Flying Legends 2017 – Air Show Report

The only recently restored Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P2902. This aircraft flew with 245 Squadron during the Battle of France. Pilot Officer Kenneth McClashan put her down on a beach after tussling with a pair of Bf 109s on May 31st, 1940 during the desperate fight over Dunkirk. Her remains were recovered in the 1980s, and used to resurrect this historically significant airframe. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The only recently restored Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P2902. This aircraft flew with 245 Squadron during the Battle of France. Pilot Officer Kenneth McClashan put her down on a beach after tussling with a pair of Bf 109s on May 31st, 1940 during the desperate fight over Dunkirk. Her remains were recovered in the 1980s, and used to resurrect this historically significant airframe. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The only recently restored Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P2902 at Flying Legends. This aircraft flew with 245 Squadron during the Battle of France. Pilot Officer Kenneth McClashan put her down on a beach after tussling with a pair of Bf 109s on May 31st, 1940 during the desperate fight over Dunkirk. Her remains were recovered in the 1980s, and used to resurrect this historically significant airframe. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)

Flying Legends 2017 – Air Show Report

Story and Photography by Luigino Caliaro

This year saw the twenty fifth anniversary edition of the annual Flying Legends air show at former RAF Duxford, the Imperial War Museum’s facility near Cambridge, England. The locally-based Fighter Collection organizes the event, which has become the most important warbird display in Europe. This year’s show took on even greater significance as it also marked the centenary for both the Imperial War Museum and Duxford air field. This merits a short historical review for both….

RAF Duxford & The Imperial War Museum

The British Government created the Imperial War Museum in 1917 with the initial aim of gathering the stories and artefacts of the Great War to preserve for future generations, but it has since expanded to include much more or Britain’s military history. The primary museum site is located in Lambeth, London, but there are four additional public facilities now, and one of these is the former RFC/RAF station at Duxford. The Royal Flying Corps established Duxford aerodrome in 1917 to conduct flying training. Post-war it became a fighter station, and on August 4th, 1938 the first operational Supermarine Spitfire unit, 19 Squadron, took up residence. Duxford served an important role during WWII. The famous RAF fighter ace, Douglas Bader, commanded 242 Squadron here during the crucial days of the Battle of Britain. In April, 1943, and now under American control, the field became home to Eight Air Force’s famous 78th Fighter Group. After WWII, the Cambridgeshire base reverted to RAF control, and received modifications, including a lengthened concrete runway, to allow jet fighter operations. But in 1961, RAF Duxford stood down as an operational facility, as the runaway and base infrastructure were not compatible to the requirements of the more complex jet aircraft then entering service.

A closeup of Spitfire Mk.I showing the unusual Battle of France era lower coloring. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A closeup of Spitfire Mk.I showing the unusual Battle of France era lower coloring. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Two of the three Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Is on hand at Duxford. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Two of the three Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Is on hand at Duxford. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Four of the five Hawker Hurricanes which took part in the display! (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Four of the five Hawker Hurricanes which took part in the display! (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
ARCo's superlative recreation of a Battle of Britain-era Bristol Blenheim Mk.I fighter. The airframe is based on a Canadian-built version of the Blenheim Mk.IV (known as a Bolingbroke), and the forward fuselage of Blenheim Mk.I L6739. A Tigermoth is seen landing in the background. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
ARCo’s superlative recreation of a Battle of Britain-era Bristol Blenheim Mk.I fighter. The airframe is based on a Canadian-built version of the Blenheim Mk.IV (known as a Bolingbroke), and the forward fuselage of Blenheim Mk.I L6739. A Tigermoth is seen landing in the background. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
One of the military re-enactors present. The Shuttleworth collection's superb Percival Mew Gull is seen in the background. This aircraft was once owned by the Supermarine test pilot Alex Henshaw, and flown by him on several record breaking flights in the 1930s. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
One of the military re-enactors present. The Shuttleworth collection’s superb Percival Mew Gull is seen in the background. This aircraft was once owned by the Supermarine test pilot Alex Henshaw, and flown by him on several important air races and record breaking flights in the 1930s. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)

As many readers will know, Duxford played a major role in filming the motion picture The Battle of Britain during 1968 which once again saw Spitfires and Hurricanes flying from the field. But in 1969, the British Ministry of Defense decided to sell off the old station. The situation looked bleak for a while, with the site seeming destined for demolition, but thankfully this didn’t happen. The local Cambridgeshire Council joined forces with the Imperial War Museum and Duxford Aviation Society to purchase the field and make it the home for the IWM’s burgeoning aircraft collection. But in a brilliant move, the field also became home to private vintage aircraft operators and restoration companies, so that it became a living, breathing, constantly evolving historical setting, unique in the world today.

