2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the annual Flying Legends show hosted by The Fighter Collection. Twenty short years Flying Legends has showed us an ever growing list of the ever ageing warbird. Twenty years we've been granted the privilege of seeing those wonderful pieces of aviation history being displayed in a typical Flying Legends way. Twenty years ago, a man called Stephen Grey started a legacy, a legacy that would be passed on in 2013, twenty years…
This edition was an emotional one for many attending and having the honor of witnessing a piece of history. Stephen Grey is a man that always liked to be part of history, that loved to make history. A man passionned by the grace of warbirds in the largest sense of the word. Few people believed that an all-piston-engined warbird show would have such success… Stephen proved otherwise when he started out with the concept in 1993.
Over those twenty years, The Fighter Collection brought us an amazing and spectacular amount of warbirds and featured some amazing displays and formations. Over those twenty years, many new aircraft were displayed at Duxford for the very first time after restoration. Over those twenty years, sadly some were displayed for the last time…
After twenty years of Flying Legends, Stephen Grey, the “Boss”, founder of a legacy, decided that it was time to pass the baton and hank up his flying helmet.
So it was that the crowds became silent and paid homage to the man as his trusty favorite, the Bearcat taxied along. It is the aircraft that helped him perform the role of the “Joker” during the traditional Balbo. Man and machine, both legends in their own ways, ready to solo once more, one last time. A proper way to say thanks to all of the people who helped make Legends a legend…
Stephen took off and flew one last clean and amazing high-energy display, as we've grown used to … only this time accompanied by some of his favorite music, Pink Floyd's “Shine on you crazy diamond”.
-- "You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter,
come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine! " --
Even the Weather Gods showed their respects to Stephen as the 2013 Legends weekend was a sun-filled hot one! The legendary Duxford airfield was once more blown back 70 years in time and filled with a 1940s atmosphere. Re-enactors mingled amongst the static flight line, the lovely Manhattan Dolls came back over from the States to complement the sights of the 40's with their gorgeous sounds.
The official show part was kicked off on both days by the Bremont Horsemen. It was not their first time at Legends, usually displaying in a tight P-51 Mustang formation. It was the first time however that they performed their routine flying three Supermarine Spitfires!
Steve Hinton, Dan Friedkin and Ed Shipley had a difficult time transitioning their routine from Mustangs to Spitfires, but a heck of a job they did in the end. Their three Spitfires, Mk. Ia P7308, Mk. I X4650 (owned by Comanche Warbirds) and TFC's Mk. Vb flew a fantastic aerobatic routine as a three-ship formation.
More Spitfires took off next to join in on a tail chase with “the Germans”: two Hispano Buchons, the Spanish built variant of the Messerschmitt Me-109. John Romain and Cliff Spink powered their Buchons (HA-1112-M1L C.4K-31 owned by Richard Lake and HA-1112-M1L C.4K-102 owned by ARCo) through a spine-tingling series of passes.
After their attack on Duxford, they were “engaged” by an allied formation of four Supermarine Spitfires: TFC's Mk. XIV JE-J MV293 (painted as MV268), Mk. XVIe CR-S TD248 owned by Richard Lake, Mk. IX ZD-B MH434 and Mk. IX OU-V ML-407 owned by Carolyn Grace and flown by Dave Puleston.
The first of the Americans were up next in the form of B-17 Preservation's B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” in formation with TFC's P-47G Thunderbolt 42-25068 “Snafu” flown by Pete Kynsey. Sadly, the Thunderbolt's display season at Duxford was only limited to two years as this wonderful aircraft was sold to Comanche Fighters LLC and left the UK the following month.
You can read more about the history and background of this wonderful crowd favorite here.
