Dull weather, rain and more rain – what seems to have been the essence of British Air Shows. Flying Legends 2010 broke the trend with an action packed display, pure blue skies and sweltering temperatures. Ben Montgomery and Phill Loughlin report for Aero Resource.

Flying Legends is to the enthusiast, an airshow that immediately conjures the vision of classic aircraft, with the sound of growling piston and rotary engines. The 2010 event certainly lived up to expectation, with a fantastic, and sometimes hectic display, with well balanced and thought out “themes” for the flying. The highlight of the display, as ever, was the infamous Flying Legends Balbo – a mass formation of aircraft, including most of the flying participants from the airshow. This year was no different, but had some extra gems in amongst the 3 ½ hours of flying. With temperatures soaring to above 30 degrees on Saturday, and approaching that point on Sunday, participation swelled as the public came out en masse to enjoy the flying and the rare British sun.

There was a lot of discussion about the participation for this show before hand, with many believing that this year’s show appeared to be weak (no B-25s for example), and others stating that Legends will be fantastic whatever happens. Thankfully, the latter was true, and Duxford once again produced a show that easily matched up to previous years.

There were several disappointments before the show – the worst of which was the forced landing of the Fw190 F-AZZJ (which appeared at Legends 2009) off the coast of France earlier this year. Another was the Scandinavian Historic Flight pulling out of the show late on – one can only assume for financial reasons. Lastly, as previously mentioned, was the lack of B-25s at the show, with one of last years participants, “Grumpy” no residing in the USA.

Even without these usual participants, the show was very full, and it was difficult to see where these extra aircraft could have fitted into the flying display. Boasting a lineup of 8 Supermarine Spitfires (and a Seafire), 5 Mustangs, 3 Yaks (2 Yak-3s and a Yak-9) as well as a variety of other types, the flying display never had a quiet moment!

Opening with all 8 Spitfires in the air (described rather appropriately as a “Choir of Spitfires”), with 6 aircraft performing formation flypasts, and then breaking into a tailchase – whilst the other two aircraft (PRXIX F-AZJS and MkXIII D-FEUR) performed fast, low and very aggressive flypasts.  It was very difficult during this piece to work out which way to point the camera, indeed on several occasions, photos of the formation featured a high speed blur of a Spitfire flying across the front!

Linked into this display were the HAC Hurricane and Buchon, which performed a dogfight as the Spitfire formation was breaking up and landing. Unfortunately, these two aircraft never came close enough for a good photo opportunity (from our vantage point at least) – but the close formation rolls and loops were spectacular just to watch.

Another themed display was a formation of Naval aircraft, consisting of 3 Skyraiders, Seafire, Corsair, Bearcat, Fury and Sea Fury. The Bearcat was only able to fly in the week leading up to the show, as The Fighter Collection slowly starts to get their fleet back into the air, after being grounded due to paperwork legislation. Normally, there are two Skyraiders present, but this year a third aircraft, sporting a rather nice French Navy scheme. The trio performed formations and tailchases, whilst the Seafire rolled and looped in the middle of the display, but very high.

The second part of the Navy piece was the Bearcat and Corsair, and the Fury and Sea Fury. First up were the Fury and Sea Fury, the latter being a Duxford resident, whilst the Fury was a visitor from France (in a fantastic Royal Australian Navy scheme). Performing a variety of moves, including some steep diving approaches into low flypasts, these two powerful jets really epitomise what Legends is all about.

The Bearcat and Corsair were welcome returns to Legends, neither having performed last year. The Corsair was not the TFC example, but another visitor from France (owned by Mistral Warbirds), again in a rich blue French Navy scheme, perhaps the best scheme ever to have adorned this fighter? The Bearcat was astounding as usual, moving at speeds more often associated with jet displays (but as “Jet” is a heretical word at Legends, it shall not be mentioned again).

Moving swiftly (and it really was swift – there was never a moment without an aircraft in the air!) on to the next section of the display, this time showcasing the aircraft of inter-war Germany. This year, as well as the usual Ju52 and Me108, which are both owned by the Lufthansa Traditionsflug, and Bucker Jungmann aircraft, Legends were also able to attract two Bucker Jungmeister biplanes, which were an unusual addition, and very welcome. The Ju52 is a favourite of the show, hauling its considerable bulk through the air, looking all the while as if it is about to fall out of the sky, rather than fly! Unfortunately the Me108 confined itself to the centre of the airfield, meaning that many photographers at the ends of the field were slightly limited for this display.

Moving to aircraft designed on the other side of the Atlantic, it was time for the American aircraft to take the spotlight; represented this weekend by 5 Mustangs (a combination of 2 P-51s and 3 F-51s), a Curtiss P-40, Boeing B-17 and two Piper L-4s. Opened by the Mustangs, who performed continuous tailchases for the duration of their display (no low or fast flypasts this year, which was the one major downside of the show), whilst the P-40 performed a similar routine as the Spitfire pair from the start of the display. The B-17 as usual was local resident “Sally B”, an airshow favourite at venues all around the UK. She unfortunately suffered from engine problems throughout 2009, but they seem to be behind her now and she is firmly back in the air. Unfortunately, her French counterpart “Pink Lady” has been grounded for the foreseeable future, and so Legends 2009 could well have been her last appearance. As usual, Sally B performed one pass with smoke pouring from one engine, a fitting tribute to a sight that would have been all too common at airbases throughout East Anglia during WW2.

The L-4s deserve a write-up as well, when these fantastic Piper aircraft fly, they could very easily remain on the centre of the display line, such is their manoeuvrability. Used as spotting aircraft during the Second World War, it was reported that there was a greater reward for German pilots who shot down one of these aircraft than for those who shot down a fighter (due to the equipment and maps carried on the L-4, to aid their role of forward observation and artillery direction). Both aircraft present at the weekend were painted in World War 2 colours, complete with invasion stripes, and looked fantastic against the clear blue sky.

