Any regular attendees to Legends during the late 90s and early 2000s will remember fondly the pre-social media days of there always being a surprise act that would arrive largely unannounced a few days before the show. This added to the magic of Legends and always made for a great bonus as it was generally something very rare.
The surprise acts have appeared from as far afield as Australia (TFCs P-40F in 2011 (at least I recall it being a surprise) and as close to home as France (Christophe Jacquard’s FW190 in 2009 was announced fairly late on from memory). However it was really the American visitors that stick in the mind and there have been plenty over the years. They will be the focus of this post, with later posts covering visitors from elsewhere.
The majority of the US visitors have been part of the Commanche Fighters collection of the Freidkin family. This started in 2001 when the family brought over a pair of Grumman Bi-Plane fighters, the single seat F3F and two seat G32. The pair joined the Fighter Collection’s collection of Grumman Cats for a memorable sequence. This was before the collection had regular UK operated aircraft (though TFC flew their MKXIV Spitfire at the time) and as a result the biplanes soon returned to the states with only the G32 putting in a non-legends appearance at Raydon in September. This show is actually the earliest Legends I can clearly remember largely thanks to these distinctive machines. I remember attending only on the saturday when the weather was horrendous and (I think) the show was called off for the day shortly after the Grumman flight landed.
2002 saw another of the Commanche Fighters collection join the Duxford flight line, this time the rare A-36 Mustang (often referred to as an Invader/Apache). This is an early Alison powered variant of the P-51 designed for dive bombing. Steve Hinton flew the A-36 in the display alongside the A-26 Invader. A great visitor and again only spending a short time in the UK with Legends as its only appearance.
For the third year in a row the Commanche Fighters collection sent another machine, this time the first UK appearance from a TF-51D Mustang, resplendent in 78th Fighter Group markings. This example, N20TF flew in a memorable 78th Fighter Group tribute alongside Rob Davies’ Mustang “Big Beautiful Doll” and the Fighter Collection’s Twilight Tear and P-47 “No Guts, No Glory”. I remember leaving Duxford early during 2003’s show as we attended on the tragic Saturday of that year. As flying continued after the accident there are a couple of memories that ring clear. One is the only solo appearance I enjoyed from the LA9 and the other was a box four of chequered nosed fighters banking round the M11 end of the airfield, superb!
It was then 8 years before another visiting Freidkin aircraft would take to the Legends stage (they did by this stage have two MK 1 Spitfires which The Fighter Collection were operating). On this occasion they brought two P-51s over, a D model and a K Model. Marked as “February” and “Fragile But Agile”, only one machine was new to the Duxford flightline. “Fragile But Agile” had left Duxford in 2007 painted as Twilight Tear but had since been sold on and repainted into more original markings. February would also later return in a different look at Legends 2018 but more on that later. This pair were brought over for the Horsemen formation aerobatic reunite, performing the classic two ship display to great effect.
In the intervening years between Commanche Fighters visits, there was a very memorable US visitor in the shape of B-17 Liberty Belle in 2008. This brought the fantastic sight of three B-17s on the Duxford jet pan, though sadly Sally-B was not airworthy at the time. Libery Belle flew in a memorable pairs routine with French B-17 Pink Lady and a brace of P-51 Mustangs.
Though not strictly flying in from America, the American owned Sikorsky S-38 was a start of the 2012 show as it finished off a round the world tour with a weekend at Duxford before flying back to the states.
This flying boat was quite unlike anything seen before or since and made a great impression. It is now part of the Fantasy of Flight collection with Kermit Weeks, under restoration.
2013 saw the other half of the Mid 2000s Fighter Collection Mustang pair, P-51C Princess Elizabeth return to Duxford. Having passed through a couple of owners since leaving the UK in 2007 this machine is now part of the Commanche collection and was brought over initially for the Eagle Squadron display at the Duxford May show earlier that year. It flew alongside Moonbeam McSwine on the Friday of the show, which also wears the classic blue nose scheme.
2014 saw a change to the operator for the transatlantic visitor. This time it was a very rare machine from the Planes of Fame museum. Its hard to believe that only one Planes of Fame machine has made a Duxford appearance with the amount of times Steve Hinton and his team have assembled their completed projects over the years. That one appearance was very special, if largely downplayed at the time. 2014 saw the only European appearance by the Boeing P-26A Peashooter. Not only is this airframe the only airworthy example worldwide, it also represents 50% of the worldwide population full stop.
This was believed to be only the second P-26 to fly in Europe, with one being assessed in Spain during the Civil War. 2014 was not blessed with fantastic weather which meant that the Peashooter only made two flights across the weekend. Those who waited out the low cloud and drizzle on the Friday before the show were treated to a practice display from Steve Hinton that will live long in the memory. This little fighter really makes a great impression and as with any machine form that era it really looks a great machine in the air.
2015 saw the Legends debut from John Sessions and the Heritage Flight Foundation based in Seattle, Washington. John brought his Spitfire IX SL633, resplendent in Czech aAir Force markings over for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The Spitfire displayed as part of Legends, as well appearances at Headcorn (alongside the Blenheim pictured below) and the Duxford September show. It was great to see this Spitfire in the air as it was restored at Duxford but was shipped to the states for test flying.
It was a slower and larger type that made the journey across the Atlantic in 2016, with the wonderful Lockheed Electra flying over to take part in Flying Legends and Farnborough airshows.
This example looked great in its red and white paintscheme and performed a few flypasts during the show. Having flown back after the 2016 show it has since made the crossing again and is now based in Belgium (it even made an appearance as a visiting aircraft during the 2019 Duxford season).
2017 saw the return of the Horsemen, initially announced as bringing P-51D Frenesi across the Atlantic. Then, a few weeks before the show it was announced that P-51B Berlin Express would not only also be flying in the show but also flying across the Atlantic ready for the show. Enthusiasts across the world watched with keen interest as Lee Lauderbeck flew this beautiful malcolm hooded early P-51 across Greenland, Iceland and into Scotland during that first week of July.
Berlin Express flew throughout the Legends pre-show week as the Horsemen built up their three ship display. Nick Grey also practiced his joker routine in a superb solo routine on the Thursday before the show. Frustratingly, as the Mustang ran in for what would have been the first of six display slots of the weekend, that wonderful Malcolm Hood shattered, damaging the tailplane but thankfully Nick Grey was able to perform a circuit and land back on. This meant that for all that work, only those present on the pre-show days got to enjoy this wonderful Mustang displaying.
Frenesi returned to the states over the winter of 2017/18 but 2018 would see the return of “February” this time wearing the colours of The Hun Hunter from Texas, flying as part of the Heritage Flight alongside Commanche Fighters Spitfire V JG891 which had recently reflown in the UK following repair work at the Aircraft Restoration Company.
2019 only saw the Commanche Fighters Spitfires fly as part of Legends, though again the pre-show days did give some US Mustang activity, with both Berlin Express and Hun Hunter carrying out air tests before departing for other commitments.
2019 also saw the return of John Sessions to the Flying Legends line up. Having flown his immaculate Pan-Am DC-3 across for the Daks Over Normandy celebrations, he flew in a graceful three ship Dakota display which was a great tribute to the Normandy Landings.
Sadly it was confirmed yesterday that 2020 will not feature a Flying Legends show. This is not surprising and I certainly look forward to 2021 and what joys that may bring. I intend to keep this Lockdown Legends series going until I run out of ideas as its a great way to look back at some iconic moments. Lets hope there are many years to come and many more of those exciting “Container moments” from the United States.