A unique quartet of “Hawks” took to the skies next in the form of French owned Curtiss P-40N “Little Jeanne” flown by Christian Amara, TFC's P-40F Warhawk (41-19841) “Lee's Hope” and TFC's P-40B Warhawk (41-13297). They were joined by TFC's Curtiss H-75A-1 Hawk (No. 82) piloted by Patrice Marchasson for an amazing display. Unfortunately the P-40B was grounded on Sunday.
The P-40B is a truly unique machine. It is the only remaining airworthy survivor from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th , 1941. As if that isn't remarkable enough, it is also the oldest airworthy P-40B in the world.
TFC's example is one of the 131 P40-Bs built at the Curtiss facility in Buffalo, New York during 1940-1941 and allocated the Bu No. 41-13297. It was delivered to the USAAC in March of 1941 and was quickly sent to Wheeler Field, Hawaii in April of that year, becoming part of the 19th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group.
It crashed on a Hawaiian hillside in February of 1942 when Lt. Ken Sprankle failed to recover from a spin. The substantial remains were recovered in 1987 when she underwent some restoration work until the Warhawk was eventually acquired by The Fighter Collection in June of 2003. Restoration was competet in California in mid-2004 and she made her first post-restoration flight with Steve Hinton at the controls in October 2004. This P-40B now wears the scheme she wore during her time in Hawaii with the 18th Pursuit Group.
“Lee's Hope” is a rare Merlin engined P-40 that is painted in the colours of Lt. Robert J. Duffield with the 85th FS, 79th FG stationed in Italy at the time. Note the mix of US markings with combinations of blue stars and stars and bars with or without red borders plus the reversed British fin flashes, with was actually common for some reason within 85th FS aircraft during the war. The nose-art “Lee's Hope” was left over from a previous pilot and Duffield later changed it to Speedy Edie on the original aircraft.
Time for some period axis aircraft now with the ever so delightful aerobati display by Anna Walker in her 1936 Olympics schemed Bücker Bu-131 Jungmann (G-BSAJ, owned by A. Kynsey), followed by Lufthansa Traditionsflug Junkers Ju-52 (5489).
In formation for the first time were next participants in the thrilling flying display: Christophe Jacquard's Hawker Sea Fury FB11 (WH589 owned by Spitfire Warbirds) and the Flying Bull's F4U-4 Corsair (95995) flown by, who else, Eric Goujon. Christophe put his smoke-winder equipped Fury through a series of sleek aerobatic maneuvers while Eric put the Corsair to paces past the crowd.
The Aerostars seemed a bit lost in the middle of all those sleek fighter displays, but nonetheless performed a nice display flying their six Yak-50 aircraft.
Another highlight of the 2013 edition of Flying Legends was the sight of two Gloster Gladiators performing simultaneously. The Shuttleworth collection's Gloster Gladiator I L8032 was joined by TFC's recently restored Gladiator II N5903, flown by Keith Dennison and Pete Kynsey respectively.
The Gloster Gladiator (of Gloster SS.37) is a British-built biplane fighter, used by both the RAF and Fleet Air Arm during the late ‘30s. It was RAF's last biplane fighter aircraft and was rendered obsolete as newer monoplane fighter designs were being introduced.
Despite the introduction of the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane, the Gladiator did see actual combat on several occasions, such as the Finnish Winter War. South African pilot Marmaduke “Pat”Pattle was the top Gladiator ace with 15 victories over Italian aircraft during the North African and Greek Campaigns of World War II. It also made him the highest-scoring biplane ace of the Second World War.
The Gladiators were followed by another (and personal) highlight of this year's Legends: the Mustang tail-chase. Although down in numbers over previous editions (only 4 P-51s this year), they performed one heck of a display! They beat up the airfield with tremendous speed and energy, coming in low and fast on each single pass.
Nick Grey led the three-ship North American P-51D Mustang (-25-NT, 44-84847 N251RJ) formation battering the airfield in TFC's TF-51D Miss Velma (-25-NT, 44-84847 N251RJ). He was followed by Steve Hinton in P-51C Princess Elizabeth (-10-NT, 43*25147, N487FS), which made a welcome return visit to Duxford after being sold to Comanche Warbirds a few years back, and George Perez in his P-51D Nooky Booky IV (-30-NA, 44-74427, F-AZSB).
