Flying Legends 2017

Flying Legends 2017

This latest edition of Aerodrome marks a significant milestone in the history of our aviation related blog – seventy-five editions and counting! First published on Friday 17th April 2015, Aerodrome has come a long way since these humble beginnings and over the course of the past twenty-six months has included features on the history of individual aircraft, covered Airshows and aviation related events, as well as visiting museums and aerodromes around the country. We have even been lucky enough to see a Lancaster in the all-together and take part in a classic Gazelle helicopter training flight. On behalf of everyone involved in publishing Aerodrome, I would like to thank the many people who have helped us obtain pictures and material for inclusion in our blog and allowing us to have access to their aircraft. I would also like to thank our loyal readership, who continue to support what we are doing, sending in suggestions and photographs for inclusion in future blogs and spreading the Aerodrome word, ensuring that we continue to attract new readers with each new edition. We have plenty of ideas for future subject matter, but are always interested to hear what you think – if you have any suggestions regarding the format and frequency of Aerodrome, or if there is anything you would like to see covered in a future edition, please do send in your suggestions to us at aerodrome@airfix.com or airfix@corgi.co.uk .

Back to the subject of our latest blog - with this being such a significant edition of Aerodrome, we had to have something a little bit special as our main feature. For many aviation enthusiasts, July is the month when they make their latest visit to the Imperial War Museum’s airfield site at Duxford in Cambridgeshire, where this historic aerodrome plays host to one of the world’s best loved annual Airshows. In this 75th edition of Aerodrome, we will be taking a trip back into aviation history and reviewing the latest instalment in the phenomenon which is Flying Legends – an annual indulgence in some of the world’s rarest classic aeroplanes.

 

 

 

Where Legends take to the skies

 

There is something special about the atmosphere at Flying Legends

 

For anyone who has not been fortunate enough to attend one of the twenty-five Flying Legends Airshows in the past, the following review may come across as a little sentimental in parts, however if like thousands of people this show is the first one to be entered into your diary at the start of the year, you will probably understand everything I am writing about. There is something very special about Flying Legends; something that really sets it apart from all other Airshow events. Gathering some of the World’s finest examples of airworthy WWII era aircraft together for one weekend each July, the spectacle is played out in the historic surroundings of Duxford airfield, a place which saw hundreds of aircraft operating from its grass runway during WWII. The RAF’s first Spitfire fighters were delivered to Duxford airfield during the summer of 1938 and the airfield played a major role during the Battle of Britain, including playing host to the Hurricanes of Douglas Bader’s No.242 Squadron.

 

Early morning movements at Duxford need plenty of helpers

 

During the latter stages of WWII, the skies above Duxford reverberated to the sound of Pratt & Whitney radials and Packard Merlin engines as the USAAF operated their Thunderbolts and Mustangs from Duxford, creating an enduring link between the airfield and America that endures to this day. This rich aviation history makes Duxford a unique venue for hosting a Warbird event, as anyone lucky enough to be in attendance can easily imagine what it must have been like to be stationed in this sleepy corner of Cambridgeshire during the dark days of the Second World War. With Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs usually taking part in any Flying Legends display programme, these historic buildings once again play host to the sounds that were so familiar over 70 years ago.

Without question, any Flying Legends Airshow is mainly about the impressive collection of historic Warbirds the organisers manage to gather on the same airfield each July and whilst everyone would accept that this is indeed the highlight, this magnificent event also offers so much more. Although historic flying machines are the main focus, Flying Legends is also about people. It’s about the team that go to extraordinary lengths to make sure as many rare aeroplanes as possible are available for the show every year, many travelling from Europe or even further afield. It’s about the talented pilots with years of experience in flying powerful piston engined aircraft who make themselves available to fly these priceless aeroplanes for our enjoyment and for the professional pride of being able to say they were involved. It‘s also about the engineers who possess skills that are now in such short supply and an army of volunteer helpers who ensure that all the aircraft are in airworthy condition when it comes time for them to take their place in the flying programme. It is also about the re-enactors who add so much to the weekend’s events, helping to produce the unique atmosphere at a Flying Legends show, creating memorable photographic opportunities for visitors, whilst also helping to keep an eye on the aircraft they use as their props.

