With the always popular news that the Flying Legends dates have been announced for 2020, this seemed an appropriate Airshow Moment to choose.
The joker slot, flown while the traditional finale “Balbo” formation at the end of each day builds up, is one of the highlights of the season. As spectacular as the Balbo is, for me it has always been the joker displays that form the real high point toward the end of Flying Legends.
Growing up it was always Stephen Grey’s trademark high energy performances in the Bearcat (and occasionally Sea Fury/Hawk 75) that captured the crowd as the formation went around the circuit but since 2013, Stephen has handed the honour to his son Nick (pictured below from La Ferté-Alais this year).
Nick started the Joker slot with a striking contrast to his father, performing graceful aerobatics in the collection’s Gloster Gladiator, which to this day remains my favourite pilot/aircraft combination. Due to weather and serviceability we have also seen the Joker slot flown in the Hellcat, Spitfires V and I, Sea Fury and very nearly P-51 Berlin Express. Regardless of the airframe the Joker has continued to be an integral and highly anticipated part of every show.
2017 saw the first dual joker routine, with Richard Grace taking on Joker duties for the Saturday in the Fury II and Nick Grey flying the first slot in a Spitfire I on the Sunday with the Fury brining things to a close.
2019 saw Richard Grace return to the joker slot, this time in the same slot as Nick, building on the impressive opposition/dual solo display flown with the Hawker Fury II/Sea Fury T20 in 2018. With the Fighter Collection having sold the T20 last year, 2019 saw the return of the Bearcat to the joker slot for the first time since 2012.
I was lucky enough to catch the practice routine on the Friday and therefore see this routine five times over the weekend and it just got better and better each time. Watching as the pair split high over Duxford and came diving in from either end of the field before completing an effortless interweaving aerobatic display coming together for some tail chase figures only to break off into opposition routines again.
It has been fascinating watching the Joker slot evolve over the years and 2019 really was something special. I look forward to seeing what the 2020 joker slot brings.