The lone display was left to the freshly European imported P-51D Moonbeam McSwine, just recently acquired by Frédéric Akary who traded his Fury for the Mustang.
Moonbeam McSwine is a P-51D-25-NA Mustang (44-73656) which was for a long time owned by Vlado Lenoch, who flew it regularly at numerous US airshows. The airframe won Grand Champion Warbird after its restoration back in 1975.
In early 2013, the airframe was purchased by French based warbird pilot Frédéric Akary and was re-registered F-AZXS.
So that made two P-51s wearing a blue-nosed paint scheme. A true treat that both Princess Elizabeth and Moonbeam McSwine were brought together for this year's Legends is that they were both flown by the same pilot back in World War II, William W. “Bill” Whisner.
William Whisner was a pilot with the famed 352nd Fighter Group, dubbed the “Blue-Nosed Bastards of Bodney”. He was assigned to the 487th Fighter Squadron of that Group and became one of the US leading aces of World War II with 15.5 confirmed victories with the 352nd FG and another 5.5 in the Korean War in the 1950's.
He scored his first kill on January 29th , 1944 whilst flying a P-47. When the 352nd FG converted to the P-51 Mustang, Bill's Mustang was the only P-51 in the Group without personal markings, which was rather unusual within USAAF fighter squadrons. As it turned out, this decision would come back to haunt Bill as his Mustang was chosen by an 8th Air Force Press Officer to be named ‘Princess Elizabeth', in honour of the Princess' impending visit to RAF Bodney, home of the Bluenosed Bastards, without Bill's knowledge! Needless to say Bill wasn't happy with both the name and the additional press coverage he and his aircraft attracted!
Bill used the aircraft to destroy an Me-109 on May 30th , 1944. This raised his tally to four enemy aircraft destroyed and also marked the end of his first combat tour. He signed up for a second tour and that's when his fighter career really took off!
Upon his return to England and the 352nd FG he was given a brand new P-51D Mustang which he named Moonbeam McSwine, after a character on AI Capp's comic strip Lillie Abner. It was Bill's way of getting back at the name his previous P-51 was assigned.
Whisner made ace on November 2nd , 1944, but made fame on November 27th , 1944, when he scored “ace in a day”, downing five FW-190s during one single sortie.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on that day.
He also played a major role in Operation Bodenplatte, also known as “The Legend of Y-29”, where the Luftwaffe staged a last major offensive against several forward airfields in Belgium and northern France on New Year's Day of 1945. That day Bill downed an additional four enemy aircraft.
His final WWII tally stood at 16, but he was not finished. During the Korean War he downed an additional six MiG-15s making him one of the very rare fighter pilots to make ace in two wars.
He stayed in the USAF after the War and retired a Colonel in 1972.
(The above three period images are © 352nd FG Association Archive)
The organization intended to make it a Bluenoser trio as they also invited P-51D Miss Helen, but unfortunately that aircraft didn't make it to the show as it was not ready following a recent engine change.
A nice change of pace was provided by a rare trio of Hawker biplanes: two Hawker Nimrods (Nimrod I S1581 owned by TFC and Nimrod II K3661 owned by Historic Aircraft Collection) and a Hawker Demon (K8203 owned by Demon Displays). The trio flew some nice formation passes and were joined in the skies by another Hawker aircraft: Jan Friso Roozen's Hurrican IIa (P5331) who flew a solo routine.
This Hurricane is another first for Legends as it was just shipped over from New Zealand where it belonged to the Alpine Fighter Collection. The aircraft is now based at Cannes-Mandelieu Airport in Southern France and flown by Dutch pilot Jan Roozen.