 

Photographers have the opportunity to try and re-create iconic images from WWII

 

On the other side of the fence, it’s about the spectators and enthusiasts who turn up year after year to witness this annual aviation spectacle and soak up the special atmosphere at Flying Legends. It’s about friends with a shared interest meeting at the same place on the same weekend in July ever year to catch up and to get their latest fix of Warbird action, knowing that they are in their own small way, playing their part in creating aviation history. It is about making new friends and acquaintances with people from all over the world, faces that have become familiar because of this show and all speaking the common language of aviation. Importantly, it’s an opportunity for families to allow younger generations to experience the sights and sounds of a WWII era airfield and see the Spitfires and Mustangs they have read about in history lessons taking off from this historic grass runway, helping to bring their studies to life. Ultimately, it is about immersing yourself in an incredibly appealing 1940s atmosphere for one weekend each year, whilst also contemplating the effort and sacrifice made by the men and women who served on airfields all over the UK during WWII.

When you consider all this, it is hardly surprising that Flying Legends keeps the crowds flocking back year after year, retaining its position as one of the most important events of its kind in the world. If you have yet to enjoy this experience, what are you waiting for?

 

A Tale of two Mustangs

All the way from America – two of the stars of Flying Legends 2017

 

Planning for a Flying Legends Airshow must be a significant undertaking and even though this year’s show has only just taken place, I am sure that the wheels are already in motion for 2018. Operating rare, historic aeroplanes is an expensive and challenging business and even though a particular aircraft can be seen in the impressive flightline at Duxford, this does not guarantee that it will be serviceable when it is required to take its place in the flying display. This must surely be one of the most frustrating aspects of staging a show such as this, when even at the eleventh hour, situations beyond your control can undermine all your best efforts. And then of course we have the nemesis of any outdoor event, the notoriously unpredictable British weather. Airshows are arguably the most weather dependant events in the UK and can succeed or fail on the whims of Mother Nature and certainly has thousands of enthusiasts avidly checking the forecast in the days leading up to the show. Despite all of this, enthusiasts know that whatever happens, there will be a magnificent collection of historic aircraft at Flying Legends and the 2017 show was no exception to this rule.

Amongst the many fascinating aviation delights assembled for this year’s show, there was one aircraft that made an extra special effort to take part in Flying Legends 2017. At the end of June, North American P-51B Mustang ‘Berlin Express’ was still sitting outside a hangar at its Comanche Fighters home airfield in Texas and if this magnificent Warbird was to take part in the latest instalment of the Flying Legends phenomenon, this restored WWII fighter would have to safely negotiate a daunting 5,470 transatlantic journey in just a handful of days. Attempting this incredible flight in a WWII era fighter aircraft would be famed Warbird pilot Lee Lauderback and whilst there was clearly little room of error or delays if he and his aircraft were to star in this year’s Legends show, the attempt was in good hands - he happens to be one of the world’s most experienced and proficient Mustang pilots in the world.

 

Berlin Express’ is one of the most flamboyantly presented fighters of WWII

 

The Razorback Mustang looks quite different from the more common D models

 

On leaving the aircraft’s home airfield in Texas, Berlin Express headed for the east coast of America and following the famous transatlantic ‘Northern ferry route’ used by so many US aircraft during WWII, to make her way from America to the UK. Operation Bolero was the codename given to the build-up of forces in preparation for the D-Day landings, which required tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft to transit to the UK. It was thought that the most efficient way to transport aircraft to Britain was for them to fly a route via Canada, Greenland and Iceland, with fighter aircraft grouped together in flights and usually relying on a single bomber or transport aircraft for navigation and communications. Attempting this wartime crossing in a restored WWII fighter was recreating this historic feat of transatlantic logistics and marking the endeavours of hundreds of US airmen who undertook the same dangerous flight. Although Mr Lauderback could rely on better navigation and communications equipment, as well as a modern support aircraft for back up, he was still flying a restored single-engined Mustang fighter and was relying on the quality of the restoration work carried out by Pacific Fighters.

