The weekend of July 9th & 10th hosted the 23rd edition of a legendary airshow: Flying Legends. The year 2016 is a challenging year for the British airshow circuit. Following last year's crash of Hawker Hunter T7 G-BXFI at the Shoreham airshow on the A27 trunk road, killing 11 people, the CAA imposed a new set of (stricter) rules for displaying aircraft at airshows.
The two main changes with the biggest impact are:
No longer allowed to display or fly over secondary crowds/crowded areas/highways
Extended minimum display distances to the crowd line (150 meters and even 230 meters for aerobatic high speed displays)
This means that early displays in the UK were being carried out a lot further from the crowds as had been previously the case. This effect is enlarged for crowd lines which have a “crack” or “bend” in them. Such is the case in Duxford, where the crowd line bends of to the South a bit at the West end of the crowd line, more commonly known as the infamous “tank bank”.
In order to maintain a fair view of the displaying aircraft, the show organizers made the difficult decision of closing the tank bank during the airshow, meaning that the crowd line would now come to a stop at the Land Warfare Exhibit. If the tank bank were to remain open, the most Southern point of the tank bank would be considered the starting point of the minimum distance to the crowd line. This would result in aircraft displaying further away and even out over the fields past the runway.
Straightening out the crowd line moved the 150 and 230m display lines closer to the general crowd lines. We've tried our best to clarify the change using good old Google Maps. The blue line represents the old crowd line, as it was before and the green line represents the 2016 revised crowd line:
This clearly shows that by eliminating the tank bank from the crowd line, the display line can be moved closer to the crowd line. If they would have kept the crow line as it was before, displays would take place at a far too great distance.
Losing the tank bank however is a bit painful for many enthousiasts at Flying Legends as it provided the thrill of being close to the aircraft taking off towards the bank and aircraft banking in from the West over the runway during the displays. In the previous years we've visited Duxford we always spent one day on the M11 end and one day on the tank bank which resulted in some great takeoff shots. It's a big loss for Legends, but the change was needed in order to save the show and preventing the aircraft from displaying too far out from the crowd center.
Anyways, enough with the rules and regulations and on with the show!
Flying Legends always was and still is the personal highlight of the year. Nowhere else in Europe can one marvel at such an excellent and rare lineup of vintage aircraft. It's the ultimate homage to both male and female aviators who flew these beautiful pieces of history during and between both wars.
Unfortunately, as it is a show consisting of rare and old machines, the chance of one going tech is much greater then at military airshows. This year saw a handful of cancellations with a bunch of Spitfires missing the event:
- Two Spitfires Mk. I, owned by Comanche Warbirds, were still in France for the filming of Christopher Nolan's motion picture Dunkirk. They are Mk.Ia AR213 G-AIST (marked as R9632) and Mk.Ia X4650 G-CGUK (marked as R9612)
- Max Alpha Aviation's Spitfire Mk. LF VIII MT928 and F4U-5NL Corsair from Germany
- Spitfire Limited's Spitfire Mk. FR XVIII SM845
- Swiss Morane MS.406
- TFC's Curtiss P-40F
There was also supposed to be a great remembrance of WWI aviation in the form of a replica Albatros D.III and a replica Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe, the British fighter aircraft of the RAF at that time. Unfortunately the WWI Aviation Heritage Trust's Albatros was unable to make it to Duxford.
The Sopwith Snipe did make it to the show but unfortunately due to high winds was unable to fly on both days.
Also affected by the weather were Peter Holloway's Fieseler Storch and the Piper Cub. It must have been a great disappointment for Mr. Holloway as this was going to be one of the final displays of his Storch in the UK as the aircraft was sold to a new owner in Norway.
Legends did not disappoint however as there was still plenty to see. What to think about 7 Supermarine Spitfires and the world's only airworthy Seafire, 3 P-51 Mustangs, a rare selection of Curtiss Hawker aircraft and the debut of a Hawker Fury Mk. II.
As always, there is plenty to do before the actual flying display starts: there is a vast array of stalls and shops to browse through, there is the Vintage Village where the Manhattan Dolls have become regular performers, Laurel and Hardy with their Model T Ford and there is off course the flightline walk.
Always a nice addition to the flightline walk is the re-enactors, dressed in period outfits, who wonder in front of the aircraft. It certainly adds a great deal of charm and extra realism to the event!
As the clock strikes two, the legendary airfield comes to life with the growl and rattling of Merlin and Griffon engines. First to taxi out, take off and display were 6 Supermarine Spitfires and a Seafire. They were:
- Merlin powered Supermarine Spitfire MK. LFVb EP120 G-LFVB AE-A of The Fighter Collection flown by Nick Grey.
This particular Spitfire is one of the most famous examples still flying in the world today. It scored 7 kills during WWII, six of which by Sqn Leader Geoffrey Northcott of 501 Sqn. After repairs was assigned to 19 Sqn in Cornwall before moving to 402 City of Winnipeg Sqn of the RCAF, whose colors the aircraft wears today.
The aircraft was part of an order for 904 Mk VBs and VCs placed with the Castle Bromwich Aeroplane Factory on August 23rd , 1941. Within that same order was alse Spitfire Bv EP122, which has also been restored and made its debut in this years' Flying Legends.
EP122 was supplied to No 39 MU at Colerne, Wiltshire on May 24th , 1942.
It saw combat for the first time, being assigned with No 501 Sqn at Ibsley, Hampshire, on June 4th , 1942. First success came on August 19th in the hands of Wg Cdr E.P.P. Gibbs with the shared destruction of a Do 217. Unfortunately in that same mission she suffered damage from cannon fire of a Fw 190 in the tail and wing. She was repaired and returned to active duty with No 402 Sqn RCAF at Digby, Lincolnshire. There she was flown by Sqn Ldr Geoffrey Northcott who would make ace in EP120 during a series of engagements between June 27th and October 24th , 1943.
