For any warbird fans just the mention of the name Flying Legends will immediately bring to mind the largest and most focussed warbird show in the UK. Adam Duffield returned to Duxford for the 2015 show to witness some of the finest warbird displays of the year.

Flying Legends has a reputation of Warbird excellence not only in the UK, but around Europe and beyond. This is very well evidenced by the sheer number of foreign visitors attending the two day show from France, Holland, Germany and from much further afield. Whilst the show may be held at IWM Duxford, it is organised and ran by The Fighter Collection (TFC) and is purely dedicated to showing the finest in both aircraft and displays.

It is therefore no surprise to see what some could consider rarer aircraft attend the show and Legends always manages to attract one or two special items. From France were a pair of Hawker Fury’s and a P-51D Mustang, making the trip from Switzerland was the Breitling liveried DC-3 and a Morane 406 whilst another Mustang, this time a TF-51, made the journey from Germany.

However, it was to be three aircraft in particular that were the real ‘unique’ stars of the show as far as aircraft went. From its home base at Paine Field, Washington came Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk IXe SL633 (N633VS) as one of 14 of the type to attend the show. After being returned to flight in 2010 the aircraft carries the scheme of No 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron who were based at Duxford and with which it served and was therefore a very appropriate addition to the lineup. From Germany came one of the Spitfires wartime nemesis types in the form of EADS Bf109G-4 ‘Red Seven’ which during restoration was converted from its original Buchon build to a more ‘authentic’ Daimler-Benz engined configuration.

Although both aircraft are definite rarities in the country, it may be that TFC’s own latest acquisition grabbed the attention of many. Arriving only a month or two before the show, the Curtiss P-36C 38-210 was the last of it type built. A highly polished scheme will always stand out and its certainly the case for this aircraft which matches nicely with TFCs P-40C acquired just before last years show. Having been restored over the last four years at another warbird haven in Chino, California it made an airshow debut at the 2015 Planes of Fame show before heading across the Atlantic for its new, and welcoming, home.

Visitors to the Saturday show were treated to by far the best of the weather with belting sunlight and warm temperatures more than enough to send many home with impressive sun burn. Crowd numbers were noticeably high even early in the morning with the American air museum car park almost full by 9am, just one hour after gates opening. In contrast, the Sunday showed the unpredictability of the British weather with an overcast start followed by glorious sun interspersed with short, sharp downpours. Although nothing could be done about the weather, it did mean that a number of the aircraft on the flightline walk remained covered for the duration – an unavoidable situation. Despite this, crowds remained and took shelter when needed, all eager to see what the organisers had put together.

The show started in style with a massed formation of Spitfires taking to the sky for a dedicated segment. In a year that celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, it was great to see such a large number gathered at Flying Legends (14 over the weekend) and possibly the largest number gathered in the UK so far this year. The formation was comprised of three elements led by Griffon (SM845/G-BOUS, MV268/G-SPIT, PS853/G-RRGN & PS890/F-AZJS) then Seafire (PP972/G-BUAR, BM597/G-MKVB, EP120/G-LFVB & ML407/G-LFIX) and Merlin (MH434/G-ASJV, MT928/D-FEUR & SL633/N633VS). Opening with a massed flypast Merlin segment then split away from the remaining fighters to perform close flypasts for the crowd up and down the grass runway line whilst Griffon and Seafire groups manoeuvred into a pair of four ship tail chases in the background. With plenty of time to admire the airmanship and co-ordination of so many aircraft in the same airspace, perhaps this is a slight glimpse into what Duxford may have in store for their September show which currently boasts a lineup of 20 variants.

This was not the only time some of the Spitfires took to the sky as the three MkI examples (N3200/G-CFGJ, P7308/G-AIST & X4650/G-CGUK) along with Hawker Hurricane MkIIa (G-HURI) formed up with John Romain in the recently restored Bristol Blenheim MkI (G-BPIV) for a pair of formation passes before splitting. Echoing the massed display, the three Spitfires ran along the grass runway however this time all three were noticeably closer in what was the tightest formation display of the show whilst the Hurricane displayed behind. With the fighters complete the stage was clear for the Blenheim to make its solo display debut at Duxford and a welcome sight it was too.

