2016 Event Review

IWM Duxford Flying Legends 9-10 July, 2016
Location: IWM Duxford, UK
Admission: Advanced ticket event
Parking: Onsite parking requested separately and at an additional pre-paid cost per vehicle
Value:: Good
Rating out of 10: 7
 

 

For almost every year in the past decade the UK's two foremost annual air shows have coincided with each other on the very same weekend in July. The clash of dates is viewed by many, who enjoy both modern jets and classic warbirds, as an inconvenience. With venues in Cambridgeshire (Flying Legends) and Gloucestershire (RIAT) being situated around 121 road miles apart, several enthusiasts opt to attend one venue on a day and then switch to the other. One must therefore book accommodation well ahead and be prepared for the journey.

The weather is a key element at both events and it not uncommon to hear about last minute cancellations due to high wind gusts, low cloud and/or rain squalls. Some aircraft are vulnerable to the elements and most of the flying is held under VFR conditions. I attended the Saturday show this year and the weather was mainly cloudy, with a westerly wind. There were some sunny spells and an occasional rain cloud in the late afternoon.

Duxford sports a grass strip which is parallel to a paved runway, both lie 06/24. On the day runway 24 was in use meaning that all aircraft were taking off from left to right. Almost all aircraft at Legends are tail draggers and some like Classic Wings' DH Tiger Moth sport tail skids dictating their need to use a grass strip. The designated viewing areas and crowd line as from 2016 (and future years) have been modified to comply with the CAA's newly imposed restrictions in the wake of the Hawker Hunter tragedy at Shoreham last year. Whereas in previous years it was commonplace to see spectator 'freeloaders' on the other side of the airfield, this year the fields were empty. Public traffic was not permitted all around the secondary roads leading to the approaches and perimeter. The crowd line alongside the Land Warfare Museum (aka, the Tank Bank) was closed off as this was deemed to be too close to the runway in the event of an emergency. People were discouraged from setting up wind breakers along the whole length of the crowd line.
In the morning and prior to the commencement of the flying display all participating aircraft were gathered into a viewing area which extended from the control tower to close by the taxiway for rw 24. For an additional charge of £5 one could enjoy the flight line walk and take photos of the aircraft and re-enactors/additional equipment. Shortly before flying commenced the area was checked for any F.O.D. Throughout the morning and later after the show, Classic Wings provided flights in their distinctive fleet of DH Dragon Rapides, DH Tiger Moths and NA Harvards. I had the opportunity to fly in a DH-82A Tiger Moth DF112/G-ANRM some years ago and the experience was exhilarating.

Chocks away, the flying started with the traditional squadron scramble of Supermarine Spitfires, of varying early marks, signifying the historic link which exists between Duxford and the iconic Spitfire. It was back in August 1938 that the RAF's first operational Spitfire MkI squadron, numbered 19, was formed here as a fighter squadron. The Spitfires made three figure of eight circuits which was a relatively shortened display, at a higher altitude than usual, with fewer low level tail chases. I was on the lookout for EP122, a newly restored airworthy Spitfire MkVb sporting the same camo and markings carried when it was stationed in Malta in 1942. This aircraft eluded my attention and I was to learn later on that it had been repainted for film work to represent an earlier mark with its cannon fairings removed and temporary serial R9649/LC.

The Spitfires were followed by a duo comprising of a F4U Corsair and Grumman F8F Bearcat. A trio of Hawks then took over with their tight formation flying comprising of a Curtiss-Wright Hawk H75, a Curtiss-Wright P36C and a Curtis-Wright P40C Kittyhawk. Flying Legends and jet aircraft do not frequently mix. This year a F22A Raptor (tail code FF) made a unique appearance at Legends with a P51D (Miss Helen) representing the USAF Heritage Flight. Another most welcome appearance was of the Swiss Classic Formation comprising of a Douglas Dc-3 and two Twin Beech aircraft in their shiny interwar chrome scheme and colourful cowls. Truly splendid. The Flying Bulls gave us a superb display consisting of their F4U, P38J and B25. Their flying skills are truly out of this world, bravo. 'Sally B' is the only flying B17 anywhere in Europe. I have seen this aircraft fly on a number of occasions but I will always stare in awe of its graceful shape. The B17 is without doubt a flying monument to the USAAF, RAF and allied crews who persevered against all the odds and who perished, to preserve our freedom, in those dark days of WW2. Sally B flew in formation with three P51 Mustangs on the day.

Malta/Battle of Britain display. A formation made up of the superb Bristol Blenheim MkI, Spitfire MkI, Hurricane XIIa (but depicting a Mk I) and two Gloster Gladiators defended the airfield and provided cover against a duo of Hispano Buchon, a Luftwaffe simulated attack by Bf109 Emils. The Buchon is a Merlin powered version of the Bf109G (Gustav), having been produced under licence in Spain. The Gloster Gladiator is famously remembered for its valiant defence of Malta against the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe, during the early months of the MTO campaign.

US Naval aircraft, a duo made up of a Grumman TBM Avenger and Grumman F4F Wildcat (in FAA Martlet colours) gave a most impressive display over the airfield. Hawker biplanes performed a spectacular routine comprising of a Hawker Nimrod and a Hawker Fury MkI. A Bucker Jungmann was flown most skilfully, it is such an agile aircraft. The newly repainted Hawker Fury MkII gave, what I would say was, the highlight of this year's show. Retaining the pedigree of the hurricane and tempest, this aircraft shows just how capable and steady the design was and its evolution from early fighter to thoroughbred fighter/bomber. G-CBEL was manufactured in 1953 and served in the Iraqi AF.
A Lockheed 12A Junior Electra and DC3 represented American Transports, a themed display which followed that of the Fury. It has been a tradition that every Flying Legends show ends with a massed formation which is called 'the Balbo'. Several of the aircraft take off again to join up formation to flypasts over the airfield. I counted a Balbo of 19 aircraft this year. Flying Legends is a celebration of warbirds and flight, the Balbo is a salute to all who make it happen. The 'Joker' represents the master of ceremonies himself, who has chosen the Gloster Gladiator as his own. It is truly remarkable to appreciate just how agile this biplane is when it is handled so expertly. Eagerly looking forward towards Flying Legends 2017.

Performers included:

DC-3, Swissair

'The Heritage Flight' - P-51D Mustang 'Miss Helen' and F22A Raptor

Red Bulls: B25J Mitchell, P38 Lightning, F4U-4 Corsair,

Beechcraft 18

Boeing B-17G

Hawker Fury II

Bristol Blenheim MkI

Hurricane XII

Spitfire Ia

Gladiator Mk I

Grumman Wildcat FM-2

Grumman TBM Avenger

P-51D Mustang 'Miss Velma'

deHavilland Tiger Moth II

deHavilland Dragon Rapide 

T6 Harvard AJ 841 'Wacky Rabbit'

 

Report and photography by Christopher Mifsud for The Aviation Magazine

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