Flying Legends

IWM Duxford 13/14 July 2019

Flying Legends….

If ever a name summed up perfectly what you were about to witness, this is it. Legendary aircraft in a historic setting. it is exactly what it says it is.

The Flying Legends show is held at IWM Duxford, a former RAF base beside the modern day M11. Lying 8 miles south of Cambridge, Duxford aerodrome dates from 1918, when many of the buildings were constructed by German prisoners of war.

 In 1938 it became the very first RAF station to receive Spitfires, when 19 Sqn re-equipped from Gloster Gauntlet biplanes, and later became home to the USAAF between 1943 and 1945, at which point it was returned to RAF Fighter Command. Duxford was then an operational station for ten years from 1951 and the last operational RAF flight was made from Duxford by a 64 Sqn Gloster Javelin FAW.7 in July 1961.

In 1968 Duxford was used as one of the locations for the shooting of the film Battle of Britain. On 21 June and 22 June, one of the original World War I hangars was blown up for filming (without the agreement of the Ministry of Defence) leaving a gap that is evident today!  The airfield was also spectacularly filmed from the air in a realistic bombing sequence.

The Imperial war Museum (IWM) bought the site in 1977 and today RAF Duxford is the site of the Imperial War Museum Duxford and the American Air Museum, together with The Fighter Collection, Aircraft Restoration Co and the Historic Aircraft Collection.

2019 was the 27th annual Flying Legends show and one of the major themes of the show was the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. The show itself is held over two days, Saturday and Sunday, and is possibly the major heritage show on the UK calendar. As well as a full flying display on both days, the show also provides full access to the museums on site and ground attractions and a cast of re-enactors help to create an authentic 1940’s environment for the event. Another major attraction were the pleasure flights being operated by Classic Wings, these offered punters with deep-ish pockets the choice of flying in a T-6 Harvard, Tiger Moth, or one of three DH89 Dragon Rapides.

Another attraction this year were the Hotsie Totsies, a sort of ‘Andrews sisters’ vocal trio who were incidentally very good and gave thoroughly engaging and interactive performance, including their claim to have ‘written’ Careless Whisper, reminiscent of the antics of Gary Sparrow in the time-travelling sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart!

They were also to provide a spine-tingling moment of great poignancy later in the show when their live rendition of the late Doris Day’s debut hit ‘Sentimental Journey’ provided the soundtrack to the display by Duxford-based B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’, in memory of all the USAAF bomber crews lost during the war.

Sentimental Journey

The aircraft displayed at the show were incredibly impressive, although the omission of any Hawker Hurricanes at all felt slightly odd. This is hardly a complaint however, as the list of types that were present was huge, and many of them cannot be seen at any other venue.

The show was opened by the Red Arrows, flying the only jet aircraft present, in a very dull grey sky that forced them to utilise their flat show. This is designed to ensure they remain in view without constantly disappearing into the cloud cover and actually worked really well and felt more intimate than the full displays we have enjoyed over the last couple of good summers. 

The first of the historic set-pieces was the Spitfire symphony, A scramble of a dozen Spitfires of various marks (ten Merlins and two Griffons providing the soundtrack) followed by flypasts and tail chases. This was then followed by a similar performance from five Hispano HA-1112 Buchons. The Buchon is a Spanish-built, Merlin-engined version of the Messerschmitt Bf109, and some of the aircraft displayed here were actually used in the 1968 movie about the Battle of Britain that was filmed at this very airfield, as mentioned previously. All five Buchons, naturally, were painted to represent the wartime Messerschmitt it is based upon. Themed group displays similarly allowed for tributes to be made to the actual Battle of Britain (three Spitfire I’s, Blenheim and Lysander), Navy aviation (Bearcat, Corsair, Catalina, Wildcat and Sea Fury) and D-Day (three C-47 Dakota’s and a pair of Piper Grasshoppers). A most unusual display team was the Classic Formation, this consisted of three Beech 18’s and a C-47 Dakota with was liveried to represent a Swissair DC-3 of the 1930’s. All four aircraft were resplendent in their gleaming bare metal finishes and were a sight to behold.

Another eye-catching item was the Curtiss Quartet, a formation of four different Curtiss fighters from the WW2 period. A P-36 and P-40C wore a bare-metal finish with US Army markings that were standard before the war, while a later P-40F in desert camouflage and French AF liveried Hawk 75 (the export model of the P-36) completed the group.

Another type of flying legend was commemorated by the Aerosuperbatics team. In the heady days of the 1920’s and early 30’s barnstorming and wing walking was all the rage and this team, formerly sponsored by Breitling, recreate this spectacle brilliantly with their Stearman aircraft and the brave young ladies who ride on the outside.

The traditional finale at Flying Legends is the Balbo, a huge formation, named after  General Italo Balbo, the chief of the italian Air force who personally led a formation of 12 flying boats across the Atlantic from Brazil to Italy in 1931. This Balbo was even larger with almost all of the previously displayed fighters gathered together in a 24 aircraft flypast which created the most impressive sound of the whole afternoon. In conclusion, this show is bloody marvellous!

Words and pictures by Wayne Bennett

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