After Flying Legends 2011 ended on a distinctively low note, with the loss of P-51D Big Beautiful Doll, the enthusiast community had many questions about whether the format of the next Legends show would be the same or would see changes. AeroResource’s Ben Montgomery went along to see.
Without beating about the bush, Flying Legends in 2012 did seem to be different in some ways – but in other ways, it maintained the same special “something” that makes Legends, well, Legendary. Held on the same weekend at RAF Waddington’s International Airshow (due to issues beyond the organisers control – namely, the airspace restrictions for the 2012 London Olympics) was always going to cause some consternation for enthusiasts. What to do – visit a world class airshow with all-round brilliant participation, or visit another world class show with a much more selective participation list. To overcome a problem like this, Legends really had to pull it out of the bag in terms of star items on their participation list.
Quite rightly, the star item of the display had to be the newly restored Republic P-47G Thunderbolt, owned and flown by The Fighter Collection. Having joined the fleet of TFC in 2006, 42-25068 was the 129th P-47G built at Curtiss’ facility in Buffalo, and is now one of only two Curtiss examples left flying in the world. Resplendent in her new paint scheme as “Snafu” as flown by Lieutenant S.B Calderon, the Thunderbolt was first publically displayed at the 2011 Flying Legends, although at the time she was not nearly ready to attempt her first post restoration flight. This event occurred on 21st April 2012, at the hands of TFC’s chief pilot Pete Kynsey – the first time Snafu had flown in 18 years, with the last flight taking place whilst she was owned by The Lone Star Flight Museum in Texas.
Six years after Legends had seen its last display by a P-47 (TFC’s P-47D “No Guts - No Glory” which has since moved to the USA), P-47G “Snafu” had a lot to look up to in the eyes of the enthusiast community. Displayed over the weekend alongside B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B”, Snafu brought a lovely deep rumble from it’s Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine. Unfortunately, for possibly the star item of the display, this type of display was not so lovely. Whilst there is no doubting that the pairs routine with Sally B was graceful and dynamic, it is fair to say that for her first public display, many people were hoping for fast flypasts, and a display to show off the aircraft and her paint scheme to full effect. For the pair display, it seemed that Sally B was assigned the closer display axis, whilst the P-47 was relegated to the further display axis. From the M11 end of the airfield at least, it was difficult to get the aircraft to fill the frame of a photograph, even with a 400mm lens. A great sight, but not displayed to full effect – especially for her debut.
Other items making their Duxford debut were a trio of original Spitfire Mk.1s – flying as a trio in a timeless display of beauty and class. Whilst the display was neither fast paced or dynamic (as the P-47 should have been), for aircraft such as these it did not need to be. Besides, the Spitfire tail chase that followed from the other participating aircraft had more than enough action to fulfil the wishes of the most hardened pistonhead. The three Mk.1s in question were Spitfire Mk.1A AR213, Spitfire Mk.1 P9374 and Spitfire Mk.1A X4650. The most recently restored of this trio was X4650, owned by Dan and Tom Friedkin and flying for the first time post restoration from Biggin Hill in March 2012. Unfortunately AR213 had an undercarriage malfunction which curtailed the routine (which opened the flying display on both days) – but happily she landed safely and performed in the Sunday display with her stablemates.
Yet another debutant at Legends was the world’s only airworthy Sikorsky S-38 amphibious biplane, S-38B “Osa’s Ark”. Whilst it is not an original S-38, but rather a reproduction, it does contain as many original components as could be sourced – including both of the tail booms and the top wing. Owned by Tom Schrade, this reproduction first flew in 2002 and made it’s debut at EAA AeroVenture that year. Keen eyed film enthusiasts will recognise her from a role in “The Aviator”. The namesake of this reproduction was an S-38BS used by Osa and Martin Johnson on an African expedition in 1933-34, and unfortunately written off in a storm in Cuba in 1945. Whilst being a newcomer to Legends, Osa’s Ark has spent plenty of time in Europe on a tour, which will end in Autumn 2012 when Tom Schrade will fly the aircraft to Cape Town, South Africa.
Flown during the display as a pairs display with Duxford Airshow regular, Plane Sailing’s PBY-5A Canso (now named “Miss Pick Up”), this was one of the unique airshow acts of the year – it’s not often that two flying boats are seen in the air at once (although Scalaria Air Challenge would be another good opportunity to see such a thing). There is not too much you can do in terms of displaying with an aircraft such as this – so it was good to see Tom making use of the closer display line at Duxford whilst “Miss Pick Up” took a back seat to allow the S-38 to take the limelight. Whilst this Sikorsky design will certainly not win any awards for elegance of design, she is certainly a classic and fully deserving of her slot at Flying Legends.