One of very few airworthy razorback Mustangs flying in the world, the work to return this beautiful machine back to airworthy condition was started in 2009 by renowned Warbird restorers Pacific Fighters, at their impressive Idaho Falls facility. The project was based around the remaining components of North American P-51B Mustang 43-24837, which was assigned to the 363rd Fighter Group of the US 9th Air Force, flying out of Staplehurst airfield in Kent. The aircraft crashed on 10th June 1944 near the village of Beckley, as the pilot was forced to abandon his Mustang after getting into difficulties during a training sortie, but seventy years later, parts recovered from the crash site would be used in this high-profile restoration project. Following a painstaking five-year restoration, this stunning P-51B Mustang made its first flight from the Pacific Fighters facility in Idaho on 27th November 2014, further increasing the number of airworthy Mustang fighters in the world and unveiling one of the most distinctive historic aircraft in the world. In recognition of the outstanding workmanship and attention to detail throughout this project, the Mustang was awarded the prestigious ‘Most Authentic Restoration’ of a Warbird at the 2015 EAA Air Venture show at Oshkosh, along with the coveted ‘Golden Wrench’ for engineering excellence. The aircraft is now owned by long-time supporters of the Flying Legends Airshow Comanche Warbirds.

 

 

This rare Mustang made a 5,470 mile transatlantic journey to be at Legends 2017

 

There will be few people who dispute the opinion that the Mustang was one of the most attractive fighters of the Second World War, but it has to be said that the distinctive scheme chosen to adorn for this magnificent restoration is a real treat for the eyes. Wearing the red and yellow markings of the 363rd Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group USAAF, who were flying from Leiston airfield in Suffolk during 1944, the scheme represents the personal mount of 1st Lt. William ‘Bill’ Overstreet, which he named ‘Berlin Express’. Carrying a large flying horse motif on the port side of the front fuselage and the words ‘Berlin Express’ on the starboard side, this must have been one of the most attractive looking Mustangs in Britain during the latter stages of WWII and an unusual sight for Luftwaffe pilots engaging it in combat.

Overstreet and his Mustang were reputedly involved in a dramatic incident in the days leading up to the D-Day invasion. Flying as protection for a formation of bombers targeting sites in northern France, the 357the Fighter Group saw a large number of Luftwaffe fighters approaching and immediately broke into the attack. In the savage dogfight that ensued, Overstreet had manoeuvred behind a Messerschmitt Bf 109G and scored hits on the aircraft, but the combat had taken the pair away from the main group. Unable to shake off the Mustang, the German pilot headed for Paris at low level, hoping that the attention of German anti-aircraft defences would encourage the American pilot to disengage – unfortunately for him, it did not. As the pursuit continued, the Luftwaffe pilot became more frantic as his aircraft continued to take hits. In a final act of desperation, he flew his Messerschmitt under the Eiffel Tower, between the supporting legs of the lower span, but Overstreet and ‘Berlin Express’ continued their pursuit. Moments after this amazing display of airmanship by both pilots, a final well-placed burst of gunfire sent the Messerschmitt crashing into the Parisian suburbs and Berlin Express headed for home at speed, with the German anti-aircraft batteries now giving the Mustang their full attention.

 

‘Berlin Express’ making a classic curved approach to Duxford’s runway

 

Both Mustangs flew together during Friday practice for the show

 

Overstreet apparently named his Mustang Berlin Express because he was convinced the Allies would eventually win the war and he would one day land his Mustang at an airfield near to the German capital. The already distinctive Mustangs of the 357th Fighter Group had nothing on his Berlin Express and the story of his exploits over Paris gave this aircraft almost mythical status amongst aviation enthusiasts. Although not the actual Mustang flown by Lt. Overstreet on his dramatic Parisian encounter, this beautiful aircraft was an unexpected bonus at the 2017 Flying Legends Airshow and for many, the star item on the programme.

