Australian Spitfire Association to Duxford Flying Legends 2016

President Geoff Zuber and Life Vice President and Spitfire pilot Lysle Roberts attended Flying Legends this year.

 It was a memorable and moving two days of Spitfires and WW2 era aircraft

Lysle and Geoff standing beside the Historic Aircraft Collection Spitfire Mk.Vb

LR & GZ Beside HAC Spit V
Here is the preview video of 2014 used for the 2016 show (thanks to Flying Legends)

https://www.flyinglegends.com/airshow-2014.html

For pure World War Two indulgence there is no place like Duxford’s Flying Legends airshow. Some thirty years ago the Imperial War Museum (IWM) and the Duxford Aviation Society started to adapt their displays of mixed types ranging from Second World War aircraft to jets.

The first Classic Fighter display took place in 1986; Flying Legends evolved from these early and spectacular attempts to show off WW2 fighters, most of them privately owned. Ray Hanna, founder of the Old Flying Machine Company (OFMC) was instrumental in getting the concept off the ground. Two Spitfires, P-40’s, Mustangs, Corsairs a P-47 and a Bearcat were the stars.

The 1989 show was a portent of what was coming; IWM, OFMC and The Fighter Collection (TFC) combined to put on an outstanding one day airshow including Spitfires, Hispano Buchons (a Spanish built and Merlin powered Me109), Corsairs, a Tigercat, B17G Sally B, Mustangs and a Thunderbolt were joined by numerous other types. It was a day I attended and enjoyed enormously. It included some “pursuits” and mock dog-fights that would in today’s more restricted regulations attract official attention.

1993 saw TFC put on “Flying Legends” and this title was used to describe the airshow for the first time. It was a piston only display, whereas all previous Duxford days included some mix of piston, jet and often helicopter aircraft.

1994 was the first two day event for Flying Legends, on what has become its traditional July slot and crowds voted with their attendance. The pattern was set for future years!

Fast forward to July 2016; a line up stretching for almost 1500 metres

Flight Line Panorama 2 Duxford 2016 021

Some nations Air Forces are smaller (note there are many more aircraft parked behind the second of these two photos).

Flying Legends list of participants 2016 (Thanks to Peter Arnold Photography IWM and TFC)

01- Flying Legends Duxford 9 & 10 July 2016 Participants
The idea of a trip to Duxford was hatched when Lysle and I, not long returned from a superb weekend in Hobart during September 2015 to attending the Battle of Britain commemorations, decided more immersion was needed. The Hobart weekend was replete with dinners, lunches, dawn service and church commemorations. It included a superb dinner on Saturday where the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) ACM Mark Binskin AC gave a wonderful speech relating characters from The Battle of Britain movie to his career progression from a newly inducted Fleet Air Arm cadet, over to the RAAF when the Australian Fleet Air Arm was disbanded, and finally to lead our armed forces as CDF.

Over the few weeks following Hobart, plans between Lysle and I were duly agreed, flights and accommodation booked and sleeps counted. I had missed Duxford in 2015 for the first time in six years due to surgery, so eagerly anticipated 2016. My habit has been to attend alone, immerse myself in the wonderful experience that is Flying Legends and have a few moments of quiet reflection remembering my father, an RAAF Spitfire pilot who flew with 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and who’s been deceased since 1994. The chance to spend two days with Lysle at Duxford was eagerly anticipated.

Pictured below are the group of 602 pilots who made a successful lob-bombing raid on the Baataschfe building in The Hague (18th March 1944) including FLTSGT Cec Zuber (second from right)

Pre-briefing before launch on the well documented raid to destroy the Gestapo HQ in The Hague. Many of the chaps were not expected to come home, but all did and the raid was a resounding success

Battersher Mex Raid pre-briefing. 2nd from right as you look at the photo, Flt. Sgt. Cecil Zuber (RAAF)

(Credit Geoff Zuber collection)
July 2016 arrives with bags packed; Lysle and I meet at the Qantas lounge in Sydney before boarding separate flights to England, ready to meet up at the Red Lion in Duxford on the 8th July.

