Always a high point for many aviation enthusiasts both in the UK and around the world, Flying Legends always comes round to slowly and passes too quick but never fails to make great memories!
This years’ display could have been argued as being a lighter line up than recent years. While numerically this may well have been true, as always the show made up for it with the quality of the flying on show.
I attended from Thursday through to the end of Sunday and from start to finish there was that classic ‘Legends atmosphere that I simply never tire of. The pre-show days provide a chance to enjoy solo performances from some of the display aircraft which typically feature as part of larger, multi-aircraft sequence, as well as arriving participants.
I won’t dwell too long on the pre-show in this report but watching the P-36C perform its first successful flight in a couple of years, followed by three further long proving flights in the afternoon was a typical story line that often unfolds on the day before the show. This busy day of flying for the P-36 culminated with a wonderful solo performance from Steve Hinton Jr.
The return of the P-36 meant that the Fighter Collection were able to field as complete a fleet as they have at Legends for some years with only the Gladiator (still under rebuild) and Nimrod sitting the show out.
The show days themselves were the typical slick Legends experience with an extensive Spitfire formation and tail chase sequence opening the display.
This was followed by one of the headline acts. Last year we were all in awe at the sight of four Hispano Buchons leaping off the Duxford grass to pay tribute to the Battle of Britain film. At that time this was the largest gathering of the Spanish-built variant of the 109 since they were retired. With the completion of G-AWHR/Chevron 5 earlier this year, the 2019 Legends managed to outdo itself with five Buchons taking to the air.
The five machines arrived in fine style with a wide on crowd formation break into two sections. Red 11, Yellow 7 and Yellow 10 flew as a three ship close to the crowd while White 9 and Chevron 5 flew a higher speed profile on the rear Duxford display line. On the Sunday the five Buchons joined up into an extended vic formation as further airshow history was made.
The Curtiss Hawks of the Fighter Collection were on full strength again for the first time since 2016. Following on from last years extended aerobatic tail chase, this years Hawk sequence was notably short, albeit memorable. A formation pass was followed by a flurry of derry turns and quick rolls from the early Hawks and a solo performance from the Merlin powered P-40F.
A familiar Legends sequence now is the early war part of the display, which generally features the Blenheim and a combination of early Spitfires and Hurricanes. While there were none of the latter on show, the three Mk I Spitfires were joined by the newly restored Westland Lysander operated by the Aircraft Restoration Company. This flew together with the Blenheim for a graceful pairs display.
The mid-point of the show undoubtedly brought the real high point for many and an act thoroughly deserving of their own post during the off season, Ultimate Fighters. Since the announcement and associated trailer went live early in the year, there has been high anticipation for the Sywell based team to make their debut.
Flying four machines operated by Air Leasing, the Ultimate Fighters team hark back to the glory days of mixed warbird formation displays of the Old Flying Machine Company. With the incredible combination of P-47, Buchon, Spitfire V and TF-51D Mustang, it is unsurprisingly a superb display.
The initial part of the sequence sees the Thunderbolt lead the smaller fighters around two loops on the A and B axis, before the fighters split off into pairs. The invevitable Spitfire/Buchon dogfight ensued but flown with real rehearsed theatre, rather than a gentle figure of eight routine that has become more common. The american fighters then came diving in at height for a masterclass in close formation aerobatics before the foruship effortlessly rejoined for a final few passes.
This display really has to be seen to be believed and has developed as the season has gone on. Hopefully 2020 will see the team gain more bookings and bring this wonderful collection of fighters to wider audiences.
Another special moment, worthy of fanfare, was the public display debut of the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Airco DH9. Marking the end of a 20 year restoration project, those in attendance on the Sunday of the show were able to witness Dodge Bailey deliver a surprisingy sporting routine form this mighty WW1 bomber. The sound from the unique Puma engine combined with a graceful routine in challenging conditions really added something extra to Legends and it was great to see a WW1 type included in the flying again. Sadly the Saturday display was ruled out due to technical difficulties, which did lead to the mid section of the show falling a little flat.
Not content with leading the Ultimate Fighters routine, the P-47 Thunderbolt also led a storming tail chase routine joined by two other Mustangs on the Saturday and a singleton on the Sunday, which served as a further reminder that this big fighter can seriously move!
Sadly all too soon it was time for the spectacle that is Flying Legends to come to an end once again. The sense of anticipation is always incredible as the roar of power checks commences with the build up of the traditional Balbo. This year Pete Kynsey led proceedings in the Fighter Collection’s Corsair as for the first time since Stephen Grey’s retirement in 2013, the Bearcat would take the Joker slot again.
Stephen’s son Nick, has flown a number of differing mounts over the years in the role, namely the Hellcat, Spitfire V, Spitfire I (as a substitute for P-51B Berlin Express), Sea Fury T20 and most often, the Gloster Gladiator. On only once occasion during that time has Nick not flown this routine alone, in 2017, when Richard Grace flew the second joker slot in the Fury II. Not only did 2019 mark the welcome return of the Bearcat to the slot but also saw Richard Grace return in the Fury, though this time for a combined slot. This display format was already shown to be an exciting routine last year during the main show with a Sea Fury/Fury duo but reached new heights as the joker slot.
Climbing high into the hold in formation, the two fighters split off before diving down for an opposition arrival over crowd centre. What followed was seemingly an endless stream of interwoven figures and simply stunning low level aerobatics the likes of which had not been seen in some years. The combination of Nick Grey’s low level looping and wingovers and Richard Grace’s sweeping passes made for real airshow magic.
As the Balbo separated out and broke into the circuit to land I stood and counted them all back in, as is the tradition on the Sunday of Legends. Though there may have been some apprehension heading into this years instalment that sense of wonder and disappointment as each year comes to an end never ceases or eases. This show saw at least three unique, show stopping performances and Legends debuts for at least four aircraft. The style and pace with which the flying display is put together is quite unlike any other – long may it continue.