More aircraft from another nationality, including one of, if not the star of the show were up next. Aircraft from the Russian aviation industry, represented at Legends this year by two Yak-3Us, a Yak-9UM and, making its UK debut, the Polikarpov I-16 “Rata”. The Yaks are consistent participants, displaying at most recent Legends airshows, but the flying was impeccable as always. Indeed, the Yak-9 performed some truly spectacular passes on the Saturday, but these seemed to be tamed down by the Sunday show (but not too tame, still plenty of tight breaks and low passes).

The I-16 was certainly a highlight of the show, rumbling through the skies, sounding more like an industrial generator than a fighter aircraft! Registered as D-EPRN (Polikarpov Red Nine), and owned by Thomas Julch, this I-16 was constructed in Gorky in 1939-40 and assigned to the 155th Fighter Aviation Regiment. First flight after being purchased by Thomas was on 22nd May 2009, from Lachen-Speyerdorf.

Displaying at Duxford, the Rata kept high, to show off the strange profile of the aircraft (notably the lack of a nose!). On Sunday the display was more ambitious, with one or two low and fast passes, going into a rolling climb at the end of the display line – which was greatly appreciated by the photographers at that end! An interesting point is that on takeoff, the Rata climbs slowly and at a constant power – during which time the pilot is furiously completing the 44 cranks required to raise the undercarriage!

Heading back to the UK for the next batch of participants (any other airshow would have been happy with what had already displayed, but with Duxford, the classics just keep coming!). Up in quick succession were Percival Mew Gull, Arrow Active II, Miles Magister, Westland Lysander, Gloster Gladiator, and from the Hawker stable, the Hind, Nimrod and Demon. Billed as the “Classic British” set, the highlight was a formation of all three Hawker biplanes, something new and original. The Mew Gull could have been a highlight as well, but unfortunately the display consisted purely of circuits, which did not do too much to show off the unique shape of the aircraft.

The RAF also had a part to play in this show, with the infamous Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Lancaster was hoped to land at Duxford for the show, but unfortunately had to land at Cambridge. On Saturday the BBMF flew the Hurricane (LF363), Spitfire (P7350) and Lancaster (PA474) as a formation before breaking into individual displays, but on Sunday, for unknown reasons, only the Lancaster and Spitfire displayed, and there were no formation flypasts. It must be noted that the Spitfire performed a great curving flypast at the end of the flightline, providing a rare opportunity to see the topside of a BBMF aircraft.

Not an item that you would expect to see at Flying Legends, the Breitling Wing Walkers, flying (and standing above) their bright orange Stearman (Boeing) Model 75 aircraft followed from the BBMF. To many, these would seem to be more of a “general aviation” act, but on reflection they deserve their place at Flying Legends as much as any. Wing Walking was a sport that developed a lot during the 1930s, and the Stearman is certainly worthy of the title of “classic”. Over 9000 were built and used as military training aircraft, by 17 countries. The only thing different about this team is their bright orange paint scheme – the team has given up their Guinot colours for the colours of Breitling, their new sponsors. New to the display this year was the “Windrider” pass, during which the girls climb out of their harnesses and balance on the front of the top wing – a move which must require enormous courage!

Time was marching on, but there was still time for two more items to display before the finale. Returning to Legends from last year were the C-53D from Foundation Dakota Norway, and the Moraine Saulnier MS406 from the Association Moraine Charlie-Fox. The C-53 (or DC-3) is still resplendent in its bare metal finish, which benefits fantastically from blue skies, and is thrown around like a fighter! At the end of some passes, the aircraft was banking through almost 90 degrees! The 406 is also a welcome participant, being the only existing example of the type in the world! It may not be the worlds most photogenic aircraft, but it is significant nonetheless, being France’s most numerous fighter aircraft during the Second World War. Under-armoured and underpowered, 387 of the type were lost in action, to only 183 kills in return.

As the DC-3 and MS406 were displaying, the sound of propellers could be heard across the airfield. Virtually ever aircraft on the field, with the exception of the biplanes, I-16, Ju-52, Me108 and B-17 were firing up in preparation for the Balbo. Stephen Grey, owner of The Fighter Collection, always plays the “Joker” in the Balbo – a Duxford Legend. The Joker is an individual aircraft who flies out of formation and performs near constant aerobatics in a very powerful display. Last year Stephen flew the Sea Fury T.20, as the Bearcat was grounded, as discussed earlier. Happily, as the Bearcat was again flying, it was able to be used for the Joker routine again. By the time the Balbo was formed up and on the way in for the first pass, the Joker must have performed most forms of aerobatics available to the Bearcat!

The Balbo, consisting of three smaller waves of aircraft, made two passes over the airfield, before breaking down into smaller waves, for a further pass, and then run and breaks to land. The Balbo started launching en masse at 16:45, and the last aircraft landed around 17:17. Obviously a formation of this size takes a long time to co-ordinate, but it such an awesome spectacle in the air that the time seemed to simply fly by!

All too soon the display was over, and on Sunday afternoon, Legends was over for another year. This show is the highlight of the display season for many aviation enthusiasts, even over and above some of the other shows such as RIAT and Farnborough. If you have never been to a Legends show, to understand the above statement, please attend, and then you shall realise.

We wish to thank Duxford for putting on such a fantastic display yet again, and in particular the media centre, for being so accommodating. Further thanks must go to the fridge, for providing a good supply of icy water, without which this report would have been impossible!