After a few beers and a delightful meal on Friday 8th, Lysle and I decide it’s best to get to the aerodrome early, really early, so we meet the following morning at 8:30 ready for the 5 minute drive to our reserved parking. The day proved too long for Lysle who retired to the hotel during the display, which was excellent but restricted due to low cloud ceilings.

This proved to be a good portent for what followed on Sunday

Whilst both Saturday and Sunday started with ominously grey and low skies, temperatures in single figures and passing showers, on both days the weather lifted just before show time. Flying Legends has similarly legendary fortune with the weather and whilst diamond days weren’t the order this year, flying conditions on Saturday were adequate.

Sunday dawned with worse conditions; windy, cloud bases Lysle and I estimated to be around 3,500 feet and cold.

We had a good breakfast, delayed our drive to the aerodrome until 10:30 and set off in showery conditions and not too much hope of good display weather; how wrong we were! Driving down to the parking the Spitfire MkI made an assessment flight and unbeknown to us, heralded a wonderful day.

Walking the Line

Griffon over prime

As we meandered towards the Gold Enclosure marquee Lysle edged towards the flight line gate. The flight line walk however was over an hour away.

As we stood talking to the marshal manning the taxiway gate it occurred to me this was too good an opportunity, so posed the question to our friendly official, “how about letting a Spitfire pilot (and the other bloke with him) walk the line before the crowds arrived?” Feeling immediately compelled to do his bit for a former Spitfire pilot and obliged by his job as a marshal to say no, the duly considered response was, “better go talk to the folks at the Airshow Boss’s tent.” Without further hesitation I was on my way. With a little negotiation and almost a yes, a flash of my Australian pass for airside access as a pilot was enough. Back to the gate and onto the flight line, populated only by ground crews and photographers; and now, a couple of colonials.
We ended up after 20 minutes standing beside one of the Historic Aircraft Collection’s (HAC) aircraft, The MkV at the beginning of the story. Geoff Bouttell, Mark Arnold, Peter Holmes, Angus Spencer-Nairn and Dave Petters who are among the volunteers at HAC started having a chat and once they realised Lysle had flown Spits, well, all other duties or considerations quickly vanished.

Duxford 2016 010
Dave on the left of the photo above,

who flies 737’s for a living, said to Lysle “you must have a ton of stories?” In typically modest fashion Lysle said “no not really”. With a little reminding of one story, of many Lysle has told me, he was off and entertained the group for the next hour. It was only that Lysle’s legs were getting a little tired that we retreated to the marquee, because the lads were all for continuing.

To all the chaps at HAC who spent time with us and made for a very special walking of the line, thank you. Thanks also to Janice Black of HAC for helping with names; and don’t forget Janice, you’re on for a talk to our members when you next visit your daughter in Australia!

Here is a link to the Historic Aircraft Collections website – http://www.historicaircraftcollection.ltd.uk/

As we walked back to the marquee the rain came down, but it was just a last gasp before the sky began clearing as if knowing the show was about to begin.

Lunch and a hot coffee or two later, Lysle, Lysle’s son Warwick and I went on the hunt for front row seats and secured excellent ones with unobstructed views across the display line. Let the flying commence!

Last to start was the Griffon powered Spitfire XIVe with a large over-prime flame after several failed attempts.

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The day’s flying started with Spitfires and what a collection, ranging from MkI, MkV, MkIX and the beast in a bevy of beauties, the Griffon MkXIVe. For more on the variants of Spitfires click on this link – http://www.spitfireassociation.com.au/spitfire-marks/

Scramble!

WW
(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

What ensued was a fine display of Spitfires with various Merlin tunes ranging from the sweet sound of the early version contrasted to the meaningful growl of the Griffon. The cloud had lifted and this allowed for what appeared to be a full display by the pilots in traditional Duxford form; beautiful angles, high speed passes, barrel rolls and enough performance to show the Spitfire potential without stressing the aircraft. Lysle, quietly moved by the performance was prompted to quip “pity they can’t do more than 4g!” The memories were very close to the surface.