Spitfires were not the only aircraft with multiple examples of the type present and the four Mustangs also put on an incredible display of power and speed. Duxford regular TF-51D ‘Miss Velma’ (G-TFSI) was joined by a further German TF-51D (D-FTSI) along with a pair of P-51D’s ‘Moonbeam McSwine’ (F-AZXS) and the Norwegian Spitfire Foundations ‘Shark Mouth’ example (G-SHWN). After the foursome completed an initial pass ‘Moonbeam McSwine’ split away to perform aerobatics whilst the remaining three beat up the airfield in a perfect and awe-inspiring display of their capability. Whilst three broke to land, the Shark Mouth Mustang formed up with resident B-17G ‘Sally B’ (G-BEDF) for a number of passes reminiscent of the ‘little friend’ escort during the war. The Mustang then broke away allowing the B-17 to complete its own display including the memorial pass.

Plenty more American fighters were in action during the show representing types of both the Navy and Air Force. The Navy formation saw TFCs own Goodyear Corsair FG-1D (G-FGID) and Grumman Bearcat F8F (G-RUMM) joined by Vought Corsair F4U (D-FCOR) with the two Corsairs performing a formation display before the Bearcat returned for its own slot. Two further Grumman aircraft displayed together – the TBM Avenger (HB-RDG) and TFCs Wildcat FM-2 (G-RUMW) with the former quite possibly taking the plaudits for the outright display of power during the show which was especially impressive given its size on the Saturday although noticeably tamer on the Sunday.

One of the shows stars, the Curtiss P-36C was joined by three other Curtiss types – Hawk 75 G-CCVH, P-40C G-CIIO which made its debut at the previous years Legends show and P-40F ‘Lees Hope’ (G-CGZP). As with other displays they four entered in formation before the P-40s split away allowing both pairs their own displays with the highly polished P-40C and P-36C glistening in the bright sunlight of the Saturday. Adding to the ‘bling’ factor were two other highly polished aircraft from the Red Bull aircraft collection based in Salzburg – B-25 Mitchell (N6123C) and Lockheed P-38 Lightning (N25Y) – with both performing formation and solo displays.

Of course, its not all about power and speed at airshows and there was plenty of displays designed to show elegance and handling. A Junkers Ju-52 (F-AZJU) took to the air for an oddly matched pairing with a Bucker Jungmann (G-BSAJ). With the Jungmann showing its graceful aerobatic qualities the Ju-52 impressed with its slow speed, something that seems to visibly contradict the expectance of the three engined aircraft. The only other larger type in the flying display was that of the Breitling DC-3 (HB-IRJ) in a solo display that seemed somewhat distant although no doubt mainly due to the close proximity of the fighter displays.

A trio of Piper Cubs representing three different marks (L4A G-AKAZ, L4J G-AXGP and L4H G-BMKC) put on an impressive slow speed handling display all within the confines of the airfield boundaries showing just how agile they are.

Biplane types present at the show included examples from both Gloster and Hawker. Its not very often at all that a pair of Gladiators are seen together however Legends achieved just that with examples from both TFC (N5903/G-GLAD) and The Shuttleworth Collection (K7985/G-AMRK). The three Hawker aircraft comprised TFCs Nimrod MkI (G-BWWK) alongside Historic Aircraft Collections Nimrod MkII K3661 (G-BURZ) and Fury MkI K5674 (G-CBZP). Unfortunately both the Cubs and Nimrod/Fury displays on the Sunday were scheduled during a heavy downpour that resulted in a 15 minute pause in proceedings.

Carrying the same name but a world apart in terms of design and performance, the Hawker Sea Fury FB11 (F-AZXJ) was a wonderful sight in UK skies on the Saturday especially equipped with its wing tip mounted smoke generators that complemented the display perfectly. However, it seems that it developed a technical snag (possibly during the Balbo where it landed early) and was taken into the hangar on the Sunday morning and unable to display. Work however had completed on the second attending Hawker Fury FB11 (F-AZXL) and after some check runs in the morning it was planned to perform a solo display in the afternoon only to be another casualty of the weather after taxiing to hold.

