The 13th of July 2019, marked the first of two days of historic aviation action at IWM Duxford, with the ever popular and much loved Flying Legends. Over the years I have been meaning to attend this event which features the best of European warbirds and classic aircraft, focusing upon 'Operation Overlord' , the D-Day invasion and also one of the last Red Arrows display before their much publicised North American tour. During this review I'll be looking at not just the display but the much publicised "Grandstand experience".
Firstly, starting with the flying display, which started earlier than in years past, on the Saturday, when I was in attendance. It started with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows at 12pm. The weather wasn't kind throughout the day and this was extremely clear when the Red Arrows had to put on a full flat display. It was disappointing but also interesting to see since I've not seen a full flat display since 2010. The Red Arrows put on an amazing display as ever, even if some enthusiasts in the crowd and on the internet don't think that they have a place at Flying Legends alongside the other legendary warbirds.
There was a long gap between the Red Arrows finishing their display and the start of the main flying, but this was understandable.
At the start of the main display, the Spitfires and Buchon roared into life, enabling this young photographer to have one of those moments where he had to stop and take in his surroundings. The venue in which we were, the aircraft taxiing and flying past him, a somewhat romantic moment in which I got a true understanding of what the early days of the Battle of Britain would have been like, true magic and the atmosphere really added to that. This is only my third time seeing a mass spitfire formation and just as the first time, the magic and power of it was still there.
Following on from what seemed like a scene from the 'Battle of Britain film', we were treated to 'Sally B', Europe's only airworthy B-17 Flying Fortress, in formation with two P-51 Mustangs as bomber escorts, and while it was only 2 passes including a topside, it was true magic to see. Afterwards Sally B did a solo display while the P-51's did tail chases. As ever with many of these aircraft it's not about their displays, but that of getting the opportunity to watch true legends of the aviation world fly, and that's the exact case for 'Sally B'. As ever please check out the Sally B fan club
as she's requiring engine overhauls and she'll need every penny she gets to keep her skywards.
After Sally B and the fighters had finished, the ever popular and rare classic formation of C-47A, and 3 Beech 18's flew their display. This was an interesting display which I've never seen before and it would be great to see them at another show again soon.
This was followed up by formation after formation, which for me is fantastic to watch, photograph and hear. Firstly starting with the Curtiss aircraft quartet of P-40C, P-40F, Hawk 75 and TF-51D. This is a marvellous formation to see as I've never seen so many of the Curtiss aircraft flying before at one time and in formation. This was followed by a P-40 solo display and a Hawk 75 solo display too. Fabulous vintage warbirds throwing themselves around the sky for all to see.
This was followed by the display of the day, other than the Balbo finale, the 'Ultimate Fighters' truly ran away with the best display of the day. Mesmerizing to see a Spitfire, P-47 Thunderbolt, a Buchon and a TF-51D Mustang together in the tightest of formations before breaking into synchro and solo displays, where you have the opportunity to watch the Spitfire and Buchon in tail chases, synchro crosses as well as watching the P-47 and the TF-51D do amazing solo displays and aerobatics. This truly was amazing to see and this display team is the team to look out for next season and beyond.
After that scintillating display it was time to pay tribute to the Navy with the Sea Fury, Catalina, Wildcat and the Corsair. A three ship of Sea Fury, Wildcat and Corsair flew a few passes, a tight formation paying tribute to these greats of the Navy world, this was followed up with a stunning display by the Sea Fury and the Wildcat. The Sea Fury is still a personal favourite of mine and it is always a joy to see one flying. This was followed up by the C-47 SkyTrain departing for their display and finally a solo display by the ever-popular Catalina "Miss Pick Up".
The Navy tribute was followed up by three C-47 SkyTrains in formation. Flying legends tribute to D Day 75, for those of us who have been there previously, we were having flashbacks to the 'Daks over Duxford', the event which I've previously reviewed
. This was followed by a more controversial act of the Aerosuperbatics Display Team displaying the Stearman aircraft. An ever popular display on the circuit, it wasn't well received by certain members of the community that regularly turn up to Flying Legends at Duxford, but for me this is a welcome break within the whole legends setting, bringing a more jovial and entertaining aspect to the flying display, and one has to remember post-WWI wing walking was very popular and so by right, the Stearman aircraft are flying legends. Once the Stearman had landed it was time for a solo C-47 display.
It was also good to see the Bristol Blenheim in formation with a couple of Spitfires and a Lysander.
Then it was time for the most popular aspect of Flying Legends, the formation of aircraft that would be on display in a mass formation, the representation of what one would expect during the Second World War, of a mass amount of allied or enemy aircraft heading towards or from the target. I won't list every single aircraft that was in the Balbo, but for me this was truly amazing, I've never seen a formation of this size before, the numbers of Spitfires and P51s, I could go on and on, truly an epic end to an amazing Flying Legends display.
One last thing to add about Flying Legends itself, is where I was based for the whole of the day, the grandstand or the 'Grandstand Experience' as it's called by IWM Duxford. Well truly I can say this, if you're a photographer going to Duxford then don't bother with the Grandstand Experience. It is not really explained on the website what the grandstand is all about, it is marketed more for photographers to get there early to get up the back of the grandstand to allow themselves the best seat in the house. If you're at the back of the grandstand normally you would be allowed to stand, this is not the case at Duxford and this is not explained on their website either which is infuriating when you arrive and then you're bumped into every 2 minutes because people are getting up and down. I have paid the extra money at my own expense to be in the best spot at Duxford in my opinion and ended up in an enclosure where I can't really take pictures. Duxford should say that this is an enclosure to sit and watch a display, not an area to stand and photograph, they should not imply that photographers are welcome whatsoever because as a photographer, I did not feel welcome and I feel that i needed to mention this. People in the grandstand were being implicitly told to sit down every two minutes when trying to take a shot and we were crammed into the grandstand like sardines, which is not ideal. There were also no toilet facilities in the enclosure, as was advertised, but this didn't upset me as much as the very small seats on a very small grandstand and not being able to take photographs after paying £17.50 extra for the 'Grandstand Experience'.
So overall how did I feel about Flying Legends 2019? Well other than my experience on the grandstand which did takeaway somewhat from the day, I can't complain about the flying display. I know people that have been going Flying Legends for many years and have been going to the Duxford shows for so many years have had complaints about the last few years and the flying displays and the stalls and entertainment that the IWM are putting on. Well for me I was judging the air show on the flying not the stalls and entertainment because I'm there for watching the flying display. For me the stalls were great to go round before and after the show, talking to some great people as ever and unfortunately I just don't have the time for the entertainment that was put on so I can't really judge the entertainment or the stalls as I found them okay. The flying display was a bit off with the gap between the Red Arrows and the Spitfire scramble but other than that I found it a very pleasant flying display and 5 hours for me when extremely quick as ever. So overall IWM please listen to photographers in which we are saying we would like our own area or enclosure and please keep on putting on these magic flying displays.
Thanks to the 'The Fighter Collection' and the 'Imperial War Museum Duxford' for putting on another superb Flying Legends air show this year, and below is the date for the September Battle of Britain Air Show at Duxford.
Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show - Saturday 21st - Sunday 22nd September 2019.
Article & Photographs by Cody Froggatt.