Season Premier at Shuttleworth
Aviation enthusiasts living in the UK really must consider themselves amongst the most fortunate anywhere in the world. Our relatively small nation can boast a multitude of interesting aviation related venues in which to indulge our passion, whilst we can also count on a hectic summer of Airshow activity each year, where some of the world’s rarest and most valuable aircraft can be seen displaying for our enjoyment. These events tend to be crammed into the few short weeks we rather optimistically call summer and whilst we spend many months looking forward to each Airshow season, the weather will always have a huge bearing on proceedings and determine the success or failure of any such event. Over the course of the past two editions of Aerodrome, we have attempted to bring readers a sample of the atmosphere at this year’s Flying Legends Airshow, one of the world’s most significant Warbird shows and one which was celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to e-mail us let us know how much you enjoyed these reviews and to remind everyone that if you attend any aviation related event this year, please do send us your photographs for use in one of our popular ‘Readers Pictures’ editions. Most of us are only able to attend a limited number of events each year and it is always interesting to see what everyone else has been getting up to.
In this latest edition of Aerodrome, we are going to stay with the subject of the 2017 Airshow season and head back to an event from earlier this year, which heralded the start of the current display season. The first major Airshow in any year is always one which enthusiasts view with great excitement, as it marks the end of another long hard winter and the prospect of seeing many more aeroplanes in the months to come. It is also one which must have the show organisers crossing their fingers even more than usual, with the weather more than capable of playing havoc with all their planning and reminding everyone that summer is not with us just yet. The show that had the honour of proclaiming the Airshow season open this year was the Season Premier Show organised by the Shuttleworth Collection and Aerodrome heads for the delightful surroundings of Old Warden airfield to review this significant event.
Biplanes over Bedfordshire
The Shuttleworth Collection’s De Havilland DH 60X Moth and Miles Magister
If Duxford airfield is one of the most enigmatic aviation venues to witness the display of WWII Warbirds, the nearby grass aerodrome at Old Warden must be considered amongst the most intimate. Hidden away in the rolling Bedfordshire countryside, Old Warden airfield is home to the world famous Shuttleworth Collection of aircraft, vehicles, motorcycles and agricultural machinery, with many exhibits being extremely rare or the only remaining examples of their type in existence. From the aviation enthusiast’s perspective, Old Warden is home to an impressive collection of historic aircraft, many of which are maintained in airworthy condition and regularly flown at Shuttleworth organised events throughout the year. From the Bleriot XI monoplane of 1909 to the Piston Provost T.1 from the early 1950s, the Shuttleworth Collection charts the development of aviation from the very earliest days of flight and includes several examples of aircraft that fought during the air battles of both World Wars.
The many Airshows that take place at Old Warden have taken on almost a mythical status amongst aviation enthusiasts and once you have been lucky enough to attend one of these magnificent shows, it is highly likely that you will already be hooked for life. In the relatively confined surroundings of this delightful grass aerodrome, visitors are free to walk amongst the aircraft, pilots and engineers as they prepare their charges to take part in the day's flying programme and are only too happy to engage in conversation about their work. Whilst walking around the airfield, you are regularly forced to give way to a succession of historic aircraft being pushed from their hangar to the airfield in a manner that really does recreate a feeling of aviation nostalgia from a golden era of flight. Everything just seems to take place much closer to the crowds than at other venues, leaving you feeling completely immersed in the day’s activities and coming away with a memorable aviation experience.
The beautiful Gloster Gladiator was unable to take part in the Season Premier show
The Old Warden site first operated as a private airfield back in September 1932 and whilst it has played host to a great many Airshows, fly-ins and open days since this date, I am unsure as to when the first such event actually took place. It would be interesting to find out the date when this happened, so if any Aerodrome reader can enlighten us regarding these details, please do drop us a line and we will certainly include the information in a forthcoming edition of our blog. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of attending a Shuttleworth show for many is how close to the crowd these magnificent aircraft are allowed to perform compared to other shows. With safety still very much at the forefront of everything that takes place, these magnificent aircraft are expertly displayed in front of appreciative crowds who have the opportunity to enjoy a flying display without the need to stare through the lens of a telescope. From the early biplanes of the Edwardian era, to the much more muscular Gladiator and Hurricane from the Second World War, this is surely how all historic Airshows should be performed and certainly has the crowds flocking back to Old Warden.
First of the many
The chance to get close to historic aeroplanes is a major attraction at Old Warden
The popularity of the regular Airshow events at Old Warden has certainly gathered momentum over the years as increasing numbers of enthusiasts have discovered the delights of this atmospheric venue. Anyone who has been lucky enough to experience these shows over a number of years will certainly have noticed the ever increasing attendance figures in recent times, as this venue that was once thought by many to be the best kept secret in the world of historic aviation has become much more popular, keeping its regular supporters whilst also finding many new devotees with each passing show . It has also seen the number of annually arranged events increase steadily over the years, to a point where Old Warden is now a major force on the UK Airshow circuit, with a significant number of events taking place throughout the year, each one attracting many thousands of visitors to this Bedfordshire airfield.
With the first Shuttleworth Airshow taking place on Sunday 7th May this year, Old Warden would have the honour of marking the start of the 2017 UK Airshow season and with an unusually encouraging weather forecast for the day, many enthusiasts took this opportunity to get the first show of the year under their belts, hoping that their photographic skills had not deserted them over a long winter of inactivity. With such an impressive collection of airworthy aircraft housed within the historic hangars at Old Warden, the organisers can quite easily put together an impressive show consisting solely of home based aeroplanes, but with a number of high-profile visitors scheduled for the Season Premier, this was simply to good a show to miss.
