Legends gather again at Duxford
Neither the CAA’S revised airshow display regulations nor the British weather were able to put off the crowds from enjoying some incredible sights and sounds at this year’s Flying Legends at Duxford on 9-10 July. There were the formations we have come to expect with Spitfires, Curtiss Hawks, Hawker biplanes and Hispano Buchóns; there were some new ones as well with a ‘four-ship’ of Spitfire 1, Hurricane XIIA, Gladiator II and Blenheim 1 bringing a unique early war years perspective. The Red Bull trio of B-25 Mitchell, P-38 Lightning and F4U Corsair were again warmly welcomed. However, no Flying Legends display would be complete without a Spitfire debut and this year it was the turn of Comanche Fighters’ Spitfire VB EP122/G-CISV.
Built at Castle Bromwich EP122 was shipped to Gibraltar in June 1942 where it was re-assembled at the local MU. Delivered to Malta the following month it was immediately pressed into service to help defend the island from sustained German and Italian air raids. EP122 was flown by nineteen-year old American volunteer, Sgt Claude Weaver III from Oklahoma City. Flying with No 185 Sqn, he shot down two Bf109s on 22 July, followed by another pair the next day and a half-share in a Ju88 the day after that! Weaver rapidly became the youngest Allied ace of WWII. After Weaver was shot down flying another Spitfire, EP122 became the regular mount of squadron OC Wg Cdr J M Thompson. Having been transferred to No 1435 Flt EP122 crash-landed on the edge of the cliff at Dwejra Bay, Gozo on 27 March 1943. The badly damaged Spitfire was pushed over the cliff-edge into the bay and became a popular dive wreck with the sub-aqua community and aviation archaeology groups after the war. Small parts were initially recovered from the aircraft in the 1970s, with the engine and forward fuselage eventually being raised. Stored in Malta for a number of years the wreck was bought by Comanche Fighters and its fuselage was rebuilt by Airframe Assemblies on the Isle of Wight. Transferred to the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar for completion, EP122 made its first post restoration flight on 4 May 2016. It was painted in the scheme that it wore whilst being flown by Sgt Claude Weaver in the summer of 1942. However, it appeared at Flying Legends in temporary 1940 Fighter Command colours for its participation in the film Dunkirk currently being shot in Northern France.
Another notable first appearance this year was Europe’s only multi-engined veteran aircraft display team. Formed several years ago by Swiss businessman Hugo Mathys, and equipped with two Beech 18s (N21FS and N223CM) and a DC-3C (N431HM), the Gretchen-based team has performed at numerous airshows on the continent but never before in the UK. Immaculately presented, the team’s DC-3 was originally built for the USAAF in 1943 as C-47A 42-24133 . Sold to a succession of civilian owners after the war, including Air Atlantique and Aces High in the UK, the DC-3 was operated by Zurich-based Classic Air as HB-ISC from 1986 alongside the company’s four Ju52s. It was acquired by Mathys in 2007. Both of the team’s Beech 18s are ex Royal Canadian Air Force examples built in 1952 by Beechcraft at Wichita. After service careers as navigation training aircraft they went onto the civilian market before being acquired by Mathys to join his fleet, N21FS (red trim) in 2006 and N223CM (blue trim) in 2010. The display consisted of flypasts in ‘T’, echelon, and delta formations.
Two very determined airline pilots, Pat Donovan and Bill Sleeper flew a rare Lockheed Model 12A from Moses Lake, Washington State to Flying Legends. Completed by Lockheed at Burbank, California in December 1938, NC14999 was one of three Model 12As delivered to the Continental Oil Company. Over the years it passed through the hands of many owners, ending its active employment dropping skydivers before being retired to a glider museum in Texas, where Pat found it in 1977. After a long restoration the vintage twin was flown again in 1992. To prepare for the transatlantic trip the interior tables and seats were replaced by a 400-gallon fuselage tank and dump system, along with a second alternator, satellite phone hook up, assorted GPS systems, back up power supply and in-flight engine oiling system. With the cleared takeoff weight now over 11,000lb and a journey of
over 4,000 nautical miles the aircraft finally made it to Duxford after a six-hour final leg from Reykjavik on 3 July.
Absent for seven years, Fury FB11 G-CBEL made its UK airshow return painted as the Sea Fury prototype SR661. Registered to Anglia Aircraft Restorations on 1 June 2016 after its arrival at Sywell from Australia, the ex Iraq AF Fury was displayed well by Richard Grace.
Brought out of Iraq by David Tallichet in 1979 Iraqi Fury 315 was restored to fly as N36SF at Coleman, Texas from 1989-91. Acquired by BA Concorde pilot and Kings Cup Air Race winner John Bradshaw in 1990 it was shipped to the UK the following year. Painted in a Dutch Navy/ RCN/RAN Sea Fury midnight blue scheme with the serial 361, it was widely displayed by John for nearly two decades before being sold to Dave Warburton in New South Wales, Australia in 2009. After arrival at Sywell it was rapidly reassembled and painted in the green/grey colour scheme with yellow undersides to represent the prototype Sea Fury, and was airborne a few days before Flying Legends.
The appearance of the USAF Heritage Flight added a new dimension to Flying Legends. For the first time at Duxford an F-22A Raptor — the USAF’S latest front-line fighter — paired with a former USAAF P-51D to make a couple of close-formation passes before the F-22 broke away to demonstrate its power and agility with some impressively tight turns.
The P-51, Robert Tyrrell’s Colerne-based Mustang Miss Helen, was flown by American pilot Dan Friedkin and the Raptor, which came from Fairford where it was taking part in RIAT, was in the hands of Maj Dan ‘Rock’ Dickinson. Flying Legends always manages to produce something new and exciting ‘out of the hat’ and 2016 was no exception.
Lee Proudfoot in the Blenheim leading the Spiitfire I, Gladiator II and Hurricane XII of the ‘early WWII’ formation
Flying Bulls B-25, P-38 and F4U
Flown by Stu Goldspink, Comanche Fighters’ Spitfire VB EP122 in temporary film markings as R9649
Richard Grace displaying Fury FB11 ‘SR661’ USAF Heritage Flight pairing of F-22A Raptor and P-51D Mustang was unique to Flying Legends Long distance fliers Pat Donovan and Bill Sleeper in the 1938 Lockheed 12A