2012 also saw another member of the TFC fleet able to return to the air for the first time in three years. Vought FG-1D Corsair (BuNo 88297), retaining her Royal Navy livery, flew a pairs routine with TFC’s Grumman F8F Bearcat. It was a delight to see this classic back on the display circuit where she belongs, and hopefully it will not be long before the remainder of the TFC fleet join her there.
Unfortunately the 2012 show did have a lack of “heavy” displays – with Legends stalwarts Sally B, Lufthansas’ Ju-52 and the DC-3 from Dakota Norway providing the backbone of the heavy element of the display. The Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster B.1 was only able to attend on the Saturday of the event, and the PBY-5A was involved in the pairs display with the S-38 as already mentioned. The flying programme mentioned that a B-25J Mitchell from The Flying Bulls should have been involved in the display – but as she was not present in the show and not mentioned in any press releases prior to the event, one can only assume it was a last minute addition, and even more last minute cancellation.
The Flying Bulls should have been represented at the show by their F-4U Corsair and P-38L Lightning, although the Corsair suffered engine issues prior to the show, and so was unable to make it (indeed, the Lightning suffered a problem itself and had to divert to Sumburgh in Scotland en route). The P-38, having made it’s debut at the 2011 event had inevitably lost a little of the “wow” factor – but this was insignificant. It was a pleasure to see and hear such a beautiful aircraft flying in England once again – although with the poor weather during her display it was difficult to find decent light for photographs.
Possibly the most dynamic display of the event (in the authors eyes at least) was that given by the three P-51D Mustangs in the flying program (this should read 4 Mustangs, as the published participation list gives the Nordic Warbirds’ example also due to fly – but unfortunately it was unable to attend the event). The Mustangs in questions were Legends regulars – with two being the locally based “Miss Velma” and “Ferocious Frankie”, whilst the third was Max Alpha Aviation’s TF-51D. The display combined formations, trails and speed to great effect, and was not lacking the “wow factor” for which Legends is reknowned.
Having not been seen recently, it was nice to note both the Old Warden based Westland Lysander and Fiesler Storch on the lineup. The Storch was unable to make it to the airfield on Saturday – probably due to the very high winds which plagued the whole event, and arrived on Sunday morning. Those very same high winds meant that when the Storch took off, she was effectively hovering and took quite some time to make any significant progress down the airfield! She was also able to turn on the metaphorical sixpence, and – with the wind now at her back – come racing down the airfield, before turning on the spot again and again slowing almost to a halt. This was, by the virtue of the design of the aircraft, an incredible display – one which was lost on none of the watching audience. The Storch holds the unfortunate title of being the last aircraft shot down on the Western Front during World War Two – having been forced to land after the crew of a Piper L4 Grasshopper opened fire on it with their pistols!
Whilst not the most varied show in recent years, there were still too many aircraft on display to give a full review on each. Other highlights of the display included the Sea Fury FB11 from Spitfire Warbirds, wearing the colours of the Royal Australian Navy and equipped with extremely effective wingtip smoke generators. Another Legend debutant was the Yakovlev Yak-11, flown together with a Yak-9 and Yak-3. One of the older displays during the show came in the form of a trio display from a Sopwith Triplane, Nieuport 17 and Fokker DR.1.
There were also several other pre-WWII German designs on display – but unfortunately two of these (the Jungmann and Jungmeister) had to cancel their display on Sunday due to the Kennett Aviation Skyraider having to land early with a serviceability issue, and running through their display slot. Also on show was the Junkers Ju-52 from Lufthansa – always a favourite with her unusual corrugated design, which was chosen to significantly increase the structural strength of the aircraft. Interestingly, the control surfaces on the Ju-52’s wing run the entire span of the wing, and was used to significantly reduce the aircraft’s stall speed – becoming known as the “Doppelflügel”, or double wing.
The show was rounded off as always by the infamous Balbo formation, with Stephen Grey flying his usual Joker routine in the Bearcat as the formation assembled away from the airfield. With fewer aircraft on display in the Balbo than in previous years, the formation was no less impressive than usual – and critically managed to attract sunlight to end the display (more so on Saturday, when previously cloudy skies gave way to clear blue). It offered photographers another chance to catch any participants that they previously missed arriving and departing – and another opportunity to catch the P-47 in the air. It would be interesting to see whether the Thunderbolt would make an effective mount for the Joker – but no aircraft could ever do the job as well as the incredible Grumman Bearcat (when Stephen flew the Joker routine in TFC’s Sea Fury T.20 it did lose some of the spectacle that the Bearcat routine provides).
Whilst it may not be remembered as one of the best Legends shows in recent years, it would be very difficult to have a “bad” show – and one must always remember that in many cases it takes an enormous level of commitment, dedication and love on behalf of the ground crew and pilots who service and fly these Legends to even hold the show in the first place. The airfield was crowded, the flying was on the whole of the usual Duxford standard and the rain even managed to hold off!