Always a centrepiece for the historic aviation scene, Flying Legends manages to gather a collection of the finest warbirds and pilots from around the world for an unparalleled airshow experience year on year.
2018 was one of the strongest years in recent memory, with plenty of debut displays, or welcome returns across the weekend.
I actually spent seven days at Duxford for this years Flying Legends, something which felt a little ambitious and perhaps unlikely at the start of that week. On reflection, I would do it again without question. Across that week I was able to witness so many brilliant practice displays, unlike anything that was seen on the weekend show as well as the wonderful sight of the two Catch 22 B25 Mitchells arriving, and then departing later in the week. It also gives great opportunity to soak in that wonderful Flying Legends atmosphere as familiar faces descend upon Duxford in ever increasing numbers each day.
This years Legends had a number of unique highlights, the centre piece of which was the sequence paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain film. This production is often cited as a cornerstone of the modern day warbird movement as it led to the revival of a number of aircraft. Three Spitfires still flying today played a part in the air as part of the production. The Old Flying Machine Company’s IX MH434, The Fighter Collections Spitfire V EP120 and Commanche Fighters I AR213. The three Spitfires flew alongside a truly unique sight. Not since the days of the filming in 1968 have four Hispano Buchons been seen in the sky together. Thanks to the incredible restoration work by Air Leasing at Sywell, the UK airworthy Buchon population has increased fourfold. Flying Legends saw Duxford based “Yellow 10”, displaying in its Battle of Britain film scheme for the first time since 2016, joined by “Yellow 7” and two seater “Red 11”, both of which also wear film colours. The fourth airframe was “White 9” another veteran of the movie, though wearing later war 109 colours. The three recent additions to the UK population had all re-flown since Legends 2017, which tells you just how impressive this feat was. All three aircraft were part of the legendary Connie Wilson collection. Connie was part of the flying team for the movie and was paid in Buchons! The collection came up for sale a few years ago and is now being restored to flying condition at Sywell.
Few aviation enthusiasts will have been unmoved by the sequence that Flying Legends delivered. The sight of four Buchons tearing down the Duxford runway and leaping into the air before forming up into a finger-four formation on the southside, eventually turning to run in over the southern boundary fence, just like the opening sequence of the film. The Buchons took charge over the airfield before the three Spitfires started a dogfight sequence, accompanied by that classic score from the climactic scenes of the films. A thrilling sequence that paid a touching tribute to a wonderful film.
Richard Grace’s Fury routines have quickly become part of Legends folklore, even earning a spot in the “Joker” slot in 2017, one of only two pilots outside of the Grey family to do so. This year saw a twist to the traditional solo performance, with Nick Grey joining in on the action with the then Fighter Collection Sea Fury T20. The two fighters ran in from opposite ends of the airfield and effortlessly converted energy for height as each performed incredible solo displays, converging at key points for some tail chase manoeuvres. A wonderful performance harking back to some of the great last piston sequences of Legends passed. Another welcome naval pair was the Corsair routine which saw the Fighter Collection example joined by the recently re-flown La Ferté-Alais based machine.
Speaking of nostalgic sequences, what a joy it was to see P-47 G-THUN back at Flying Legends. This airframe was a key part of Flying Legends from its Inception until 2006, when it was sold to the US. Known then as “No Guts, No Glory”, the Thunderbolt it now known as “Nellie”. Some things don’t change though and this year saw the Thunderbolt effortlessly return to the classic pairing with B-17 Sally B. Stu Goldspink certainly seems to enjoy having the Thunderbolt back and he delivered some graceful aerobatics in between the bomber’s passes.
After a year of absence in 2017, this year saw the Flying Bulls collection return on a scale not previously seen. Across the whole summer the Austrian based fleet provided incredible support for UK shows. Flying Legends saw the welcome return of the Corsair and P-38 Lightning, which performed a wonderful pairs aerobatic sequence that could have lasted all afternoon and never been too long. Joining the pair of fighters, the B-25 was put through a spirited display as well. The real rarity of this sequence though was one of the first UK appearances for the DC-6 which performed a wonderful display. The Sunday of this years show may have been the first show in a long while to feature a trio of four engined piston aeroplanes (Sally B, Lancaster and DC-6).
Another ‘Legends tradition for many years now, thanks to the Fighter Collection’s impressive collection of the type, are the Curtiss Hawks. This year saw arguably the best outing for the unsung fighters with an incredibly spirited three ship tail chase display complete with a full compliment of aerobatics. The Curtiss fighters peeled off into a high energy performance before effortlessly forming up for a series of formation passes.
Recent editions of Flying Legends have seen the inclusion of the USAF Heritage Flight, rarely seen at a UK show. This year saw a particularly special variation of this display, with the Duxford debut of the new F-35 alongside P-51D Mustang “Hun Hunter / Texas” and Spitfire V JG581, both making welcome returns to Duxford following previous appearances a few years ago.
“Hun Hunter” wasn’t the only Mustang making a reappearance as Flying Legends also saw the return of “Miss Velma” following a forced landing last year, now resplendent in the markings of “Contrary Mary” a 78th Fighter Group machine. Having a Mustang flying in the UK again in the classic checkerboard scheme of the 78th fighter group is great to see. The fact that this airframe was able to fly again at Flying Legends just a year after the accident is an incredible feat.
While not technically part of the airshow, the inclusion of the Fighter Collection’s Fiat CR42 on the flight line walk was one of the great surprises of the week. With the collection’s Gladiator and Nimrod out of action there was a notable lack of biplanes as compared to recent years. With the prospect of the Fiat taking to the sky in the future and the return of the Gladiator, it could be a very exciting time for inter-war biplane fans.
Flying Legends 2018 came to a close in traditional style with the ever-impressive Balbo. An incredible mix of types made up the formation this year and it was so good to have familiar shapes such as the P-47 returning to the line up. As mentioned above the Sea Fury Joker solos really left a lasting impression and certainly earned a place in ‘Legends history.
As always it is impossible to cover off everything from an entire week of Duxford at its absolute best. I have tried to cover off the key highlights here and have no doubt that as time goes on a few “moments” from that week will make it into separate posts later in the year.