And now, the Show…

To provide a fitting celebration worthy of the historic milestones reached this year, Flying Legends made an exception to its usual mantra that only piston-engined aircraft can fly during the show. On the Sunday morning, the famed RAF aerobatic display team, the Red Arrows, stunned the crowd with a spectacular and aggressive performance.

A fabulously maintained Swiss-based DC-3 taxies past a row of Hawker Hurricanes while B-17G 'Sally-B' flies overhead in company of a 'Little Friend'. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A fabulously maintained, Swiss-based DC-3 taxies past a row of Hawker Hurricanes while B-17G ‘Sally B’ flies overhead in company of a ‘Little Friend’. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Swissair DC-3 flies in tight formation with a pair of similarly-polished Beech Model 18s. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Swissair DC-3 flies in tight formation with a pair of similarly-polished Beech Model 18s. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A spectacular formation break between the Beech 18s and DC-3. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A spectacular formation break between the Beech 18s and DC-3. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)

Aircraft from The Fighter Collection usually form the core of the main warbird display, and so it was this year along with a host of types from the continent. However, each year in the recent past has seen a surprise guest or two from ‘across the pond’ join in the fun. This year, two Mustangs belonging to Dan Friedkin visited Duxford from the United States. This included F-6K 44-12852, marked as Frenesi, a 357th FG P-51D regularly flown by the ace Lt.Col. Hayes, and the resurrected P-51B 43-24837 Berlin Express, once piloted by Lt. Bill Overstreet. The latter aircraft flew all the way from its home in the United States, by way of Canada and Iceland, to participate in the show. During the Saturday display, Berlin Express experienced a canopy failure which saw the bulbous “Malcolm Hood” disintegrate in a shower of plexiglas shards during a high speed pass. Some of the fragments damaged the empenage, but thankfully the pilot managed to land safely.

Berlin Express, sitting somewhat forlorn on the flightline with her shattered canopy covered by a tarpaulin. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Berlin Express, sitting somewhat forlorn on the flightline with her shattered canopy covered by a tarpaulin. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Richard Seeley's magnificent Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship”. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Richard Seeley’s magnificent Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship”. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Travelair Type R Mystery Ship taxiing out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Travelair Type R Mystery Ship taxiing out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The racers taxiing out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The racers taxiing out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The legendary DH.88 Comet 'Grosvenor House' owned by the Shuttleworth Collection. This very aircraft won the London-to-Sydney McRobertson Air Race in 1934. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The legendary DH.88 Comet ‘Grosvenor House’ owned by the Shuttleworth Collection. This very aircraft won the London-to-Sydney McRobertson Air Race in 1934. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Another shot displaying the gorgeous lines of the Comet. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Another shot displaying the gorgeous lines of the Comet. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A gorgeous lineup of famous, between-the-wars air race planes. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A gorgeous lineup of famous, between-the-wars air race planes. The little green racer is one of the legendary Lockheed test pilot, Tony LeVier’s ‘Cosmic Wind’ air racers (built just after WWII). (photo by Luigino Caliaro)

This year’s air display also saw the involvement of some particularly significant historic British types, represented by the magnificent de Havilland DH.88 Comet Grosvenor House and the Percival Type E Mew Gull from the Shuttleworth Collection, which also flew in formation with a beautiful Travel Air R and the Le Vier Cosmic Wind. The importance of Duxford airfield in British aviation history was evidenced by the notable participation of British WWII-era fighters, with the presence of some five Hurricanes and twelve Spitfires!

A closeup of the Bleinheim's nose. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A closeup of the Bleinheim’s nose. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Blenheim Mk.I warming up for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Blenheim Mk.I warming up for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Spitfire Mk.Ia AR213, marked as Spitfire Mk.IIa P7308 from 71 (Eagle) Squadron, taxis out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Spitfire Mk.Ia AR213, marked as Spitfire Mk.IIa P7308 from 71 (Eagle) Squadron, taxis out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Battle of Britain flypast, with FIVE Hawker Hurricanes, three Spitfire Mk.Is and a Blenheim Mk.I. A truly staggering sight unimaginable even just a few years ago. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Battle of Britain flypast, with FIVE Hawker Hurricanes, three Spitfire Mk.Is and a Blenheim Mk.I. A truly staggering sight unimaginable even just a few years ago. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Blenheim makes a low pass. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Blenheim makes a low pass. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Historic Aircraft Collection's Hawker Hurricane XII P3700, marked as a Battle of Britain era Mk.I of 303 (Polish) Squadron, comes in for a landing. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane XII P3700, marked as a Battle of Britain era Mk.I of 303 (Polish) Squadron, comes in for a landing. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)

Sadly, the hoped-for participation of the Bf 109E from the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, originally scheduled in the programme, failed to materialise, although the Luftwaffe was well represented by a Hispano 1112 Buchon from the Aircraft Restoration Company, which was shown to the public in a new but temporary desert colour scheme reflecting the colours of Bf 109E-7/Trop “Black 8” flown by Lt Werner Schroer of 8/JG 27, operating in North Africa during the summer of 1941.