Following its service with the RAF it was put into storage and subsequently served as a gate guard at several RAF bases. She was also used as a static airfield dressing for the movie Battle of Britain in 1967-1968. After filming she returned to storage and gate guard duties until she was traded for an RAF Sabre IV restoration by The Fighter Collection in 1993, where she underwent restoration work to get her to fly once more. She made her first post-restoration flight on September 12th , 1995, and had been a proud member of TFCs fleet for 21 years now!
- Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb EP122 G-CISV 185 Squadron RAF
As mentioned above, EP122 was part of the same construction batch in order 904 with the Castle Bromwich Aeroplane Factory in August of 1941. Both aircraft went into different theaters of service and cross paths once again at this year's Flying Legends for the first time since 1942!
Whilst EP120 went on to No 46 Maintenance Unit at Kinloss, Scotland, before seeing combat service with No 501 Sqn, EP122 was supplied to No 39 MU at Colerne, Wiltshire, before being shipped to Malta in June of 1942.
EP122 was first into combat, flown by future American ace Sgt. Claude Weaver. Weaver, 19 years old at that time, and EP122 were assigned to No 185 Sqn. In the week between July 17th and 24th , in the defense of Malta, Weaver and his Spitfire claimed five and a half victories:
- a BF 109 on his first flight on July 17th
- two Bf 109s on July 22nd
- two Bf 109s on July 23rd
- a shared kill of a Ju 88 on July 24th
For those actions, Weaver was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) on August 8th , 1942. He also became the youngest Allied ace of WW2.
He would score no more victories with EP122 but scored another 5 until he was forced to crash land Spitfire BR122 on a Sicilian beach on September 9th , 1942. After a year of captivity, Weaver returned to combat and scored two more victories until he was shot down during a ranger mission over Amiens on January 28th , 1944.
EP122 survived the War having scored two additional victories and two damaged whilst being flown by Battle of Britain ace Wg. Cdr. John Thompson. EP122 crash landed on March 27th 1943 on the edge of a cliff at Dwerja Bay. Being labeled as struck off charge, the Spitfire was pushed over the cliff and into the water below on April 4th , 1943.
She was a popular dive wreck in Malta for many years, until some parts along with the engine and forward fuselage were eventually recovered and stored in Malta in the late 70s. The airplane was acquired by Comanche Warbirds and rebuilt to airworthy condition, with the works ending in May 2016. She made her first post-restoration flight on May 4th , 2016, and was painted in the markings of No 185 Sqn in which she originally served.
Unfortunately the aircraft was also used in the filming of the motion picture Dunkirk earlier this months, which meant that it was repainted and stripped of its cannons in order to masquerade as an earlier mark of Spitfire.
Nevertheless we were very glad to be able to see EP122 making its airshow debut at this year's Legends!
- Merlin engined Supermarine Spitfire MK. Vb BM597 G-MKVB JH-C owned by Historic Aircraft Collection Ltd.
BM597 is another combat veteran, being one of 1000 aircraft built at Castle Bromwich against contract B981687/39. BM597 was delivered to No.37 M.U. at Burtonwood on February 26th, 1942, being assigned to 315 Sqn on May 7th , 1942 and on to 317 Sqn on September 5th , 1942, both at Woodvale.
On February 13th , 1943, she suffered Category B damage and was removed for repairs on February 28th. Its last operational service was with No. 58 OTU, the airframe being retired from active duty on October 16th , 1945.
On January 23rd , 1967, she was dispatched from Henlow to Pinewood where it was used as the master for the moulds that were made to cast the fibre glass replicas used in the film ‘Battle of Britain'. It remained at Pinewood until August of 1968 when it was returned to Henlow and finally to Church Fenton in 1969. Tim Routsis, the founder of Historic Flying, recovered the aircraft in 1989 as part of a deal with the RAF and sold it to the Historic Aircraft Collection in 1993. There she underwent a complete restoration to original specifications and currently flies wearing the colors of No 317 Sqn, though in an earlier camouflage paint scheme.
- Griffon powered Supermarine Spitfire MK. FR XIV MV268 G-SPIT JEJ owned and operated by The Fighter Collection. This Spitfire wears a tributary color scheme to honor WWII RAF Flying ace James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson.
Built at the end of 1944 at Keevil, this Spitfire Mk XIV was stored by the RAF until early 1945. It was sent, from 33MU at RAF Lyneham, to India where details of whatever service she saw have been lost in the mists of time – and the Royal Indian Air Force records system.
She was recovered to Blackbushe, in England, by Doug Arnold in the early seventies and formed part of his Warbirds of Great Britain collection. The Fighter Collection engineers took over the restoration when the aircraft changed hands and were able to complete the work in August of 1992.
MV293 was the first example of its mark to be flying in Europe at that time and was painted in the all silver colors of the post war RAF. In 2000, the aircraft was repainted in the colors of Johnnie Johnson, as a surprise for his attendance at Flying Legends and as a tribute to his last war service Spitfire.
- Merlin powered The Grace Supermarine Spitfire MK. IX G-LFIX ML407 owned by Air Leasing Ltd.
This Spitfire was built at Castle Bromwich as a single seat low level LF Mark IX fighter. It served in the front line of battle throughout the last twelve months of WWII. ML407 is currently in the color scheme as she was when delivered on April 29th, 1944 by a famous lady A.T.A. pilot, Jackie Moggridge, to 485 New Zealand Squadron at ALG Selsey to Flying Officer Johnnie Houlton DFC, with Squadron letters OU and Johnnie's personal insignia letter V (for Vicki his wife to be).
