The faces of Flying Legends 2019
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK.
Well, it’s official – your roving Aerodrome reporter has hit the blog writing wall and is in need of a well-earned rest. By the time you are reading this latest edition of the blog, I will hopefully be enjoying some sunshine, a good book and perhaps a little glass of beer or two, as I recharge the batteries ahead of my return to work and the busy Christmas run-in. Not wanting to deviate from our usual blog fortnightly production schedule, this latest edition could be described as a ‘Holiday Edition’ and will be slightly shorter than the usual format, with the emphasis on images and much less wordy – thank goodness, I hear you cry!
Anyway, our subject for this 127th edition is this year’s magnificent Flying Legends Airshow, but taking a slightly alternative view of the show. Although aeroplanes will still feature in the pictures below, they are actually not the main focus of our attentions this time and will be acting as rather appealing photo props, as we attempt to recreate scenes from years past. In this edition, we are going to be focusing on a group of people who are unsung Flying Legends heroes, not only giving up their time to make our show visit more enjoyable, but also doing a great job in making sure members of the public don’t get too close to the valuable aircraft everyone has come to admire – it’s time to place the Aerodrome spotlight on event re-enactors.
Walking on hallowed aviation ground
For thousands of aviation enthusiasts all over the world, the Flying Legends Airshow is an aviation phenomenon which once experienced becomes something of an annual aviation pilgrimage and is usually the first event to be added to their new diary at the beginning of each year. Organised by the Duxford based Fighter Collection, Flying Legends is much more than just another Airshow, it is a celebration of aviation history and anyone fortunate enough to attend one of these magnificent shows is certainly made to feel like they are actually part of the latest instalment of this unique event. For one very special weekend each July, the Imperial War Museum airfield at Duxford, in Cambridgeshire plays host to an event which is unparalleled in the world of historic aviation and sees not only an impressive gathering of airworthy pre-jet age historic aircraft at this former WWII fighter station, but also a genuine attempt to recreate a 1940s atmosphere for the duration of the show. Although the impressive collection of airworthy Warbirds will always be the main reason why this show continues to go from strength to strength, there are so many different facets to a Flying Legends weekend that this is much more an experience, as opposed to just another Airshow – for two days every July, we are given the opportunity to be transported back to a wartime British airfield during the 1940s, with all the sights and sounds that brings.
It goes without saying that a huge part of the famous Flying Legends enigma is undoubtedly the venue itself. Duxford aerodrome is steeped in aviation history, having first been constructed towards the end of the Great War, with the site still retaining many of its original wartime features. During WWII, the airfield played a prominent role during the Battle of Britain and at times, over sixty Spitfires and Hurricanes would have been dispersed around Duxford and its satellite airfield at nearby Fowlmere. In 1943, Duxford was handed over to the USAAF and became Station 357 (DX) and home to a number of units, including the famous 78th Fighter Group and their distinctive black and white chequerboard Thunderbolts and Mustangs. These would go on to become some of the most famous aircraft of the entire war and continue to be a source of fascination for aviation enthusiasts to this day. Each Flying Legends Airshow takes this history and uses it as a backdrop for their evocative event, presenting beautifully restored historic aircraft flying from an airfield which actually took part in the air battles of the Second World War, with visitors walking in the footsteps of heroes. When a Spitfire, or Mustang takes off from Duxford’s grass runway during Flying Legends, it is not difficult to imagine what it must have been like to have been stationed at the airfield during the dark days of the Second World War.
Angels on our wings
Sharing their passion with like-minded friends, it is not all hard work for the re-enactors at Flying Legends
Now one of the major attractions at a Flying Legends Airshow is the attendance of re-enactor groups, people who dress in period clothing and uniforms, both to enhance the visitor experience and to satisfy their own fascination for a particular period in history. Often going to significant personal expense in the pursuit of their hobby, they attempt to source as much genuine WWII era equipment as they possibly can, in many cases taking years to amass a collection of items which gives them the appearance they are happy with and usually always on the lookout for anything they deem suitable. It can actually be quite disconcerting when a group of re-enactors come into the pub where you are having your evening meal, especially if it is one you know Duxford based personnel used to frequent during the wartime years. Just a group of friends enjoying some social time together, their period uniforms definitely give you an idea of what it must have been like during those days and can even make you feel like you are witnessing a ghostly gathering of aircrews past.