1940 or 2016?

Hair Scarfs
The Flying Legends does a tremendous job of recreating period experiences with many volunteers dressing for the occasion.

WWI Outfits

(Credit Darren Harbar and Flying Legends)

Darren_Harbar_TFC_FL_2013_111-360x257
And some fine singing each year from this trio

(Credit Darren Harbar and Flying Legends)

 

Display pilot of renown Charlie Brown exits HAC Spitfire V, his mount for the opening display.

Corsair and Bearcat
The opening display represented the elegant engineering of pre-war Britain similarly captured in cars of the era, Jaguars, Daimlers and the like. This was about to be dramatically contrasted by the Cadillac and Grand Tourino equivalents of the American sky; large, powerful, purposeful; Arrive the Bearcat and Corsair.

Curtis Fighters
(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

Designs commenced later than R.J. Mitchell’s superlative Spitfire, the Grumman Bearcat and Vought Corsair showed how brute power helps tame the laws of physics. Both aircraft displayed with gusto showing their design purposes of massive climb capability, speed, ruggedness without losing agility; all but the remarkable range each aircraft was built with from the outset, as long range interceptors/escorts and naval types.
More of America followed, but this display reached back to our Australian pilots. The Curtis fighters.

Curtiss P-40C Warhawk Curtiss Hawk 75 Curtiss Hawk 75 DX Leg

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

Early variants were powered by Wright or Pratt & Whitney radials and were upgraded as war approached to the Allison, or familiar Packard-Merlin variants as used by the RAAF. The Curtiss Kittyhawks used by our pilots were a design somewhere between the engineering elegance of Spitfires and industrial usefulness of Grumman or Vought types. The flying display showed the performance gap between the radial and in-line types with the shorter radial versions being more maneuverable, but slower and with what appeared to be considerably less climb performance.

A quick glance in Lysle’s direction showed he was somewhere, but at that instant I don’t think it was Duxford, with many hours on type and more than a few stories to tell.

Blenheim
(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

For readers wanting more detail on the Curtis range click here
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtiss_P-36_Hawk
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtiss_P-40_Warhawk

The Battle of Britain

 Brought back into the air last year after a superb restoration by John Romain’s Aircraft Restoration Company, Bristol Blenheim MkI was joined by Spitfire I, Hurricane II and Gloucester Gladiator in what was billed as the Malta/Battle of Britain display.
http://www.arc-duxford.co.uk/restorations/blenheim/

Spit, Hurri, Blen, Glad

(Credit Darren Harbar and Flying Legends)

Two generations of design and thinking were in the air. The Blenheim at the outbreak of war was the most numerous RAF bomber type in service with almost 1100 in service. Like its contemporary the Heinkel He111, the Blenheim was originally designed to be a passenger aircraft and brought into service in 1934. Faster than RAF fighters at that time, by 1939 the Blenheim was much slower than contemporary fighters, lacked payload and range and its crews suffered horrendous losses as they courageously pressed home raids on German targets during 1939/40. Similarly the Gladiator, created in post-World War One thinking, was highly maneuverable, a biplane because one wing was seen as treacherously dangerous and whilst quick for a biplane, dramatically slower than the German Me109e.

Sydney Camm’s Hurricane design bridged engineering concepts between the Gladiator and the Spitfire, being both metal and doped linen in construction, with a monoplane wing and powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin. The Spitfire brought to play all of Supermarine and Mitchell’s experience and genius with the Schneider Trophy aircraft to create a modern true match for the German adversary; all metal monocoque construction, Merlin engine, fast, maneuverable, but for the time, incredibly challenging to manufacture.

With far more in service at the beginning of the Battle of Britain the Hurricane took the brunt, but its good looks saw the Spitfire win the hearts, minds and memories. Member Nat Gould who flew both types remembers the Hurricane fondly.

