The Ultimate Fighters, from the Ultimate Warbird Flights Stable, is a new formation display team comprising of four of the world’s most iconic World War II aircraft. The display performed by the team is something not seen in the UK for many years, and demonstrates these legendary aircraft at their very best.
Know by many as the 'Cadillac of the Skies' the P-51 proved itself a highly effective fighter across all theatres in which it saw action.
It's long range made it the perfect escort for allied bombing sorties over Nazi occupied Germany, defending the slower and vulnerable bombers against Luftwaffe fighters.
Nicknamed 'The Jug' due to its immense size, the Thunderbolt proved effective as a high-altitude escort and could out-dive any fighter in Europe during the early war years.
Capable of absorbing an astounding amount of damage, it became a highly effective ground attack platform.
NAME: RICHARD GRACE
AIRCRAFT: ME109 / BUCHON
Richard started flying young, his first flight was at just two weeks old in the family Stampe SV4C. He first held the controls of the same aircraft at 7 and was taking off and landing by 15. He achieved his flying licence at 19 and flew his first air display in his Cassutt Racer at the Red Bull air race at Longleat. Richard's father Nick had rebuilt the family Spitfire TIX and finished it before he was a year old and he has grown up in the warbird industry. Richard first flew the Spitfire at 23 and has gone on to fly a number of other warbird types as well as being the leader of the Trig Aerobatic Team who successfully flew their Pitts Special biplanes at air displays throughout the UK and Europe. Richard is the director and chief engineer of Air Leasing LTD based at Sywell which maintains and restores and operates a varied fleet of WWII aircraft
NAME: DAVE PULESTON
Dave has been passionate about vintage aeroplanes for as long as he can remember and following learning to glide in his youth, spent his school years as a ‘hangar rat’ at Swanton Morley, Norfolk. After attaining his Private Pilots Licence at 17, he felt immensely privileged to be let loose in a wide variety of aeroplane types, frequently indulging in his love of aerobatics and formation flying. Fascinated by how things work, Dave developed his engineering knowledge, working at a succession of busy maintenance organisations and as a volunteer with the Fighter Collection, Duxford. In parallel, he gained his CAA Display Authorisation and carried out a ground-up restoration of a Pitts Special with colleagues. Dave flew solo displays in his Pitts in addition to other types and later formed the Trig Aerobatic Team with long-time friend Richard Grace, displaying at hundreds of air shows and events around Europe.
NAME: JON GOWDY
Flying became part of Jon’s life when he joined his local gliding club as a teenager. Jon joined Air Atlantique as a cadet pilot in 2002 and during his five years with the company, Jon progressed to the position of Deputy Chief Pilot with the Classic Flight where his love of vintage aircraft grew. Most summers were spent flying the company’s DC3’s and Dragon Rapide’s. Eventually Jon grew up and in 2007 got a proper job flying Airbuses at Heathrow. A brief break from being an airline pilot in 2010 saw Jon flying Twin Otters for the British Antarctic Survey, a job he says will forever be at the pinnacle of his flying career. Jon has been display flying since he was 18 years old and entered the world of warbird flying through an invitation to fly the Grace spitfire ML407 in 2016. As well as his warbird flying, Jon co-founded the FireFlies Aerobatic Display Team with Andy Durston and flies the 747 Jumbo Jet as the ‘day-job’.
NAME: ANDY DURSTON
Growing up with aviation in the family, Andy had an early exposure to flying in the form of helicopters. However, the spark did not ignite until in his teens. After learning to fly at 17, the passion grew and Andy went on to gain his Display Authorisation in 2006, flying various Yaks and Pitts, during which time he started to learn the art of formation aerobatics. Andy Joined the Navy in 2005, progression through the Fixed-Wing pipeline on the Tucano, Hawk and Harrier. Together with Jon, Andy co-founded the FireFlies Aerobatic Display Team. In 2016, Richard asked Andy if he would like to fly ML407, the Grace Spitfire! Needless to say he didn’t need to think about the answer for long! Since then, Andy has been lucky enough to fly a variety of warbirds, and some iconic aeroplanes including the Boeing 747 which he flies for a living.
Well you are in for quite a treat. After the aircraft take off, they will climb up to around 4000ft (airspace and weather permitting) to gain the maximum energy to start their display. Here they will form up and await the call “commence display” from the Flying Display Director. Swiftly diving down as a formation, the team will aim for a minimum of 300kts on the first pass before performing a series of aerobatic manoeuvres as a 4- ship, including loops and wingovers.
Some further passes and an oblique loop places the aircraft right in front of the crowd. And the sound – well it’s just awesome. Three merlin engines, all with slightly different inflections, combined with the deeper roar of the Pratt and Whitney R2800 in the Thunderbolt create something quite unique. At various speeds and wing loadings various whistles and whines of gun ports, superchargers and airflows break through the sounds of the roaring engines. After a few minutes of energetic manoeuvres as a 4-ship the formation positions onto the “B-Axis”, performing a dynamic “break” right in front of the audience.
This is where the excitement notches up a level! The Spitfire and ME109 now start a mock dogfight, with opposition passes at high-speed and low-level. Let’s see who ends up winning the fight! Whilst this is going on, the Thunderbolt and Mustang sneakily disappear and climb for height. Once the winner of the German vs Allied fight is decided, the Thunderbolt and Mustang will perform a series of close formation aerobatic manoeuvres. Having split from the Spitfire and 109, the pair can run significantly more power and fly loops, barrel rolls, half Cubans and quarter clovers, time permitting.
During one of the passes, the Spitfire and 109 will chase the American Pair down and join up during a wingover. A final few passes as a 4-ship will see the whole formation arrive for the Run-In-And-Break Manoeuvre, to set the spacing for landing.
© Darren Harbar
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