Houlton was accredited with shooting down the first enemy aircraft (a Junkers 88) over the Normandy beach head just south of Omaha Beach whilst flying this aircraft. ML407 did a total of 176 operational sorties, most of those ground attack missions, totaling over 320 combat hours whilst in the 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAF) going from 485 New Zealand Squadron in December 1944 to 341 Free French, 308 Polish, 349 Belgian, 345 Free French and 332 Norwegian Squadrons. It eventually returned to No 485 New Zealand Squadron at the end of the War.
In 1951 Vickers Armstrong at Southampton was commissioned by the Irish Air Corps to convert 20 Spitfires to the trainer configuration, with ML407 being one of these. She served the Irish Army Air Corps as IAC162 until 1960 with a total time of 763 hours flown for the IAC. In 1968 ML407 was sold on, finally ending up in Scotland, and went into storage.
- Merlin powered Old Flying Machine Company's Supermarine Spitfire MK. IXb G-ASJV MH434 B-ZD. This particular Spitfire was once air tested by Alex Henshaw and is now painted in the colors of No 222 Sqn.
- Merlin powered Supermarine Seafire LF III G-BUAR PP972 operated by Air Leasing Ltd and painted in the colors of No 880 Sqdn, based at FAA HMS Implacable and flown by Cmdr. ‘Mike' Crosley made its worldwide airshow debut at last year's Flying Legends.
It was one of 250 Type 358 Seafire LF III aircraft ordered from Westland Aircraft in July of 1943 and left the works during September of 1944.
The aircraft was transferred to 809 Squadron Fleet Air Arm in November 1944 serving on HMS Stalker and then on HMS Attacker. PP972 then re-joined HMS Stalker in March 1945.
Once in theater, it became part of the East Indies Fleet and was assigned with the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron, arriving on the 20th of March, where she performed in Operation Tiderace, the British plan to retake Singapore.
She was disbanded in 1946 and later flew with the French Aéronavale in 1948, assigned to Flotille 1. After the war, she was put into storage and was privately acquired in 1970 and moved to an airfield in France where she was restored to static condition and exhibited in the Resistance Museum at St. Marcel from 1982.
It moved back to the UK to Air Leasing Ltd in 1987 and was reregistered PP972. Following an extensive restoration to airworthy conditions, it made its first test flight on June 15th, 2015.
The Seafire came about when the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) desperately needed a modern carrier-borne fighter in the late 1930s, using obsolete aircraft at that time on its ships. An idea came about to convert Spitfires to a folding wing example and equip them with tailhooks. However, Winston Churchill himself turned down the idea due to an increasing need for land based Spitfires for RAF Fighter Command following the imminent threat of the War.
As a result, the FAA used Grumman Marlets (UK name for Grumman Wildcat) instead as an alternative. The concept of a folding wing Spitfire was not abandoned though and in late 1941 some 48 Mk VBs were converted to hooked Spitfires and designated Seafire Mk IB.
After some further modifications such as strengthening the airframe, upgraded versions of the type were operated by 810 Naval Sqn at HMS Furious in late 1942. As with the land based variant, further development was executed on the Seafires, leading to the Seafire Mk III during the war. The Seafire F Mk III was the first true carrier adaptation of the Spitfire design. It was developed from the Seafire Mk IIC, but incorporated manually folding wings allowing more of these aircraft to be spotted on deck or in the hangars below. Supermarine devised a system of two straight chordwise folds; a break was introduced immediately outboard of the wheel-wells from which the wing hinged upwards and slightly angled towards the fuselage. A second hinge at each wingtip join allowed the tips to fold down (when the wings were folded the wingtips were folded outwards). This version used the more powerful Merlin 55 (F Mk III and FR Mk III) or Merlin 55M (L Mk III), driving the same four-bladed propeller unit used by the IIC series; the Merlin 55M was another version of the Merlin for maximum performance at low altitude.
Following the magnificent Spitfire tailchase were two big radial powered American Naval aircraft: the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and the Grumman F8F Bearcat. Both aircraft are owned and operated by The Fighter Collection.
The duo put on a spirited, high-energy display and it is always nice to see Pete Kynsey put the Bearcat through its paces.
The Grumman F8F Bearcat was developed as a single-engine American fighter aircraft introduced in late World War II. The Bearcat concept started in 1942 where a new carrier borne fighter was needed. One of the most important requirements was a good climb rate.
The design of the Bearcat was largely derived from its predecessor, the F6F Hellcat which was powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine providing 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW). This was the most powerful engine available at that time, so it would be retained for the Bearcat design. This also meant that improved performance would have to come from a lighter airframe.
Compared to the Hellcat, the Bearcat was 20% lighter, had a 30% better rate of climb and was 50 mph (80 km/h) faster.
The F8F prototypes were ordered in November 1943 and first flew on August 21st , 1944, a mere nine months later. The first production aircraft was delivered in February 1945 and the first squadron, Fighter Squadron 19 (VF-19), was operational by May 21st , 1945. The Bearcat never saw combat service because World War II was as good as over by then.
A carrier borne fighter that did see its share of combat in World War II was the Chance Vought Corsair.
First off, let's clear the issue around the issue “is it Vought Corsair or Goodyear Corsair?”. When production levels peaked during WWII, the demand soon overwhelmed Vought's manufacturing capability, resulting in licensed production by Goodyear and even a third party: Brewste. Goodyear-built Corsairs were designated FG and Brewster-built aircraft F3A. So they are all basically the same aircraft, they were just by another manufacturer and at different locations in the US.
From the first prototype delivery to the U.S. Navy in 1940, to final delivery in 1953 to the French, about 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured by Vought, divided over 16 separate models, which gives the Corsair the longest production run of any piston-engined fighter in U.S. history.