Blenheim DX Legends 10 July 2016 Peter Arnold 393A2467a

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

Watching these four aeroplanes fly together brought home each of their capabilities with the Spitfire leaving the other three behind on one occasion and the Gladiator showing a portent of what was just about to unfold.

Achtung, Spitfire!

F22

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

Not actually a Messerschmitt in the true sense, the Hispano Buchon was built in Spain during the Franco régime. Based on the Bf109G supplied by Germany during the War, as supplies of the original DB 605 engine ran out it was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin. For the technical readers:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispano_Aviaci%C3%B3n_HA-1112

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messerschmitt_Bf_109_variants#Early_Bf_109G_models

The two Buchons provided another fine display and added an interesting variation with the Gladiator flying with them much of the time. Clearly outclassed by the German fighters the Gladiator was by no means outshone, being able to turn comfortably inside the Buschons. Whilst in combat getting a shot at the 109 with a Gladiator was challenging, especially with the advanced German tactics of a loose finger-four or two pairs, versus the RAF’s early attachment to tight Vic 3 formation, the advantage of maneuverability over speed was on display.

The eternal design challenge; speed and maneuverability.

There were perhaps two displays that showed these essentially conflicting operational requirements can be brought closer together, one from WW2, the Sea Fury and one contemporary, the F22 Raptor. Both displayed this year.
The USAF Heritage Flight provided a unique experience for Flying Legends with the arrival of a Lockheed Martin F22 Raptor accompanied by a Mustang P51

Sally B

The essential comparison

P51 Mustang Sea Fury F22 Raptor
Max TO – 12,100lbs Max TO – 14650lbs Max TO – 83,500lbs
Speed – 362 mph Speed – 420 mph Speed – 1,220 mph
Climb Rate – 3,200 fpm Climb Rate – 4,320 fpm Climb Rate – N/A but thousands feet per second

The USAF Heritage Flight with music and commentary added typical American flair and colour, yes, don’t forget there is a u in color. The F22 set of car alarms everywhere and undoubtedly left the Jackdaws wondering what had happened to their bucolic English day. The speed, power and eye-popping vapour rending turns in the Raptor’s display were quite a sight. Although a great contrast, I doubt if any of the Duxford crowd wished to be at the jet fighter paradise taking place over at RAF Fairford on the other side of England. Member and Qantas A380 pilot Andrew Elliott has however promised to write up a story on Fairford which he attended with some old RAAF pals.
The weather continued improving, the flying kept everyone enthralled and display after excellent display rolled on including Flying Legends perennial Sally B, accompanied by her escort

B-25 and Lightening

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)
The Red Bull team of P-38 Lightening, B25 Mitchell Bomber and  out of shot, F4U Corsair

DC 3 and Beech 18's
Classic formation Swissair Douglas DC3 and Beech 18s

Sea Fury 1

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)
The crowd anticipation was growing as the Balbo neared. It took a special aircraft to catch attention at this stage of the flying and the Hawker Sea Fury didn’t disappoint. Formally on charge with the Iraqi Air Force, this Sea Fury was until recently Australian owned and registered as VH-SFW. Richard Grace who with his mother Caroline, an Australian, now own the Sea Fury and also own Spitfire T.R.9 ML 407. Richard displayed the Sea Fury spectacularly and showed how powerful and performant these aeroplanes are. Lysle noted at one stage that it looked slightly more than a 4G routine! The Hawker Sea Fury is the pinnacle of piston fighters, unmatched in their day and indeed unmatched until the second generation of jet fighters. Spitfire Association stalwart Nat Gould flew the Sea Fury in amongst an enormous collection of aircraft, including being in the group of pilots who delivered Hurricanes to the Russians, but that’s another story for another day!

Appearing capable of turning inside most of the days display aircraft and obviously outperforming in speed and climbing ability against all but the F22 Raptor, the Sea Fury with its Bristol Centaurus engine purred through one of the great shows of Duxford 2016.