ARCo's Hispano Buchon mocked up in desert cammo as a JG27 Bf 109E. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
ARCo’s Hispano Buchon mocked up in desert cammo as a JG27 Bf 109E. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
ARCo's Hispano Buchon mocked up in desert cammo as a JG27 Bf 109E. The paint is water soluble. (photo by Luigino Caliaro) (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
ARCo’s Hispano Buchon mocked up in desert cammo as a JG27 Bf 109E. The paint is water soluble. (photo by Luigino Caliaro) (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Plain Sailing's Canso A, a Canadian-built version of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina, rumbles across the Duxford sky. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Plain Sailing’s Canso A, a Canadian-built version of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina, rumbles across the Duxford sky. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
One of two B-17Gs at Duxford, "Sally-B", flew during the display. The other, Mary Alice, is on static display inside the American Air Museum building. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
One of two B-17Gs at Duxford, “Sally-B”, flew during the display and is seen here taxiing back in. The other B-17G, known as ‘Mary Alice’, is on static display inside the American Air Museum building. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Fighter Collection's dazzling P-40C 41-13357 taxies out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Fighter Collection’s dazzling P-40C 41-13357 taxies out for takeoff. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)

The stunning “Balbo formation” at the end of the show, where all the fighters get up in the air in one massive formation, made two flypasts of the airfield. While the aircraft for the Balbo took off and formed up, the crowd were treated, as usual, to a spirited exhibition from the “joker”, interpreted this year by Nick Grey who flew majestically in a Hawker Sea Fury painted in the colours of its prototype.

This Hawker Sea Fury FB.10 (actually an ex-Iraqi AF Fury) looks stunning in the markings of the prototype SR661. Nick Grey performed the 'Joker Routine' in this aircraft while the Balbo assembled. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
This Hawker Sea Fury FB.10 (actually an ex-Iraqi AF Fury) looks stunning in the markings of the prototype SR661. Nick Grey performed the ‘Joker Routine’ in this aircraft while the Balbo assembled. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Fighter Collection's very rare, Merlin-engined P-40F. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The Fighter Collection’s very rare, Merlin-engined P-40F. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
F-6K Mustang 'Frenesi' warming up for the Balbo. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
F-6K Mustang ‘Frenesi’ warming up for the Balbo. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Shaun Patrick's magnificent P-51D 44-73877 (marked as an RAF Mustang IV KH774). (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Shaun Patrick’s magnificent P-51D 44-73877 (marked as an RAF Mustang IV KH774). (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The uniquely airworthy Supermarine Seafire Mk.III PP972. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The uniquely airworthy Supermarine Seafire Mk.III PP972. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Some of the Mustangs in formation. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Some of the Mustangs in formation. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A magnificent closeup showing two of the many Mustangs at the show in tight formation. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A magnificent closeup showing two of the many Mustangs at the show in tight formation. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The ill-fated P-51D 'Miss Velma' taxies out for takeoff before the Balbo. As these words were written, the Mustang was already back at Duxford, on its gear, undergoing damage assessment. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)
The ill-fated P-51D ‘Miss Velma’ taxies out for takeoff before the Balbo. As these words were written, the Mustang was already back at Duxford, on its gear, undergoing damage assessment. (photo by Luigino Caliaro)

The Balbo was fantastic, but just when everyone thought it had all gone according to plan, TF-51D “Miss Velma” developed a serious engine problem at the end of the second pass. The pilot elected to put the stricken fighter down in a wheat field beside the aerodrome, rather than risk trying to make it a little further to the runway. With supreme professionalism, the pilot ensured that an emergency did not become a tragedy. While the aircraft did receive significant damage to the wings, belly and propeller, the pilot was able to walk away from the incident, which is what truly matters. With a little time and money, the Mustang will be flying again before too long.

A magnificent shot of the 'Balbo' concluding the show.(photo by Luigino Caliaro)
A magnificent shot of the ‘Balbo’ concluding the show.(photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Another shot of the 'Balbo' concluding the show.(photo by Luigino Caliaro)
Another shot of the ‘Balbo’ concluding the show.(photo by Luigino Caliaro)

Despite the two Mustang incidents, this year’s Flying Legends display was a fantastic show, safely held under beautiful skies. It is one of those special events that every warbird enthusiast should attend at least once if they can!


WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Luigino Caliaro for his reporting and magnificent photography, as always! To see more of his work, please visit his site HERE.

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