The US Navy received its first Corsair on July 31st , 1942. Ironically the Corsair seemed to be doomed as a carrier based aircraft at first, because of the following issues:
- The original framed “birdcage” canopy along with the large nose provided inadequate visibility for deck taxiing and final approach;
- the aircraft had a nasty tendency to flare and "bounce" on touchdown, which could cause it to miss the arresting hook and slam into the crash barrier, or even go out of control;
- the enormous torque of the Double Wasp engine also created operational problems.
As the result of carrier qualification trials carried out aboard the USS Sangamon on September 25th , 1942, the US Navy released the type to the US Marine Corp, whilst they continued to operate the F6F Hellcat. The Hellcat did not entirely match the performance of the Corsair, but was a far more reliable deck landing aircraft.
The British operated a naval version of the Spitfire, but these lacked the range to operate at a distance from a carrier task force. The Corsair was welcomed as a much more robust and versatile alternative. They soon would also learn of the dangerous landing characteristics of the Corsair, but they eventually overcame them with a few simple modifications:
- Because of the limited hangar deck height in several classes of British carrier, many Corsairs had their outer wings "clipped" by about 8 in (200 mm) to clear the deckhead. The resulting change in wingspan brought about the added benefit of improving the sink rate, reducing the F4U's propensity of "floating" in the final stages of landing.
- The British pilots also used a curved approach upon carrier landing which helped solve visibility issues. By approaching the carrier in a medium left-hand turn, the pilots were able to keep the carrier's deck in view over the dip in the port wing, allowing for safer carrier operations.
- A bulged canopy was also introduced (similar to the Malcolm Hood on the P-51), raising the pilot's seat by about 7 in (180mm) and also improving visibility on the deck and on final approach.
- Another modification was wiring shut the cowl flaps across the top of the engine compartment, diverting the oil and hydraulic fluid around the sides of the fuselage.
After the carrier landing issues had been tackled it quickly became the most capable carrier-based fighter-bomber of World War II. It was able to outperform the primary Japanese fighter, the A6M Zero. While the Zero could outturn the F4U at low speed, the Corsair was faster and could outclimb and outdive the A6M. Some Japanese pilots regarded it as the most formidable American fighter of World War II and the U.S. Navy counted an 11:1 kill ratio with the F4U Corsair.
The Fighter Collection's Goodyear FG-1D Corsair KD345/A-130 (G-FID) was built and delivered too late to see combat in WWII. She was dispatched to Guam in May of 1945 where she served with Fleet Air Wing 2 in the Pacific until December of that same year when she returned to the US.
After almost being scrapped, she passed through several civilian owners and ended up with TFC in 1986 and was repainted in 1997 as Corsair Mk IV (UK name for the FG-1D) with serial number KD345 of 1850 Naval Air Squadron, 13th Carrier Air Group, based on HMS Vengeance.
Last year's Legends showed an extremely rare and unique formation, not seen anywhere else in the world: a quartet of Curtiss Hawk aircraft. Sadly though, this year TFC's P-40F was unable to fly, so the quartet was reduced to a (albeit equally rare and unique) formation of three Curtiss Hawks.
Patrice Marchasson lead the silver Hawk formation flying the silver P-36, followed closely by Steve Hinton in the P-40C. Meanwhile, Stevo Hinton performed a solo display of the Hawk 75.
The P-36C (N80FR) is owned by The Fighter Collection and made its worldwide debut last year and is the only P-36C in the world. It was an American-designed and built fighter aircraft in the late 1930s. The aircraft was one of the models which made the shift in fighter aircraft from biplane designs to a monoplane design.
On May 27th , 1935, the prototype was flown to Wright Field, Ohio, to compete in the USAAC fly-off for a new single-seat fighter but the contest was delayed because the Seversky entry crashed on the way to the contest. The fly-off finally took place in April of 1936. Unfortunately, the new engine failed to deliver its rated power and the aircraft attained only 285 mph (459 km/h). Its competitor, the Seversky P-35, also underperformed and was more expensive, so the Curtiss was still declared the winner and awarded a contract for 77 aircraft.
Because of the lack in performance, the type saw little action with the USAAF in WWII, but was extensively used by the French Armée de l'Air during the Battle of France. This was due to the build-up of international tensions and the threat of Germany. Several European nations needed to acquire whatever fighter aircraft they could get their hands on at that time and the P-36 just happened to be the right aircraft at the right time.
Although the P-36 never made it as a frontline fighter for the USAAF, the type was responsible for the very first aerial victory of the USAAF in the Second World War. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, four P-36s managed to get airborne at 0830 from Wheeler Field. Lt. G.H. Sterling flew through the smoke pouring up from the many bombed sites and managed to avoid anti-aircraft-fire in order to get to Bellows Field to be in a position to attack the Japanese aircraft. As he approached the airfield, he spotted nine Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeros pulling up from a strafing run, together with a similar number of Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers that were about to hit the airfield.
The P-36 pilots attacked the dive bombers with Sterling going after one which had just broken formation. Although his fighter was under-armed he did manage to get a couple of shots on target, which immediately burst into flames and crashed. This marked the first aerial victory of the USAAC in WWII. Unfortunately, the Zeros bounced the P-36s and Sterling was forced to ditch his crippled aircraft in the water. He drowned while his P-36 sank to the bottom of the ocean.
The example acquired by TFC participated in the 1939 Cleveland Air Races before going on to serve with a number of Squadrons on the US East Coast in WWII. Following its restoration it displayed at the 2015 Planes of Fame airshow before heading across the Atlantic for its new Duxford home.
TFC's Curtiss P40C 41-13357 G-CIIO was used by Technical Training Command at Chanute Field, Illinois in 1940. It was one of two P-40Cs acquired from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s by TFC. It is painted in the scheme of a P-40 based at Chanute Field, Kansas: 39-159, a P-40C that was stripped of its olive drab camouflage paint and used as a personal ‘hack' for base commanders.