Painted in the prototype colour scheme representing the time during trials at Boscombe Down the Sea Fury looked fabulous

Sea Fury 2

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

Sea Fury SR661 DX Legends 10 July 2016 Peter Arnold 393A2591

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)
The Balbo
The appearance of numerous pilots in crowd view, Air Boss Pete Kynsey and a sizeable group, a couple of smaller gatherings, talking, gesticulating in the way formation pilots do with hands representing maneuvers, all suited up, Charlie Brown in his trade mark Auxiliary Air Force white overalls and looking just the part with resplendent moustache, activity around almost every fighter that had flown earlier, meant only one thing:
The Balbo was being made ready.

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Originally developed by Italo Balbo, appointed by Mussolini as Marshall (Maresciallo dell’Aria) of the emerging Italian Air Force, the Regia Aeronautica Italiana (RAI). First used on a massed tour of RAI aircraft through Europe and North America, the Balbo as it became known, formed the entire flyable group for massed fly pasts.
Adopted by Flying Legends from the beginning, the Duxford Balbo is spectacular.

It takes some time to get all aircraft airborne and assembled, with Pete Kynsey leading the Balbo as he has always done. Before the massed formation takes off “The Joker” departs. The Joker keeps the crowd interested as the Balbo forms up. Nick Grey, who started The Fighter Collection, played The Joker in his Bearcat until retiring two years ago. Son Stephen today fills those shoes. On the Saturday he performed in the Gloucester Gladiator and on Sunday in a Spitfire MkV.

5-EP120 Joker DX Legends 10 July 2016 Peter Arnold 393A2705a

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

The Joker provided one of the best displays of the day with tight turns, rolls, fast runs and a few lawn mowing moments! The accompanying commentary gave Stephen’s thoughts on Spitfire MkV (his favourite) the MkXIVe (a hooligan’s aircraft) and the MkIX with its two stage blower for the Merlin. The commentator elicited comment from Lysle when musing that the two stage Merlin in the IX didn’t make that much difference except when you needed to be above 15,000 feet: Lysle; “he’s obviously never had a Japanese hooligan behind him wanting to take a pot shot!”

Weather had played havoc across the UK and Europe so expected aircraft numbers were down, but to have this many Second World War aircraft in one place, flying and flying low is a sight worth travelling half way around the world to see.

Balbo readiness

(Credit Peter Arnold Photography)

The first Balbo pass; and if you look carefully below the lead aircraft a terrified raven peeling off left!

As with every Duxford Flying Legends it is over too soon.

Lysle, Warwick and I enjoyed ourselves enormously. Treasured memories and emotions were brought close to the surface and occasionally bubbled over. Two days of joy, quiet reflection camaraderie and endless talk of aeroplanes, feeds and speeds, more than the occasional “I remember when”, washed down with more than the occasional beer at the Red Lion.
Congratulations to IWM, The Fighter Collection and all the participating organisations, owners, pilots, support crews and volunteers.

A special thanks to Guy and Janice Black of HAC for letting your crew spend so much time with Lysle and I and to the lads for making the time.

Thanks also to Elly Sallingboe and Pete Kuypers of Sally B for an enjoyable chat the day after Flying Legends.
Next year Flying Legends will be on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th July. I’ll be going and we are thinking of arranging a Spitfire Association member trip. If you would like to join in please contact me with your early interest at President@spitfireassociation.com. Details will follow towards Christmas.

Ackowledgements

  • Peter Arnold for allowing us to use his photographs. Peter made available all of his enormous compendium from this year and I want to say a special thanks for his generosity. We will put together a separate compendium of Peter’s 2016 Duxford collection for Spitfire Association members later in the year.
  • Darren Harbar for photos from the Flying Legends site
  • Flying Legends for use of photos and website references
  • Wikipedia
  • Historic Aircraft Collection
  • The Fighter Collection