The next slot was reserved for Legends regulars, the BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight). Their busy demo schedule saw them changing their displaying aircraft on both days with the Spitfire Mk. XVI TE311 and Hurricane Mk. IIc PZ865 flying on Saturday and the Avro Lancaster PA474 and Hurricane Mk. IIc LF363 on Sunday.
Displaying small and slow aircraft is always a challenge at the large Duxford airfield. Luckily there were three to perform simultaneously. The main stage was clear for three Piper L-4 Cubs: L-4A 42-36375 owned by Frazerblades, L-4J 44-80609 owned by Robin Roberts and L-4J 43-28251.
Another trio to take to the skies was a Russian one: a Yakovlev Yak-9UM (0470406 owned by Paul Boschung), a Yak-3M (0470107 owned by Richard Grace) and a Yak-11 (25-III-08 owned by Rob Davies).
A more then welcome return to the Flying Legends scene was appropriate for the next two participants, representing the US Navy of World War II and both from manufacturer Grumman: the Grumman TBM-3E Avenger (53319 owned by Laurent Calame) and TFC's Grumman FM-2 Wildcat (86711, G-RUMW) which is airworthy once more following an in-depth restoration by TFC's crew.
The Avenger was used as a torpedo bomber during WWII whilst the little Wildcat was designed as a carrier based fighter.
The Grumman F4F Wildcat began its service in late 1939 with both the US Navy and the British Royal Navy (known as the Martlet by the British). It was the only effective carrier based fighter available to the US in the Pacific Theater of Operations following the US engagement in the war after the Pearl Harbor attack. Although technically the Wildcat was no match for the Japanese Zero, its ruggedness and US tactics (such as the Thach Weave) resulted in a more then fair air combat kill-to-loss ratio.
Lessons learned from the Wildcat design were later applied to the F6F Hellcat. TFC's Wildcat is the sole airworthy example in Europe and made its first flight in early 2014 following an extensive restoration periode which started in 2008.
The naval intermezzo continued with a display of the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Hawker Sea Fury T.20 (VX281). Unfortunately the Fairey Swordfish missed its display slot on Saturday and didn't make it to the show on Sunday either due to a damaged rudder following a slight towing accident.
As was the case in the 2012 edition of Legends Peter Holloway's Fieseler Storch (G-STCH) and The Shuttleworth Collection's Westland Lysander (V9552) were teamed up again to display next. Both STOL capable WWII aircraft performed magically and gracefully over the Duxford grounds and provided us with some excellent photo opportunities.
Final two aircraft to display were Daniel Koblet's Morane-Saulnier MS406 (J-143 owned by Mobile Air Service) and Legends regular, Dakota Norway's Douglas DC-3 (LN-WND). The Dakota suffered a frightful moment during its display as it encountered a birdstrike resulting in a huge dent in the nose section just below the cockpit (see last photograph).
As mentioned at the start of this review, the 2013 edition of Flying Legends started off on a very emotional note with Stephen Grey bidding farewell to “his” Legends. The show ended with an equally emotional piece and a start of a new piece of history with Stephen's son Nick Grey carrying on the tradition his father started a couple of decades ago.
This would normally be Stephen's time to shine in his Bearcar as the “Joker” during the mass formation “Balbo”, in which almost all aircraft participating in the Legends show form a huge formation and make a couple of fly-by's before breaking off into smaller formations and making the final breaks for landing.
Nick did not want to copy his father and chose a completely different aircraft which resulted in a very amazing display. Nick chose the newly restored Gloster Gladiator. I can honestly say that I have never seen such a beautiful and thrilling Gladiator display ever in a more perfect setting, gracefully guiding the aircraft from one aerobatic maneuver to another in the late afternoon sun.
I would like to dedicate the final words of this review to both everyone who made this Flying Legends a success and to all and everyone who made Legends what it is today.
Thank you Mr. Grey for all the good times you've given us and for make us feeling at home there every year. We wish you many more happy landings!
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