Where these fantastic people come into their own is on the show days themselves and when they head out to take up position on the flight-line, in amongst the magnificent collection of historic aircraft which have gathered for the event. With their uniforms, kit bags and equipment as the tools of their trade, they use these aircraft as rather expensive props in a fascinating exhibition of historic aviation related theatre, knowing exactly where to stand and what to do to make everyone looking on feel like they could be witnessing a scene from the 1940s. From a photographers perspective, there is an opportunity to take some truly evocative images and if carefully framed, they can almost look as if they were taken during Duxford’s illustrious wartime past. This does require a little forethought and some luck, as there are always any number of distractions which could date your picture and you don’t really want a chap in USAAF attire standing in front of a Spitfire, but as they say, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ and you are always assured of ending up with some interesting images. Indeed, despite many attractions at the show, you would come away with some really fantastic pictures if you simply spent the day following the re-enactors, documenting their weekend and grabbing pictures as they interact with other members of their group, or just take up station in front of one or other of the aircraft.
This quick selection of images were all taken at this year’s Flying Legends Airshow and feature the fantastic re-enactors who are now such an integral part of the show. This little blog tribute is our way of saying thank you to them for giving up their time and expertise in helping to make the show what it is, a fabulous celebration of historic aviation.
As some of the most famous aviation residents to call Duxford airfield their home, the USAAF 78th Fighter Group presented their aircraft with distinctive black and white chequerboard cowlings and are regarded as some of the most attractively presented aircraft of WWII. As such, any opportunity to photograph a Warbird wearing these historic markings at a Duxford show is one which has to be taken, especially if you can enlist the help of a dashing pilot re-enactor like Joseph Turi. Looking as if he might be a squadron mate of Francis Gabreski or George Preddy, Joseph looks as if he is ready to take ‘Contrary Mary’ for a quick sortie over Germany and probably bag himself a couple of victories in the process. The third image above also features Joseph, but this time stood in front of a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, giving a clear indication of just how massive this fighter is.
Once again using TF-51D Mustang ‘Contrary Mary’ as our aviation prop, I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Karl-Heinz Beckers, another one of the hard-working re-enactors who was only too happy to pose for a few pictures with the aircraft. As an avid modeller, once Karl found out I was representing Airfix, he was as interested in talking model kits as I was about helping him look like a WWII fighter ace.
Taking things back to the Great War era, the Historic Aircraft Collection’s magnificent Airco DH.9 was making its Flying Legends debut at this year’s show and as such, was possibly the most historic aircraft backdrop for our people pictures feature. These two fine gentlemen look absolutely pristine and appear to have just discussed target information for the next DH.9 sortie over the Western Front. I have included two different versions of the same picture to gauge reader opinion as to which representation is the most appealing, colour or black and white?
This next series of images were taken whilst just walking up and down the flight-line with thousands of other people and taking advantage of opportunities as and when they presented themselves. As members of the press and aircraft technicians were also milling around at the same time, it was quite a challenge to obtain pictures without annoying distractions in the frame, but I managed to come away with one or two efforts which were quite pleasing and a memorable record of the show. Let’s try our hand at giving each one a title: L – ‘Time to get strapped in’, M – ‘Counting them back in’ and N – ‘A serious business’…. I think that works.
The final two images are a little more humorous and show how pictures which feature people can be some of the most engaging of the entire weekend. In the first one, what could the pilot be saying to his crew chief? Could it be, “What do you mean you don’t believe that I got two Messerschmitts”, or is “Why did you put another cockpit on my Spitfire” more appropriate? Getting themselves into another fine mess, you most certainly would not let either of these jokers get behind the controls of a priceless Warbird, even though they did prove to be two of the most popular characters at this year’s Flying Legends Airshow.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Aerodrome, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 20th September, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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