It made its first post restoration flight on August 5th , 2011, and arrived Duxford in the Spring of 2014 where it made its worldwide debut and is one of only three airworthy P-40Cs.
TFC's Hawk 75 is the only airworthy example left in the world and wears an authentic Armée de l'Air scheme with the Lafayette Escadrille Sioux Indian head motif, which is also the TFC logo.
Flying Legends profiles itself as a piston powered airshow so no jets are being displayed at this event. The only exception came in 2007 where a USAF Heritage Flight was performed with an F-15E Eagle, the Bell P-39 and two P-51 Mustangs.
This year saw another welcome exception, this time the Heritage Flight was made up of a North American P-51 Mustang and the F-22 Raptor!
The USAF Heritage Flight was created in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the USAF in 1997. The flight consists of a currently operated, modern day fighter/attack aircraft, flying in formation with a vintage aircraft which served in either World War II, Korea or Vietnam. Its sole purpose it to honor and remember the contributions and sacrifices of all of the brave pilots who flew and fought in those wars, in peacetime and all pilots currently serving with the USAF. In 2010, the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation, a non-profit organization, was started to keep this popular program flying.
The Heritage Flight team currently consists of nine civilian pilots (amongst those are Jim Beasley Jr, Dan Friedkin and Steve Hinton), who need to be specially qualified to fly vintage warbirds in close formation with modern day USAF single-ship aircraft. The modern day pilots are the current USAF demonstration team pilots.
The civilian pilots usually operate the following warbirds: the P-38 Lightning, the P-40 Warhawk, the P-47 Thunderbolt, the P-51 Mustang, the A-1 Skyraider and the F-86 Sabre.
The F-4 Phantom was abandoned a couple of years ago following the retirement of the type within the USAF. Current modern day aircraft participating the Heritage Flight are the F-16 East and West demo teams, the F-22 demo team and as of 2016 the F-35 demo team.
For the Heritage Flight in this year's Flying Legends the F-22 Raptor was present (there were a couple of F-22s stationed at RAF Fairford at the time for the Royal International Air Tattoo). The vintage aircraft of choice was the North American P-51 Mustang “Miss Helen”, which made a welcome return to Duxford after a seven year absence.
Miss Helen is a true WWII combat veteran. This particular P-51D-20-NA (44-72216, c/n 122-38675) is one of those rare Mustangs which still is the same aircraft as over 70 years ago and still wears the same paintscheme as it did back then.
The paintscheme is that of Raymond H. Littge, flying with the 487th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the infamous 352nd Fighter Group (also know as “The Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney).
You can read more about the aircraft here and more about Raymond Littge here.
Miss Helen was piloted by Dan Friedkin for the Heritage Flight. The duo made its entrance in close formation from the left with the song “We Remember” performed by Dwayne O'Brian playing in the background.
Both aircraft make a couple of formation passes before splitting up and performing a couple of high speed solo passes.
All this fighter extravaganza was followed by a bit more of a sedate display by the Classic Formation team. It's always nice to see that Flying Legends does not solely concentrate on piston powered fighter aircraft, but also features some nice classic transport or leasure aircraft. With Lufthansa's Junkers Ju-52 undergoing a major overhaul, Flying Legends organizers found a rather special replacement: the Classic Formation team, flying a DC-3 and a lovely pair of Beech 18s.
The Classic Formation is a Swiss team and is currently the only multi-engined veteran aircraft display team and was displaying in the UK for the first time this year. Their DC-3 was originally built as a C-47A-45DL by the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1943, being delivered to the USAAF as 42-24133 on August 4th of that same year. It never saw any combat action and after a couple of civilian ownerships found its way to the Classic Formation team in 2007. It is currently registered as HB-ISC.
Both Beech 18s are ex-Royal Canadian Air Force 3NMs built in 1952 by Beechcraft.
The Beechcraft Model 18 (aka Twin Beech) is a light transport aircraft which can carry anywhere from 6 up to 11 passengers. It is a twin engined tailwheel aircraft manufactured by Beech Aircraft Corporation in Wichita, Kansas. It also featerd a twin-tailfin configuration.
The aircraft was designed in the late 1930s and strongly resembles the slightly larger Lockheed Electra. Prio to the outbreak of WWII, the Beech 18 however was being outsold by the Lockheed 12 by almost two-to-one ratio. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Lockheed started concentrating on its heavier aircraft which left the market open to the Beech Model 18.
The Model 18 production continued up until November of 1969 and over 9,000 were produced, many of which are still flying today (over 300 civilian registrations in the US alone in 2015).
Next up were the Flying Bulls. 2016 was the first time that all three of their warbirds performed at Flying Legends: the Boeing B-25, the Lockheed P-38 and the Vought F-4U Corsair.
As always, a lot of people still complain about the fact that The Flying Bulls fly their WWII aircraft in a polished metal scheme instead of a historically correct paint scheme, but the fact is that we should all be happy to see one of only two airworthy B-25 in Europe and the only airworthy Lockheed P-38 gracing the skies and honoring the men and women who flew them during the war.
The trio opened their display with several formation flypasts after which the fighters then broke off and let the B-25 take center stage.
Raimund Reidmann and Eric Goujon then displayed their warbirds in a synchronized display.
Only four P-51 Mustangs were present at this year's Flying Legends. Not that we want to complain, but being Mustangs fans ourselves we always hope to see a couple more flying in the Duxford skies. The German operated TF-51D-25 did not show at this year's event and Miss Helen only flew the Heritage Flight.
This left three P-51s to display in the USAAF slot:
- Mistral Warbirds' P-51D-25 44-73656 Moonbeam McSwine
- Norwegian Spitfire Foundation's P-51D-25 44-73877 “Shark Mouth”
- TFC's TF-51D-25 44-84847 Miss Velma
The Shark Mouth Mustang and Miss Velma battered the airfield with fly-by's, piloted by Lars Ness and Dave Southwood, whilst Frédéric Akary performed a series of solo aerobatics in Moonbeam. You can read more about the aircraft histories in our Mustang section.
