Air Legend 2019 – Melun Villaroche

Just a few months on from my last warbird chasing trip to the continent for the now annual pilgrimage to La Ferté-Alais, it was time to return to France to take in a newcomer on the airshow scene. Located only around 30 minutes to the east of La Ferté (I even stayed in the same hotel) any new “challenger” is always going to come up against some tough competition. That being said the inaugural show in 2018 looked seriously impressive, boasting some rare machines that any show would be proud to have, all presented at a wonderfully aged former military base.

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Having missed out in 2018, there was no question that the 2019 event would be one of the top priorities. Its no small claim to say with confidence that I would put this show comfortably in my top 3 of 2019, perhaps even above La Ferté, hopefully this report will explain why.

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Arriving to the wonderfully informal practice day on the Friday a totally unique show ground presented itself. A scattering of the usual stalls and eating establishments greet show-goers on entrance to the site, before the participating and static aircraft are revealed on the historic apron. The main hangar is worthy of mention, hosting a rarely-opened museum with all manner of rare and unique machines in various states of restoration. Sadly a view from the open hangar tour was all that was on offer throughout the weekend, but a great sight none-the-less.

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Moving past the growing collection of participants there was a sprawling open field which would make up the main viewing area. Around half of this area was clearly a freshly harvested corn field, which in such dry and hot conditions made for a dusty, but impressive, viewing area.

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Within minutes of arriving we were watching a wonderfully polished solo aerobatic slot from a based de Havilland Vampire. Classic jets were among the shining lights of this display. Across the weekend we saw the recently restored T-33, resplendent in polished metal and French Air Force colour scheme (as an aside I challenge anyone to find an aeroplane that doesn’t instantly look better in a French scheme!), the Norwegian Historical Squadron’s Mig-15 (performing some classic aerobatics over the airfield, which was a novel sight for UK enthusiasts in recent years) and a Swiss two seat Hunter.

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Watching a Hunter again was, of course, an experience with mixed emotions but proved what a beautiful design this machine is. Classic flowing aerobatics complete with Smokewinders made for one of the highlights of the weekend.

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Back to the practice day – amongst a number of arrivals there was also an extended routine from the Patrouille de France and a jaw-dropping solo from the Rafale. I have seen this display many times, often at La Ferté but there was something about the layout of Melun and watching this modern jet operate out of the venue that took things up a level.

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As we left the airfield, somewhat reluctantly on Friday evening as the last of the arrivals streamed in, there was no denying that we were in for a treat.

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Some comparisons with La Ferté were easy enough to make, an obvious one being the AJBS pleasure flight fleet, who were busy each day with their Stearman, Harvard and Travelair. Their enthusiastic returns to the circuit were a welcome source of aerial entertainment before the show each day.

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The flightline walk was included with advanced tickets and again, took a lot from its nearby neighbour. A similar row based system is employed allowing all round viewing of the participating aircraft and an excellent use of space placed suitable aircraft on the grass with the heavier types/jets on the apron.

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Flying got underway each day with jets. Saturday saw the five Fouga Magisters of Patrouille Tranchant flying a graceful aerobatic routine, while Sunday saw a superb solo performance from the Alpha Jet demo, a first for me and comparable to the Rafale display in terms of sheer enjoyment.

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From then on a familiar build up from lighter types such as the Fairchild Cornell, Klemm, Bucker Bestman/Jungman and Storch built up to some of the heavier warbirds. The first warbird sequence of the day coming from the unlikely pairing of Yak-3 and Boomerang replica, visiting from Belgium. This pair of radial fighters put on a quite extraordinary performance with a tight, wheeling dogfight the likes of which I have certainly not seen before.

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Another modern day inclusion was the A400 “role demo”. The Airbus factory displays rightly attracted plenty of praise but this demo really shows off this aeroplane as if a fighter with remarkable low level turns and high speed passes.

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One of the warbird centrepieces of the weekend saw the Korean era machines in the air together. The first pair of which saw the La Ferté based Corsair joined by the Fighter Collection’s Bearcat. Both flew typically impressive solo displays but it is perhaps the opening pairs flypast that really left a lasting impression, diving in low and high speed before breaking off into solos. This was followed by the Sea Fury segment, which saw an extended singleton display from Shaun Patrick’s T20 on the Saturday.

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Early arrivals on Sunday were greeted by the wonderful sight of the Belgian based Fury ISS joining the circuit. This centaurus powered machine is finished in Iraqi colours and has only recently re-flown following an extended restoration process. The two Furys flew a graceful pairs sequence before the Belgian example put on a smooth, flat display, giving those in attendance a chance to enjoy the wonderful sound of its Bristol engine.

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One Korean type that was due to appear but sadly didn’t make it was Mistral Warbird’s F-86 Sabre. Having made its european debut displays earlier in the year (including an appearance at La Ferté) it was weathered in at a show in Austria. Here’s hoping for next year!

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Another great set piece was the Vietnam sequence, this saw a Skyraider pair joined by a Cessna 337 and T-28 Trojan. Plenty of pyrotechnics were used to add some drama to this sequence but the real entertainment was provided by the based Skyraider, delivering a polished aerobatic display that would be filled with nostalgia for UK enthusiasts, as Skyraiders are a rare sight in our skies these days.

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The final hour or so of the show was almost non-stop warbirds. A classic pre-war trio in the form of the MS406, Hawk 75 and Hawker Hurricane delivered a lovely sequence.

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After a few formation passes the Hurricane split off for an extended and very sporty aerobatic performance, with the Hawk and Morane tailchasing infant and below. All three types have displayed together at various shows over the years but never in such a dynamic “Duxford style” sequence.

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A Yak stampede followed with a trio of Allison powered Yak 9/3s joined by a radial Yak 3. This was one of those incredible sequences that gives a wonderful sense of the power of these machines with a high speed, flowing tailchase. Continuing the theme of multiple examples, a Spitfire three ship took to the sky in what may well be a first at a French airshow for some time. UK based Spitfires RR232 and ML407 were joined for the weekend by another Belgian warbird Spitfire XVI SL271, imported last year from Canada. The trio performed a number of vic passes before breaking off into a flowing passes and finished off with a solo performance from RR232 (Saturday) and ML407 (Sunday).

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It was left to the American types to bring the historic element of the show to an end. The locally based Grumman Avenger got airborne for a short display. I’ve wanted to see this machine, in Royal Navy colours, in the air for a long time so this was another treat. A pair of P-40s followed with solo displays from the Fighter Collection’s P-40F and the Melun based P-40N.

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Though only part of the Sunday show, perhaps the best finale of the weekend was the joint flypast led by a C-47 and two Mustangs, with the Patrouille de France. In this special D-Day anniversary year, this was a truly remarkable tribute, wrapped up with a typically polished solo from P-51D “Nooky Booky IV”.

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Though a much longer write up than I typically release, I have in many ways only scratched the surface of this remarkable event. It was remarkable that an event that in many ways had clearly borrowed various elements from other great shows around the world yet created its own unique atmosphere. Much like Hahnwiede, which I would visit the following week, this show truly has to be experienced to be belived. The amount of participants crammed into the days flying may sometimes result in short slots, but that is so worth it for the comprehensive exhibition of aviation. A must attend and long may it continue!

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