IWM Duxford 'Flying Legends' Airshow

Saturday 13th July - Sunday 14th July 2019

Flying Legends is a highlight in the calendar for vintage aviation enthusiasts from across the world hoping to take in their annual dose of warbird magic. With a disappointingly slow build up to this year's show leaving many feeling apprehensive, Flying Legends was once again held on the second weekend of July for its 27th year.

Jakub Zurek travelled to IWM Duxford for UK Airshow Review.

One of the biggest warbird shows in the world and featuring a wide array of iconic piston-engined aircraft, visitors to Flying Legends have come to expect to be greeted with a lineup of warbirds stretching far and wide across the historic airfield. The show is an annual pilgrimage for many punters and visiting aircraft, not only from the UK but from overseas too. In 2019 however, this was sadly not the case. Those who bought earlybird tickets, made travel and accommodation commitments were left worried about the lack of warbirds from anywhere other than those based at Sywell or Duxford. With just over two weeks to go the first international participant was finally confirmed as the Pan Am liveried DC-3 from the Historic Flight Foundation. This DC-3 was one of 15 Dakotas which made the trip from the US for the D-Day commemorations in June and was the only one to attend Flying Legends. This was undeniably a pleasing addition, but it was a case of too little too late, especially when at the same time IWM were able to confirm a Swiss-based Yak-9 as one of their first participants for the Battle of Britain airshow, being held a whole two months later in September. Flying Legends has always been an opportunity to see multiple foreign based warbirds, and is the unique selling point of the show alongside the fantastic selection of warbirds that call Duxford their home.

The biggest disappointment of all though, came on Thursday before the show when two gorgeous P-51 Mustangs owned by Comanche Fighters were ferried out of Duxford to Biggin Hill for reasons yet unknown. This left just TF-51D 'Contrary Mary' and P-51D 'Sharkmouth' representing the type in the display, with Duxford regular 'Miss Helen' sitting the show out in one of the hangars. The organisers are no doubt at the mercy of the owners of these historic aircraft, but with three of Comanche's resident Spitfires participating in the event, one must wonder the reason for omitting to show off these beautiful and rarely-seen P-51s to the British public.

Alongside this, there was a significant aircraft type entirely missing from the show. Perhaps as a nod to the Shuttleworth Collection welcoming seven examples a week prior, no Hawker Hurricanes participated. Yet, punters undertaking long trips to the UK just to attend Legends were left pleading for this British legend to be added to the show during the build up, and with an abundance of airworthy Hurricanes, it would have been a suitable addition to the Battle of Britain display slot. Additionally, with one of the main criticisms for the May Duxford show being the fact that so many airworthy warbirds are left in the hangars, Legends have to be careful this does not become a regular occurrence and remember that these aircraft form the core of the show.

Nonetheless, the show did see some most welcome firsts. If four Hispano Buchons was not impressive enough last year, this year saw five flying together, though on the Saturday it was disappointing not to see them all in formation. ARCo's newly restored Westland Lysander was also a welcome sight flying alongside another aircraft powered by the Bristol Mercury powerplant, the Bristol Blenheim. One of the most anticipated firsts however, was the debut airshow appearance of the newly restored DH9. The bomber, restored by Retrotec Ltd, was finally able to debut on Sunday after technical issues prevented it taking flight during its slot on Saturday. Unfortunately the fiasco surrounding the cancellation of the Vintage Evening at Duxford on 22nd June and the cancelled appearance of the First World War bomber at Old Warden left a sour taste and took something away from seeing the aircraft for the first time. Whatever the reasons for the series of cancellations, this really is an aircraft that deserves to be shown off at a smaller venue like Old Warden. Regardless, Guy Black and his team at Historic Aircraft Collection and Retrotec have achieved something truly special in bringing back the sight and sound of this significant First World War aircraft to British skies.

Despite these shortcomings and typical eye-wateringly expensive Duxford airshow refreshments, the weekend saw plenty of exhilarating displays. For those positioned at the M11 end of the crowdline, there were a couple of exciting take-offs, with the P-47 Thunderbolt and Shaun Patrick's Sea Fury dipping their wings and banking towards the ARCo hangar. The usually excellent Spitfire opening could have left a smile on anyone's face, and the brand new Ultimate Fighters team were outstanding. Featuring formation aerobatics and a mock dogfight, the team were surely one of the highlights of the weekend and are something to look out for during the rest of the airshow season. The three-ship Dakota display was also a fitting tribute for the 75th anniversary of D-Day and featured the immaculate, aforementioned DC-3 from the Historic Flight Foundation alongside the Aero Legends and Aces High C-47s. Hugo Mathys' Classic Formation from Switzerland increased the total number of Dakotas at the show to four, and once again brought an elegant form of formation flying to Legends - the team being the only other international participant at the show.

The pace of the flying display at Flying Legends is always something to be in awe of, with multiple warbirds taxiing, taking-off, landing or displaying all at the same time. This year was no different, though the tempo slowed down considerably in the last hour or so, with a pair of Piper Cubs and the Wingwalkers occupying a fairly long slot in the flying programme. The Aces High Dakota also performed a solo display shortly after the three-ship display, which simply felt unnecessary after seeing the aircraft in formation earlier on. The show was brought to a close by the usual Balbo finale, this year consisting of 24 warbirds. It was a stunning climax to the show, though the Joker slot was truly exceptional. Nick Grey in the F8F Bearcat and Richard Grace in the Hawker Fury ISS both provided displays of raw power and noise. Special mention must go to both Pete Kynsey and Nick Grey for putting on very impressive displays in the Bearcat during the weekend.

All in all, for vintage aviation enthusiasts there was frankly no better place to be. Certainly, several aspects of the show would have felt repetitive for anyone who has attended Legends religiously every year, and with Duxford's associated expenditures, it may not have been the best bang for your buck. Yet, despite some predictable displays and disappointments in the slow pre-show build up, Flying Legends still managed to feature an outstanding mix of warbirds in what was a thoroughly enjoyable show with plenty of superb displays and some newly restored aircraft to please even the most seasoned enthusiast.

It is surely a testament to how rich and diverse the UK warbird scene is at this moment in time, that Flying Legends can still be a success with limited foreign participation. Hopefully next year will see Legends go back to normal with an interesting assortment of vintage aircraft from Europe and across the pond, alongside other highly anticipated UK restorations finally breaking cover.