 

 

P-51D Mustang ‘Frenesi’ (pronounced Fren-es-See)

This beautiful Mustang also wears the colours of the 357th Fighter Group

 

For enthusiasts with a particular liking for North American Mustang fighters, Flying Legends 2017 proved to be a memorable year in the events history. By the time Berlin Express arrived in Cambridgeshire following its historic transatlantic flight from Texas, one of its Comanche Fighter stablemates was already at Duxford, ready to play its part in the show. Mustang F-6K 44-12852 has a rich and varied past, having first been constructed as a P-51K towards the end of 1944, before being converted to perform photo reconnaissance duties. Seeing little service during the latter stages of WWII, the aircraft returned to the US where it was entered in air racing competitions around the country, but following a forced landing and subsequent rebuild, it somehow ended up flying operationally with the air force of the Dominican Republic, where it would stay for the next 30 years.

Arriving back in America during 1990, the aircraft was bought by famous US Warbird enthusiast James Beasley, who lavished some much needed attention on this long serving Mustang and repainted it in the colours of a famous WWII 357th Fighter Group machine 44-13318 ‘Frenesi’. This aircraft was the personal mount of 8.5 aerial victory ace Lt. Col Tommy Hayes, who also flew from Leiston airfield during 1944, with his aircraft being the subject of some famous wartime publicity photographs. Displaying all his victory and mission markings, Hayes was clearly extremely proud of his aircraft in these photographs, which were taken in a revetment at Leiston, with ‘Frenesi’ being one of the first ‘D model’ Mustangs to arrive at the base. It is also likely that this famous aircraft was the only P-51D to fly with the group during combat missions on D-Day.

 

Mustang ‘Frenesi’ prepares for a practice flight on the Friday before the show

 

The rare sight of both visiting Mustangs flying together, again during Friday practice

 

Despite being one of the hardest working Mustangs in the world and spending many years on the US Warbird circuit, this aircraft had never actually undergone restoration and the owners decided to rectify this in 2005. Midwest Aero Restorations of Illinois were given the task of undertaking the works, which proved to be more challenging than was anticipated – the aircraft has seen extensive overseas service and a number of companies had attempted to restore various parts of the aircraft at different times. It was basically a rather expensive kit of aircraft parts and the project would clearly take many years to complete.

During the restoration process, the aircraft changed owners and became part of the Comanche Fighters fleet in the summer of 2009. They wanted the work to be completed in as authentic a manner as possible, whilst retaining the iconic identity of ‘Frenesi’ – this included researching the scheme thoroughly in order to ensure that all the colours used on the scheme were as accurate as possible. Spending many years in the workshop, ‘Frenesi’ only made its first post-restoration flight on 31st January this year and its appearance at Flying Legends was a definite coup for the show organisers. Arriving at Duxford in a large container, this rare Mustang was re-assembled by the engineers and technicians of the Fighter Collection, before being test flown in the skies close to where the original ‘Frenesi’ went about her business in 1944.

 

‘The Horsemen’ – A Mustang Indulgence

A beautifully flown Friday practice routine by the magnificent Horsemen

 

The sight of a pair of rare US based Mustangs, both wearing the distinctive colours of the 357th Fighter Group on the airfield at Duxford was without doubt one of the highlights of this year’s Flying Legends show and indeed the 2017 UK Airshow scene. Not only were spectators at the show hoping to see these stunning Warbirds taking to the air in an evocative display of WWII US air power, we were also promised an even more thrilling spectacle – a performance by the Horsemen. As the only P-51D Mustang formation aerobatic team in the world, the Horsemen are a highlight act at Airshows across America, but rarely do UK audiences have the opportunity to witness their spectacular display of precision flying. The team consists of three of the foremost warbird pilots in the world, Steve Hinton, Ed Shipley and Dan Friedkin, who have managed to perfect a display routine which showcases the grace and power of one of the world’s great piston engined fighters. This is a true aerobatic performance. The three Mustangs almost appear to be connected as they perform rolls and loops with seemingly effortless ease, yet clearly requiring every ounce of experience possessed by these superb pilots. It is difficult not to simply stare in awe at the aerial ballet that is taking place before your eyes, made all the more memorable by the fact that these are not the latest cutting edge aerobatic aircraft, but fighter aircraft from the Second World War. No matter what your favourite Flying Legend is, or whether you are a fan of formation aerobatics, you cannot fail to be enthralled by the Horsemen and their spectacular flying skills.