The Curtiss Hawk 75 returned to the skies to accompany the Morane 406 (HB-RCF) for its display. This Swiss marked example is not often seen in the UK so a pleasure to see it make the trip to Legends where it performed a solo routine whilst the Hawk carried out aerobatics in the background.

However, alongside the P-36, it was another fighter that was a highlight of the attending aircraft – that of EADS Daimler-Benz engined Me109G ‘Red 7’ (D-FWME). Alongside the two Duxford resident Buchon 109’s (G-AWHE & G-AWHK) the trio put on a wonderful display that let ‘Red 7’ take centre stage whilst the Buchons performed a formation display behind.

If there is one single display items that stands Flying Legends out from all other shows in the UK, it is the closing Balbo. This mass formation flypast has become a traditional showpiece of the event and 2015 was no different. As with every year, the ‘Joker’ flight kept the crowds entertained whilst the group of aircraft formed over the Cambridgeshire countryside and this year the role was undertaken by Nick Grey in the Gloster Gladiator N5903 (G-GLAD). Performing graceful aerobatics both before and during the multiple passes ensured there was always something to watch and some excellent co-ordination meant that no sooner than the Gladiator cleared the main formation returned.

A formation of the size seen can’t be an easy task to arrange and it was down to Balbo leader TFC Chief Pilot Pete Kynsey in the Grumman Bearcat and rear section leader Carl Schofield to gather the warbirds together after a stream takeoff and ensure that everyone managed to form up correctly. A total of 25 aircraft joined together on the Saturday whilst an issue with the P-40C meant it had to taxi back to parking on the Sunday leaving 24 aircraft for the finale. Such an incredible sight and sound is amazing to witness and certainly not to be missed. Other shows this year have massed formations however the mix of aircraft present at Legends means its unlikely that they will come close to beating it.

Flying Legends 2015 once again proved itself as the UK’s premier warbird show. Some rare additions to the line up including ‘Red Seven’ and the US Spitfire alongside TFC’s newest shiny toy, the P-36C, may have been the main focus of the displays but it was the pilots who performed with some incredible precision throughout the weekend. After the show has finished, many will already be looking forward to the delights that will now doubt be a part of Flying Legends 2016.

The Balbo Formation

With the large number of aircraft making up the formation, some may have had difficulty picking out exactly which aircraft were in each segment of the group. The table below details the aircraft positions within the formation on both days with those in brackets showing the changes for the Sunday formation

Lead Section

Goodyear Corsair FG-1D G-FGID Grumman Bearcat F8F G-RUMM Chance Vought F4U-5NL Corsair D-FCOR
North American P-51D Mustang G-SHWN
Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 F-AZXJ
(Hawker Fury FB.11 F-AZXL)
North American TF-51 D-FTSI Grumman Wildcat FM-2 G-RUMW North American P-51D Mustang F-AZXS
Bf(Me)109G-4 ‘Red Seven’ D-FWME Hispano HA-112 MIL (Buchon) G-AWHE Hispano HA-112 MIL (Buchon) G-AWHK
Supermarine Spitfire LFVb EP120 G-LFVB Supermarine Spitfire FR XIV MV268 G-SPIT Supermarine Spitfire MkXIX PS853 G-RRGN

Rear Section

Supermarine Spitfire MkIX ML407 G-LFIX Supermarine Seafire LF III PP972 G-BUAR Supermarine Spitfire MkXVIII SM845 G-BUOS
Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XIX PS890 F-AZJS Supermarine Spitfire Mk IXb MH434 G-ASJV Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb BM597 G-MKVB
Curtiss Hawk 75 G-CCVH Curtiss Warhawk P40F G-CGZP
(empty slot)
Curtiss P-36C N80FR
(Curtiss Warhawk P40F G-CGZP)

Flying Bulls Section

North American B-25J Mitchell N64123C
Lockheed P-38 Lightning N25Y