curtiss P-36C, Seafire III and Blenheim I added to the mix alongside a not too shabby contingent offered up from mainland Europe.

After preventing many stars from attending last year's show, it was pleasing that the weather was reasonably kind on the Saturday to greet the expectant crowd whilst a frenzy of activity was to be found in the hangars as last minute checks were being undertaken on various airframes. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the Sunday, which was blighted by the occasional, but heavy, shower. The affectionately known 'tat' stalls were doing a roaring trade as were the overpriced burger bars but the atmosphere of the show would probably not be the same without them? You pays yer money and takes yer choice!

As 2 o'clock approached it was time to sit back, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy this most looked forward to edition of Legends for many a year. The "tank bank" which offers excellent views was packed out but thankfully not overcrowded although the PA system was hard to hear, although some who prefer to enjoy the undistracted sound of the aircraft being out through their paces may see this as a blessing. For others though, there was a welcome return of a certain French commentator who is an integral component of the show.

The simultaneous roar of eleven Spitfires of various marks got proceedings underway flying in three separate close formation wings - multiple passes ensued so not a bad way to inaugurate the show! The highlight for many was the Supermarine Seafire III in naval camouflage which complemented a whole host of different schemed aircraft. Another Spitfire of note, operated by the Seattle-based Historic Flight Foundation was the LF.IXe SL633, making its first airshow appearance in the UK; somewhat of a home coming as this aircraft represented the successful No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at Duxford during the war. It could be argued that more could have been made of the four Griffon powered Spits which at times seemed to distance themselves from the crowd line.

TFC don't seem to do things in half measures and if you can have one example of a particular airframe then why not have two or three? This was the case with the pair of Corsairs (the German-owned F4U and TFC's FG-1D) as they ripped up the sky, the rarity of seeing the world's only two airworthy Gloster Gladiators in the air together was also a memorable moment whilst the tempo was slowed down somewhat with a sedate but pleasing display from three Grasshoppers who with their tight turning capabilities entertained along the entire crowd line. A trio of Buchons including the German Daimler-Benz powered machine performed their set piece and it made for a refreshing change that they weren't on the receiving end of a Spitfire tail chase!

At last week's Shuttleworth Military Pageant the Bristol Blenheim undoubtedly stole the show - would John Romain be able to repeat if not better the display on home turf? Quite simply, the answer was yes with another amazing piece of artistry and airmanship; with the aircraft itself fast gaining a reputation of being somewhat of a national treasure within the enthusiast fraternity. Is it a Blenheim or a Bolingbroke? The truth is, it matters not one jot! The crowd enjoyed a similar display to that of Old Warden but Duxford offers a little more freedom and with an initial escort of three Mk. 1 Spitfires and the sole Hurricane on show (HAC's Mk XII) flying in close formation it was a sight to behold - when later displayed as a singleton John Romain used the space to his advantage and showcased this twin engined beauty to perfection.

There are few take-offs that can match the adrenaline rush of a quartet of Mustangs hugging close to the ground and with "Miss Velma" and the "Shark Mouthed" 51's side-by-side the noise created by those Merlins reverberated at close quarters along the crowd line. Moonbeam McSwine and the German registered TF-51 complemented the flying with the characteristic "whistle" evident when in a dive.

For such a large single-engined aircraft the TBM Avenger put in a sterling performance with a series of fast, low passes and flew quite possibly the closest to the spectators of all the participants. As always, the show closed with the customary Balbo.

All in all, Flying Legends 2015 was a huge success and it is has to be said there was not one single act which disappointed during the entire afternoon. There were many other notable highlights which made the on the day gate price of £34.50 worth every penny. A statement in this day and age rarely said!

The Fighter Collection should be pleased with the show they put on and the bumper crowds on both days were a testament to that withstanding the cancellations leading up to the show.