A ‘Legends retrospective series would be incomplete without a small tribute to the Horsemen. Now a legendary name in the airshow world themselves the Horsemen team specialise in close formation aerobatics. Starting as a two ship display in the mid 1990s, in more recent years the team regularly display in three aircraft.
The team is closely associated with the P-51 Mustang and performed most of their displays either as a pair of P-51s or trio. It is worth noting that throughout their history that they have also used Spitfires, Bearcats, Tigercats, Corsairs, P-38s and F-86 Sabres. Each new type brings that same impressive precision to the display routine.
Duxford visitors have been lucky enough to see the Horsemen team evolve over the years, from early pairs routines from Ed Shipley and Jim Beasley, through to 2017s polished Mustang three ship routine with Steve Hinton flying the lead with Dan Freidkin and Ed Shipley as wingmen.
I first remember the Horsemen at early 2000 Duxford shows, which while not the formal team often featured Ed Shipley or Steven Hinton flying close formation Mustang displays. This included a memorable pairs routine in 2002 with a P-51D and A-36.
2005 saw Nick Grey fly the lead slot in a Horsemen style routine in P-51C Princess Elizabeth, while Ed Shipley flew off his wing in P-51D Twilight Tear.
2009 brought the first three ship display from the Horsemen to Duxford. This year saw them flying TF-51D Miss Velma, P-51D Big Beautiful Doll and P-51D Ferocious Frankie, all UK based Mustangs. The 2009 routine was flown by Jim Beasley, Ed Shipley and Dan Friedkin.
A year would pass without the Horsemen performing at Duxford before they returned as a two ship “coke classic” as Ed Shipley refers to is, in 2011. This time they brought their own aircraft; P-51K Fragile but Agile and P-51D February. Once again the Horsemen stole the show with the late Friday afternoon practice being particularly special.
Another two year gap followed before the Horsemen returned in 2013 to try something new. This time, with Steve Hinton flying the lead, the team were flying three Spitfires. Commanche Fighters pair of MK Is flew off the wing of the Fighter Collection’s MK V (fitted with wingtips for the show). The pre-show days on a Horsemen year at Duxford are always a treat as you get to enjoy plenty of practice flights an anticipation. A few practice flights were flown with a Mk IX in the lead slot, before the MK V was serviceable, which must have been interesting for the baby spits following.
The 2013 display was very special and it made a great change to see the Horsemen in a different type.
It would not be until 2017 that the Horsemen would fly again at Duxford. This time the planned line up would be P-51D Sharkmouth, P-51D Frenesi and the rare P-51B Berlin Express, ferried over from America in the week before the show.
Though Berlin Express did fly in the Friday practice, it was unable to fly in the weekend show and was replaced by P-51D Miss Helen. Perhaps its because its the most recent but this sits in my mind as the finest performance from the Horsemen at Legends. The close formation low level aerobatics as if on rails never fails to impress. The only thing that was missing was that trademark “slot roll” of the pairs routine.
Hopefully future instances of Flying Legends will see the Horsemen team return and we can all once again marvel at their close formation performances.