Philip Stevens - Target Aviation Photography reports: Flying Legends 2008 – The Greatest Warbird Event in Europe

Around 70 historic flying warbirds gathered at Duxford the former Royal Air Force World War Two (WW2) airfield to take part in the annual ‘Flying Legends’ air show. Duxford is the home of a number of organisations tasked with keeping veteran warbirds in the air. As in previous years Duxford’s many resident warbirds were joined by very rare and valuable aircraft from across Europe and this year from as far a field as the United States of America and Russia. Flying Legend’s organisers The Fighter Collection (TFC) this year had to take on the huge pulling power of the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) held at Fairford whose weekend dates had coincided. Usually the events are held in successive weeks.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress (’42-97849′ / N390TH) ‘Liberty Belle’ graced the skies over Duxford flying 7,800 miles (12,550 km) and using the original WW2 ferry route to attend the show.

To ensure that the show take place it requires an extensive team of professionals and enthusiastic volunteers. On show day the hangars are a hive of activity starting at 5:00 am and ending well in to the evening. Historic Aircraft Collection’s ground staff escort their 74 year old Hawker Nimrod II to the flight line as the crowds start to arrive.


Many air show enthusiasts that usually attend both days of these two-day events, were saddened to have to make the choice between these major air shows. RIAT offered discounts on tickets for those who could make the choice well in advance. Yes, you could spend one weekend day at each event, but many would have preferred both days at each. Ironically following days of rain all over England both weekend days of RIAT were cancelled the night before, due to the hazardous conditions under foot and tyre at the Gloucestershire airfield. Duxford on the other hand, and even with its grass runway, had no problems what-so-ever in hosting yet another wonderful and well attended show. The occasional brief shower on the Saturday had no affect on the flying or the enthusiasm of the spectators, who came prepared for whatever conditions were to be thrown at them. Sunday was rain free and like Saturday was very warm and bright.

Flying Legends once again lived up to everyone’s expectations. The 3.5 hours flying display was extensive, working to the highly successful formula of flying warbirds in imaginative formations with opposition tail-chasing routines and spectacular solo displays. The blend of nostalgic sound of vintage aero-engines was joined this year by the informative commentary of Melvyn Hiscock and Bernard Chabbert from France, who talks in a sort of aviation ‘poetry’.

Jane Larcombe of the Fighter Collection said, “Each year, we endeavour to make Flying Legends even better than the year before.” You would think that the organisers would find it very difficult to produce a varied flying program of flying warbirds some of which are new to the show every year. Apparently not, once again there were several aircraft that were making their debuts at this world famous air show.

A trio of B-17 Flying Fortresses, Sally B, Liberty Belle and Pink Lady


A Trio of Flying Fortress’s
One of the most remarkable Legends debutantes and air show headliner was the Liberty Foundation’s Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress named Liberty Belle. This Second World War bomber had followed the same route across the Atlantic as thousands of aircraft had over 60 years ago to attend. For 22 flying hours over four days the 7,800 mile journey took them from Atlanta via Bangor, to Goose Bay, Narsarsuaq in Greenland, Reykjavik in Iceland and on to Prestwick in Scotland. Curiously from Prestwick they flew to the small Hebridean island of Islay, off the coast of Scotland, to enable a crew member to meet with some family and friends who were generously taken on some local flights. Don Brooks, Liberty Belle’s owner helped pilot the former wartime bomber along with chief pilot Ray Fowler. Don had always dreamed of owning a B-17 as his father, Elton Brooks, had been a tail-gunner in the original Liberty Belle (42-97849) flying 39 missions from Framlingham airfield in East Anglia when assigned to the 390th Bomb Group which was part of the 8th Air force.

The B-17’s restoration from 1990 and 2004 which cost $3 million only the start the many challenges associated with keeping a 63 year old warbird in the air. Currently her cost per flight hour is $3,000 and to fund this in the United States Liberty Belle flies to a different city each week for displays, while offering up to nine seats at $450 each for a unique 30 minute experience flight. Although based in Douglas, Geogia she has not flown from there for the last 18 months.

Don has been involved in a number of projects and recoveries of warbirds over the years. Recently he recovered a Flying Fortress from Dyke Lake in Labrador which he hopes to restore and fly in ten years time.

The latest Liberty Belle is the former 44-85734 now N390TH which was built in May 1945 at Burbank California but immediately went in to storage and did not see active service. In 1947 it was sold to Pratt & Whitney becoming N5111N and was fitted with a 5th engine as a turboprop test bed. In 1967 it was finally retired and donated to the New England Air Museum. Following a tornado in 1979 the badly damaged B-17 was restored by Tom Reilly at Kissimmee, Florida before the Liberty Foundation took over control in 2000. More than 12,000 B-17’s were built and today only 14 are currently in flying order.

Unfortunately Elly Sallingboe’s B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Sally B’ was unable to take to the skies due to the recent failure of a replacement engine, never-the-less it was exciting to see the French based B-17G ‘Pink Lady’ join ‘Liberty Belle’ in a wonderful series of formation fly-pasts. What a pity that ‘Sally B’ was unable to make a flying trio of B-17’s, just after overcoming problems with EU insurance regulations and receiving generous donations from Sir Richard Branson and the ‘Sally B Supporters Club’. It is hoped that she will be flying later in the year.

Plans are already being formulated for Flying legends 2009 which is to be held on the weekend of July 11-12, 2009 (RIAT is thankfully the following weekend). While you can’t be sure which aircraft will be making the Flying Legends debuts next year, you know that the show will combine the new and unique with tried and tested that makes it a must in any aviation enthusiasts diary. See  for more details of future events.

First time at Flying Legends Yakolev Yak-3UA (D-FJAK ‘White 100’) piloted by Mark Jefferies and owned by Chris Vogelgesang is normally based at Bremgarten in Germany but is temporarily operating from North Weald. This is a new build aircraft built by Yakolev at Orenburg in Russia from 1991 using the original plans but utilising an all metal construction with an Allison V-1710 engine. The original Yak-3’s entered service as a short range interceptor fighter in 1944 They proved to be highly successful due to their impressive rate of role, climb and turn which was fully demonstrated at Flying Legends.


Douglas A-26B Invader (4434602 ‘S’ / N167B) of the Scandanavian Historic Flight based at Oslo Norway since 1988.


Flying Legends is not just an air show, its full of atmosphere and nostalgia. Various groups dress up in historical costumes to add a little extra to some of the shots to give it that period feel.


One of six P-51D Mustang’s (F-AZSB / 44-11622) ‘Nooky Booky IV’ of Societe de Developpement et de Promotion de L’Aviation (SDPA) and was one of four French based warbirds attending.


‘Team Guinot’ with their now five strong Boeing PT-17 Stearman Kaydets demonstrating formation wing walking with the most glamorous aviators in the business.


Target Aviation Photography - Philip Stevens
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