When the routine was over, Lars Ness formed up with local resident Boeing B-17G “Sally B” for a some tribute passed for all of the bomber crews who served and gave their lives for our freedom in WWII.
Biplane fighters were up next in the form of two Hawker Nimrods, accompanied by a Hawker Fury. They are
- Hawker Fury Mark I K5674 (G-CBZP) operated by the Historic Aircraft Collection Ltd
- Hawker Nimrod II K3661 (G-BURZ) also operated by the Historic Aircraft Collection Ltd
- Hawker Nimrod Mark I S1581 (G-BWWK) operated by The Fighter Collection
The Hawker Fury was designed as a British biplane fighter aircraft in 1929. Initially dubbed the Hornet, it was designated Fury when purchased by the Air Ministry. The Fury was the RAF's first operational fighter to exceed 200 mph (322 km/h) in level flight.
The Fury I entered squadron service with the RAF in May of 1931, re-equipping No. 43 Squadron. Owing to finance cuts in the Great Depression, only relatively small numbers of Fury Is were ordered, the type equipping 1 and 25 squadrons. The type remained with RAF Fighter Command until January of 1939, replaced primarily with Gloster Gladiators and other types, such as Hawker Hurricane. They did continue to be used within the RAF however as training aircraft.
The HAC Fury Mark I made its second post restoration airshow appearance at Flying Legends and is currently the only airworthy example in the world.
It was delivered to 43 Sqn at RAF Tangmere on June 2nd , 1936. Flying Officer F.E. Rosier, later to become Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Rosier flew the Fury between December 9th , 1936, and February 22nd , 1939.
Is was named Queen of the North and South. On his last flight in the aircraft, he commented in his log “Last fling in Queen of the North and South. Perfect”
The Hawker Nimrod is essentially a navalized version of the Fury. The first production Nimrod entered service in 1932 with No.408 Flight on HMS Glorious. Others went to Nos 402 and 409 Flights soon after. Fleet Air Arm flights were reorganized into Squadrons early in 1933, with the Nimrods joining No.s 801, 802 and 803 Squadrons RAF. The Nimrod II (which featured a more powerful engine and a modified swept wing) followed in September of 1934.
TFCs Nimrod Mk. I flew with 408 Fighter Flight aboard HMS Glorious as “573” (later 803). After the war she was sold as scrap an re-emerged at a scrapyard in West London in the early 1970s. She joined TFC in 2004.
With the Allied aircraft returning home, the Axis “Messerschmitts” took over the skies. A welcome change was that they would not mix it up with Spitfires or Mustangs this time but with both Gloster Gladiators.
This was done to remember the Siege of Malta. The Siege of Malta is a lesser published story in World War 2. Nevertheless, Malta was under siege from June of 1940 untill May of 1943. Malta was one of the most heavily bombed regions in the War.
Malta was a British colony and one of the most strategically important islands in the Mediterranean. It housed several airfields and the only British harbor between Gibraltar and Alexandria, Egypt. It was essential for operations against the Axis supply convoys destined for North Africa. For a period of three years, the fight for air superiority would be on between the air forces and navies of Italy, Germany, the RAF and the Royal Navy.
The opening of the front in North Africa further increased the value of Malta. As Erwin Rommel put it in early 1941: "Without Malta the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa".
Because the island was far from Britain and very close to Italy, an Axis ally, it was first thought that it could not be defended. However, in July of 1939, the British increased the number of anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft in Malta. After some discussion, Winston Churchill convinced the British War Cabinet that no concessions should be made and that Malta was not a priority. Following the Battle of France, Britain now faced the imminent threat and invasion of the German Luftwaffe and navy.
As a result it was left lightly protected with only six obsolete Gloster Gladiators stationed on the island, with another six in crates, the Hal Far Fighter Fight.
On June 10th , 1940, Mussolini declared war on the United Kingdom and France and, almost instantly, the first attacks on Malta were carried out by the Italian Air Force the following day. The Regia Aeronautica began bombing the island when 55 bombers escorted by 21 fighters flew over the island and dropped 142 bombs on three airfields.
No interception of the raiders was made because there was no RAF force ready to meet them. No RAF airfield on Malta was operational at that time (only Luqa was near to completion). Legend has it that there were just three aircraft, Gladiators nicknamed 'Faith', 'Hope' and 'Charity' but, in reality, at least six Gladiators and also Hawker Hurricanes were deployed with the Hurricanes inflicting most of the damage. Twelve Hurricanes had come in by the start of July and formed No. 261 Sqn in August.
By the end of the year, the RAF had claimed 45 Italian aircraft shot down.
It was the arrival of the German Luftwaffe in 1941 however which intensified the campaign. This was more a result of the Italian defeats in North Africa than Italian failures to deal with the island. Hitler had little choice other than to rescue his Italian ally or lose the chance of taking the Middle Eastern oilfields in Arabia.
They arrived in February with Me-109s of 7. Staffel (Sqn) Jagdgeschwader 26, which quickly led to a rise in RAF fighter losses. Their German counterparts were more experienced, more confident, better trained and better equipped. The Luftwaffe claimed 42 kills and the RAF kept their Hurricanes flying by patching them up and cannibalizing some to save others.
Luckily for the British fighter pilots, Hitler's attention was drawn away from Malta in April, because he was forced to intervene in the Balkans (German invasion of Yugoslavia and the Battle of Greece). Later, in June, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union under Operation Barbarossa, which led to the reallocation of many of the German fighters to the Eastern Front. Only the Italians were left to put further pressure on Malta.
