The 2017 instalment of Flying Legends has already featured in this Advent series already, taking a look at the mammoth journey P-51B Berlin Express took to fly as part of the Horsemen team for the weekend.
I wanted to shine the light on another standout moment from that weekend, the traditional “Joker” routine. The idea here is that while the mass formation finalé, known as the Balbo, forms up, a solo aircraft performs a display to keep the crowd entertained. Traditionally this role was taken up by Stephen Grey, owner of the Fighter Collection. Since Stephen retired from display flying in 2013 this honour has fallen to his son, Nick.
For the past few years the mount of choice, weather and serviceability allowing, has been the Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator. Nick Grey’s routine in this aircraft is nothing short of legendary as many readers will know. In practice, the Gladiator was unable to fly at this years show owing to technical problems earlier in the season.
Unlike previous years the Joker slot was planned to be shared in 2017. The first slot was to be completed by Nick Grey in the Gladiator, while the second half was to be a contrasting performance from Richard Grace in the Hawker Fury. With the Gladiator unavailable the first half of this slot was adjusted to allow “Berlin Express” to take centre stage while the Balbo formed up. Unfortunately as covered in previous posts the Mustang sustained damage when its canopy came off in an early flight on the Saturday. Luckily I was fortunate enough to see a practice of this routine on the Thursday and can confirm it certainly would have been a highlight of the weekend!
With very short notice for a replacement on the saturday this meant that those in attendance were treated to two stunning solo displays from Richard Grace in the Fury. This was a great throwback to the traditional Bearcat Joker slots and certainly looked incredible tearing through the summer skies.
On Sunday the exciting sight of Nick Grey rolling down the grass runway in Spitfire I X4650 was seen just before the Balbo got airborne. Nick then delivered a typically flawless display and certainly the most energetic performance I have seen from a Mk I Spitfire before. This routine was rounded out with a perfectly timed low level topside passing just in front of the Balbos arrival. Another stunning routine from the Hawker Fury was completed before the Spitfire solo.
The Gladiator Jokers from the past few seasons are amongst my greatest airshow moments and memories. That being said, it was a great trip down memory lane to have some big pistons taking the stage again for this slot. Hopefully in 2018 we can see the originally planned Gladiator/Fury contrast, as that might just be the perfect Joker slot (for me at least!).