 

One of the highlights of the weekend for me – Ace Warbird pilot Steve Hinton in front of P-51B ‘Berlin Express’

 

Tight formation aerobatics in WWII fighters is made to look easy by the Horsemen

 

Again from Friday practice, both US Mustangs take part in the Horsemen display

 

I mentioned earlier that operating historic aircraft is not without its frustrations and despite both of these Mustangs safely negotiating the significant journey from the US, they were both to experience serviceability issues during the weekend of the show. Unable to take to the air on Saturday, ‘Frenesi’ was apparently troubled by issues with its propeller, whilst ‘Berlin Express’ lost a section of its Perspex canopy during a high-speed pass on Saturday. Although the aircraft managed to land safely, it did sustain some slight damage to the tail during the incident and ‘Malcolm Hoods’ for wartime Mustangs are not exactly a stock item – the aircraft was very much grounded for the Sunday show.

 

‘Berlin Express’ comes in to land after losing its Malcolm Hood

 

Following the incident, ‘Berlin Express’ stayed firmly on the ground for the rest of the show

 

These images show damage caused to the tail when the canopy section detached

 

Determined not to disappoint the gathered masses, TFC engineers worked tirelessly on the issue that kept ‘Frenesi’ on the ground on Saturday and she was able to triumphantly take her place in the display on Sunday, to the delight of everyone at Duxford. Unfortunately, the sight of both rare US visitors performing together as part of the Horsemen formation did not materialise, but visitors who had arranged to attend both days of the show managed to see both ‘Berlin Express’ and ‘Frenesi’ performing separately. Clearly highlighting the effort that takes place behind the scenes in ensuring the Flying Legends Airshow continues to be such a success, I would like to thank everyone who helped to make the 2017 edition of this magnificent event such an enjoyable experience. With so many highlights and such a lot of information to fit into any review, we will bring you a second instalment from Duxford in two weeks time, when we will feature a gathering of Hurricanes, a new look for a favourite enemy aircraft and a plethora of Spitfires amongst other highlights.

 

A final look at ‘Berlin Express’ before the canopy incident – a beautiful aircraft

 

A sad sight - the Sunday show saw Mustang ‘Frenesi’ pass its injured stablemate as it headed for the runway

 

 

I am afraid that’s all we have for you in this special 75th edition of Aerodrome. With our popular Readers Pictures Edition fast approaching, we are still looking for some more of your aviation pictures to include in this special edition - if you would like to see your photographic talents featured within Aerodrome on both the Airfix and Corgi websites, please send your images to aerodrome@airfix.com or airfix@corgi.co.uk. We will give you plenty of notice as to when this edition will be published, as we know you would not want to miss your moment of photographic fame.   

 

As usual, if you would like to join in with all the latest social media discussions regarding Aerodrome and aviation matters in general, please head for either the Airfix Aerodrome Forum or our Corgi Aerodrome Forum and have your say. If you have any specific comments, questions or suggestions for future editions of Aerodrome, please do feel free to let us know by using either the Airfix Facebook or Corgi Facebook pages, or our Airfix Twitter or Corgi Twitter accounts, using #aerodrome – if you are Twitter regulars, you will know what this means!  If good old fashioned e-mail is more your style, please use our usual address above where we will be only too pleased to hear from you. 

We look forward to posting our next blog on Friday 11th August, where you can look forward to more action from the recent Flying Legends Airshow.

Thank you for continuing to support our Aerodrome blog and please share with anyone you think may be interested.

 

Michael

 

 

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