This allowed for the British to strengthen their air defenses. In mid-1941, new cannon-armed Hurricanes Mk. IICs arrived and two new Squadrons (No. 185 and 126) were formed. British naval carriers flew in a total of 81 new fighters and on May 21 st , No. 249 Sqn arrived, taking over from No. 261 Sqn.
More Hurricanes flew in and in the second half of 1941, the first Bristol Blenheim units (No. 113 and 115 Sqn) arrived on the scene, along with Bristol Beaufighter units 252 and 272 Sqn.
Between July and December of 1941, 717 RAF fighters passed through Malta and 514 left for North Africa. By early August, Malta had 75 fighters and 230 anti-aircraft guns.
In December of 1941 however, the Germans turned their attention to Malta once again and renewed their intensive bombing campaigns. Until the return of the Luftwaffe over Malta, the RAF defenders had claimed 199 aircraft shot down from June 1940 to December 1941, while losses were at least 90 Hurricanes along with several other aircraft types.
The balance of the campaign would tip once more in the Axis favor. In the first months of 1942, the Luftwaffe would shoot down 20 RAF bombers and reconnaissance aircraft, over 50 Hurricanes were lost in strafing runs and 8 shot down in combat. Of the 340 fighters that had passed through or stayed on the island since the war began, only 28 remained.
British Commanders argued for more modern aircraft to be sent to Malta. Group Captain Basil Embry was sent to Malta to assess the situation. The pilots told Embry that the Hurricanes were useless and that the Spitfire was their only hope. They claimed that the Germans purposely flew in front of the Hurricanes in their Bf 109Fs to show off the performance superiority of the Bf 109. The squadron leaders argued the inferiority of their aircraft was affecting morale. Embry agreed and recommended the Spitfire be sent and the type began arriving in March 1942. It was a move that would tip the scales once again…
On March 7th, 1942, a contingent of 16 Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vs flew to Malta from the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle as part of Operation Spotter. A further run by Eagle delivered nine Spitfires. The reinforcement of Malta by carrier ("Club Runs") became more frequent through 1942. Then, USS Wasp and HMS Eagle despatched 47 more aircraft (Operation Calendar) on April 13th , 1942.
Unfortunately, many of the Spitfires were lost in strafing runs and the Axis fighters still had the upper hand. Between March 20th and April 28th , 1942, the Germans flew 11,819 sorties against the island and dropped 6,557 tons of bombs (3,150 tons on Valletta).
The Allies moved to increase the number of Spitfires on the island. On May 9th, Wasp and Eagle delivered 64 more Spitfires (Operation Bowery). Malta now had five full Spitfire squadrons; No. 126, 185, 249, 601 and 603 Squadrons.
The impact of the Spitfires was apparent. On May 9th, the Italians announced 37 Axis losses. On May 10th, the Axis lost 65 aircraft destroyed or damaged in large air battles over the island. The Hurricanes were able to focus on the Axis bombers and dive-bombers at lower heights, while the Spitfires, with their superior rate of climb, engaged enemy aircraft at higher levels.
From May 18th to June 9th, Eagle made three runs carrying another 76 Spitfires to Malta.
By the spring of 1942, the Axis air forces ranged against the island were at their maximum strength. The main adversaries for the defenders were the 137 Bf 109Fs of JG 53 and II./JG 3 'Udet' and the 80 Macchi C.202s of the 4th and 51st Stormo. Bomber units included 199 Junkers Ju 88s of II./Lehrgeschwader 1, II and III./Kampfgeschwader 77, I./Kampfgeschwader 54 and 32–40 Ju 87s.
However, in May the numerical and technical improvements in the RAF defenses wrested air superiority from the Luftwaffe. By the end of May 1942, Kesselring's forces had been reduced to just 13 serviceable reconnaissance aircraft, six Bf 110s, 30 Bf 109s and 34 bombers (mostly Ju 88s): a total of 83 compared with several hundred aircraft two months earlier.
By August of 1942, 163 Spitfires were on hand to defend Malta. On August 11th and 17th and on October 24th , under the respective actions, Operation Bellows, Operation Baritone and Operation Train, it brought another 85 Spitfires to Malta.
In response to the threat Malta was now posing to Axis supply lines, the Luftwaffe renewed its attacks on Malta in October of 1942. Recognising the critical battle was approaching in North Africa (Second Battle of El Alamein), Kesselring organised Fliegerkorps II in Sicily to neutralise the threat once and for all.
During the month of October, the Luftwaffe suffered 34 Ju 88s and 12 Bf 109s destroyed and 18 damaged. RAF losses amounted to 23 Spitfires shot down and 20 crash-landed.
On October 16th, it became clear to Kesselring that the defenders were too strong and the offensive was called off. The situation in North Africa required German air support, so the October offensive marked the last major effort by the Luftwaffe against Malta.
The people of Malta had shown extreme bravery in the face of severe threat and hardship. To acknowledge such bravery, King George VI made a gesture unique in history: on April 15th , 1942 he awarded the George Cross to the Maltese nation, an honor still borne by the Maltese on their flag.
Anyways, on with the show at Legends: as stated earlier the two familiar Hispano HA-1112-MIL Buchons owned by Spitfire Limited and Historic Flying Limited were the Axis enemy fighters, flown by John Romain and Cliff Spink. Because of its participation in the movie Dunkirk, the Hispano Buchon owned by Historic Flying Ltd. also sported a new paint scheme to resemble an early-war Bf-109E: Schwarze 2.
The Gloster Gladiators were scrambled and tangled up with the Hun. The Gladiators were flown by Nick Grey and Rob Millinship. It was great to see how the Gladiator could keep up with the Buchon and give it a tough fight.
When the fight was over, another unique formation was presented in the form of one of the Gloster Gladiators, a Hurricane, a Spitfire Mk. V and the Blenheim, all aircraft that have been used in the Malta theater by the RAF.
