The Flying Legends Airshow is fairly unique in the UK aviation calendar.  Nowhere in the country attracts such a large and diverse range of historic warbirds.  Steve Smith and Mark Graham were there for AeroResource…

It is one of the most eagerly awaited airshows of the season and this years line-up had many enthusiasts barely unable to control their enthusiasm on various on internet fora.

There is no static display as such at Legends, but the flight line walk was open as usual in the morning before the flying display kicked off, allowing show goers to get some unique close up shots of this years participants.

The most anticipated aircraft slotted into the 2011 schedule was the Red Bull P-38 Lightning which was making the journey for the first time over from Austria, along with her fellow “Flying Bulls” stable mate, the F4U Corsair. Another welcome arrival to the Flightline (although not actually ready to take to the air!) was the recently finished P-47G Thunderbolt belonging to the Fighter Collection, in the markings of P-47D 42-74742 “Snafu”, looking fantastic in the early morning light. Hopefully a test flight will be forthcoming before the end of the year.

The line up for the day included no less than seven Spitfires, six Mustangs, three Sea Fury’s, three P40 Tomahawks and two DC3s.  Also lined up were three Dragon Rapides and from the Hawker stable; two Nimrods, a Hind and a Demon.

Flying was kicked off with all Spitfires, the three Buchons and HACs Hawker Hurricane taking to the skies.  With all three Buchons in Luftwaffe markings (and notably making a special CAA-approved crowd rear arrival!), it really was a treat for warbird enthusiasts.  There are very few places in the world you can see eleven aircraft such as this tail-chasing and spiralling around in the same piece of sky, which makes Flying Legends larger display set pieces even more impressive!

The US Navy was the focus of the next item, with the three Skyraiders present (albeit with one in Aéronavale colours) displaying before the Bearcat and Corsair took to the skies.  They were joined later in the display by the Royal Navy, with the R.N. Historic Flight Sea Fury and Swordfish being joined by two more Sea Furys.

The six Mustangs, being Comanche Fighter’s Fragile But Agile and February, Nooky Booky IV, Ferocious Frankie, Big Beautiful Doll and Miss Velma all went out together, and breaking into a pair (“Fragile But Agile” and “February”) and a four-ship before conducting several fast and low formation flypasts. The pair were actually The Horsemen team from the USA, although only flying with the two aircraft this season as opposed to three when they were last at Duxford in 2009. Some fantastic close formations from these aircraft, and as expected, a well thought out and tight routine.

Sadly, due to an incident with the Fokker DR1 triplane nosing over on landing, (which happily was only a very minor incident), the three P40s (including the TFC’s latest addition, P-40F Warhawk “Lees Hope” – 41-19841) along with the Curtiss Hawk were forced to cancel their display slot on the Sunday, so unfortunately the spectators were unable to see the three fly together, although they were all up for the Balbo.  Their display on Saturday of the show was very spirited to say the least, with lots of fast and close passes, a very energetic and powerful routine. The latest addition to The Fighter Collection’s Curtiss fleet, the desert camouflage P40 had arrived only a few days before show day and been re-constructed in the week running up to Legends.

B-17 “Sally B” took to the skies for a small solo display, including the now famous Remembrance Pass, with two engines streaming a trail of white vapour in tribute to those many B17s that would have returned to England with engines feathered and battle damaged.  Also, Sally B was joined on each wing by Ferocious Frankie and Big Beautiful Doll for a formation flypast.

Also slotted into the display was a four-ship from the Hawker biplanes, a World War I tail chase (after which the Fokker DR.1 unfortunately ground looped, as previously mentioned), a very quick Yak 9 with the Moraine Saulnier MS406 and a display from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster. With the Lancaster display, sharp eyed spectators may have noticed that on the final pass, the rear armament was added to with a rather enthusiastic thumbs up out of the rear turret – a great light hearted touch from the BBMF! Also needing a mention is the aircraft that had the potential to be the star of the show – the P-38 Lightning. Displaying with it’s Red Bull stablemate, the F4 Corsair, the display at times seemed distant, but it was fantastic to see this rarer warbird in the air all the same.

Unfortunately, this years Flying Legends will also be remembered for the sad loss of Big Beautiful Doll, in the final flypast of the balbo on Sunday. The P-51 Mustang and a Skyraider were involved in a mid air collision. Both aircraft momentarily lost control, but thankfully the Skyraider was able to recover the land. Big Beautiful Doll was unable to do so, despite appearing to stabilise, and Rob Davies bailed out, thankfully suffering only minor injuries. Unfortunately the Mustang plummeted to earth on the South side of the airfield, but did not catch fire.

This aircraft has been on the display circuit for many years and was recently sold by Rob Davies to German company Air Fighter Academy.  She wears the markings of fighter ace John Lander’s Mustang “Big Beautiful Doll” and judging from the photographs of the crash scene, it seems to be unlikely we’ll be seeing her on the circuit again, at least in the short to medium term – but we can always hope.

That unfortunate event aside, Flying Legends 2011 has once again proven itself to be one of a kind on the UK airshow circuit and hopefully there will be no  consequences following on from this year’s show that could affect the quality of the 2012 display.

Thanks must go to as usual to Esther Blaine and the Media Team, as well as the team at Duxford who manned the flight-line walk in the morning for their stirling help and assistance in producing this review.