Participating aircraft in the flyby were:
- Gloster Gladiator I L8032 operated by The Shuttleworth Trust
- Gloster Gladiator II N5903 operated by The Fighter Collection
- Hawker Hurricane XIIA 5711 operated by the Historic Aircraft Collection
- Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Ia G-CFGJ painted in the colors of 19 Sqn RAF N3200 operated by IWM
- Bristol Blenheim I L6739 operated by the Aircraft Restoration Company
After several passes the aircraft split up and the Spitfire and Hurricane put on a lovely aerobatic tailchase display, after which the magnificently restored Blenheim performed its routine in the hands of Lee Proudfoot.
Now it was back to the US Navy with a nice pairing of TFCs Grumman FM-2 Wildcat and the Grumman TBM-3R Avenger “Charlie's Heavy” operated by the Association Charlie's Heavy. After another formation flypast, both Pacific Theater aircraft split up and performed some thrilling solo aerobatic routines. The topside passes performed by both are a magnificent sight to behold.
img src="TBM%20Avenger%20and%20Wildcat.JPG" width="755" height="350" />
The next aircraft was a highlight for many visitors to the show: the newly restored Hawker Fury Mk.11 G-CBEL. The aircraft had only just been imported from Australia by new owner North Weald Heritage Aviation.
In the weeks leading up to the show, the people at Air Leasing had worked hard to put the Fury back together and paint her in a new and neat Royal Navy test paint scheme.
The Hawker Sea Fury is a British fighter aircraft designed and manufactured by Hawker. It was the last propeller-driven fighter to serve with the Royal Navy, and also one of the fastest production single piston-engined aircraft ever built.
The design idea for the aircraft came about in 1943 in response to a wartime requirement for the RAF who were looking for a lightweight Tempest Mk.II replacement. The new design was originally dubbed “Fury”. As the War drew to an end, the RAF would cancel their order for the aircraft. However, the Royal Navy saw the Fury as a more than suitable carrier aircraft to replace a range of obsolete and poorly suited aircraft operated at that time. Most of the aircraft used by the Royal Navy were to be returned at the end of the lend lease and the British built Supermarine Spitfire was hard to handle due to the narrow undercarriage. As a result, the aircraft did make it to production as the Sea Fury.
A total of six prototypes were ordered: two were to be powered by Rolls-Royce Griffon engines, two with Centaurus XXIIs, one with a Centaurus XII and one as a test structure. The first Fury to fly was NX798 with a Centaurus XII engine, on September 1st , 1944.
The first Sea Fury prototype, SR661, first flew at Langley, Berkshire, on February 21st , 1945, and was powered by the Centaurus XII engine. It featured a "stinger"-type tailhook for carrier landings but did not have folding wings. The second prototype, SR666, which flew on October 12th , 1945, was powered by a Centaurus XV, had a newfive-bladed Rotol propeller and did have folding wings.
The performance of the Sea Fury was striking; in comparison with the 15 years older Hawker Fury biplane the Sea Fury was nearly twice as fast and had double the rate of climb despite far heavier equipment and greater range.
The first production model, the Sea Fury F Mk X (Fighter, Mk 10), flew in September of 1946. It underwent carrier trials aboard the HMS Victorious. The Mk X was capable of attaining a maximum speed of 460 mph and climb to a height of 20,000 feet in under five minutes.
The Sea Fury entered operational service with the Royal Navy in 1947. A total of 50 Mk X Sea Furies would be produced, which were practically identical to the SR666 prototype except for the Centaurus 18 engine and four-bladed propeller being used.
Hawker Aircraft continued to develop and refine the Sea Fury Mk X, resulting in the significantly more capable Sea Fury Mk 11, otherwise known as the Sea Fury FB 11. This upgraded model featured several improvements, most notable being the hydraulically powered wing folding mechanism which considerably eased flight deck operations and the adoption of a number of new weapons for performing air-to-ground combat.
The Sea Fury proved to be a popular aircraft and saw service with a number of overseas countries including Australia, Burma, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, West Germany, Iraq and Pakistan. It fought during the Korean War and in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba.
Richard Grace put on a hell of display in the Fury and it is always a treat to see a new aircraft arriving to the scene.
Speeking about new aircraft, how about this next story where two determined airline pilots flew a rare Lockheed Model 12A all the way from Washington State in the US to Duxford (that is 4300 miles), just to display the aircraft for 5 minutes!
Patrick Donovan and Bill Sleeper met each other 40 years ago in the cockpit of a Boeing 727. Both pilots own a number of private aircraft, the star being Patrick's 1938 Lockheed Model 12A Electra Junior.
His Electra was manufactured by Lockheed at Burbank, California, on December 6th , 1938, with construction number 1252. It was delivered to the Continental Oil Company, bearing registration NC18996. After a series of private owners and registrations, the aircraft retired at a glider museum in Texas.
Patrick acquired her in 1989 and after two restorations (the first was done in Mexico but was not thoroughly done) she flew again in 1992.
Long distance flights are not uncommon for this Electra. When Patrick immigrated to New Zealand, he took the aircraft with him. There she performed three times at the Warbirds at Wanaka airshow. In 2010, Patrick moved back to the States, so the Electra made the trip back (via Auckland, American Samoa, Pago Pago, Christmas Island, Kiribati, Honolulu, Hilo and then making the 13h33min trip to Santa Maria, California).
Time flies when you're having fun, so it was already time for the last display of the show. Following a one year absence, Dakota Norway's C-53D Dakota was back again. How they display their Dakota is a true sight to behold!
Traditional Legends closing moment is the always spectacular Balbo.
Flying Legends 2017 will be held in the weekend of July 8th and 9th , maybe we'll see you there?
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