Hawker Demon K8203 is one of the Airshow regulars at Old Warden
With so many show highlights to choose from and most people having their own particular aviation tastes, I have decided to split this review into a number of defined aviation sections, with an emphasis on imagery and keeping text to a minimum. I hope I manage to produce an interesting account of this enjoyable show and include at least a couple aircraft that are of interest to you.
Great War in the air
As Britain is currently marking the Centenary of the Great War and preparing for next year’s Centenary of the Royal Air Force, air power from this early era of flight has and will continue to receive significant media attention over the next few months. Boasting some of the most historic WWI period aeroplanes in their impressive collection, most Shuttleworth shows offer the enthusiast the opportunity to see Great War air power taking to the skies once more and marking this important era in aviation history. As one of the most significant sites for Great War aviation in the world, the Shuttleworth Collection can boast such aircraft as the distinctive Sopwith Triplane and impressive Bristol F2B Fighter amongst their charges, with both machines taking to the air during the Season Premier show, providing a fascinating insight into the birth of aerial combat. It is hard to believe that aircraft like these were fighting in the skies over the Western Front almost 100 years ago and the engineers at Shuttleworth still manage to keep these magnificent machines in airworthy condition and displaying for our enjoyment.
The Bristol Fighter was one of the most capable aircraft of the Great War
The introduction of the Sopwith Triplane saw the German Air Service develop the famous Fokker DR.1 fighter
Travelling in style
Although military aviation is a significant draw for any Airshow crowd, Shuttleworth shows can always be relied upon to bring a little culture to their displays and introduce some classic training and passenger aviation types to their programme. The nature of aviation usually dictates that many of these aircraft would also find their way into military service of some description, which was certainly the case with two of the twin engined classics on display at the Season Premier Airshow. De Havilland DH-89A Dominie/Dragon Rapide was originally built as Domini Mk.I X7344 for the Royal Air Force, but was registered to Scottish Airways Limited in 1943, where it flew short range passenger services throughout the UK. This classic aircraft was the subject of a lengthy restoration project at Duxford which began back in 1986 and when it finally emerged to take its place on the UK Airshow scene, it was wearing its original Scottish Airways scheme and civilian registration codes. An impressive sight in the skies above Old Warden, this beautiful aircraft was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the show.
The Miles Gemini was described by its manufacturer as the safest light aeroplane in the world
Avro C19 Anson G-AHKX is representative of a type that served in large numbers during WWII
In its Scottish Airways Ltd scheme, this Rapide is one of the best looking aircraft on the UK Airshow circuit
Air Racing classics
There is one thing that has always driven aircraft designers and airmen alike since the early days of powered flight and that is an almost insatiable desire for speed. When not designing the latest warplanes capable of outrunning any potential enemy, designers were producing racing aeroplanes that could break records and push the boundaries of known aviation technology. To many, these aircraft were on the cutting edge of aviation, flown only by the most accomplished airmen and unforgiving in their handling characteristics, nevertheless they captured the imagination of the general public who were fascinated by these futuristic looking machines and the charismatic pilots who flew them.
Amongst the jewels in Shuttleworth’s aviation crown, the striking De Havilland D.H 88 Comet racer was designed to take part in the 1934 London to Melbourne air race, making its first flight only eleven days before the start of the race. Wearing a smart scarlet red colour scheme and carrying the name Grosvenor House after the owner's London hotel, this was one of three D.H Comets to take part in the race, but was the aircraft that emerged victorious, posting a time of 71 hours and 18 seconds for the journey. This historic machine is the actual aircraft that took part and won the MacRobertson Trophy back in 1934 and as it is still flying today, has to be considered as one of the world’s most significant historic aircraft. Extremely photogenic, the Comet marks an exciting period in British aviation history and is the only airworthy example of the type in the world, only emerging from its latest period of restoration at Shuttleworth in August 2014.
Shuttleworth’s DH 88 Comet is one of the most significant aircraft in their collection
This was the actual aircraft that won the 1934 London to Melbourne air race
The record breaking Percival Mew Gull racing aeroplane
Classic racing aeroplanes on display at Old Warden
On Silvered Wings
The inter-war period of British military aviation is a source of fascination for many enthusiasts and saw the introduction of some of the most distinctive aircraft designs, which were presented in delightfully flamboyant colour schemes. Free from the restrictions of conflict, the RAF were able to field aircraft that not only represented the very pinnacle of current biplane technology, but were also amongst the most attractive aeroplanes ever to take to the skies. Representing a specific period in aviation history when these handsome and capable biplanes ruled the skies, their dominance would prove to be short-lived, as modern monoplane fighters were already appearing on the drawing boards of aircraft designers around the world.
As the polished metal and colourful squadron markings would soon be replaced by the camouflage of war, it is no wonder that the British biplanes of the 1930s are still viewed with such affection and Old Warden is again one of the most important venues in the world where enthusiasts can see several airworthy examples of these beautiful aircraft at close quarters. With a Hawker Hind, Hawker Demon and Gloster Gladiator all in the collection, these aircraft represent something of a golden era for British aviation and regularly display to the delight of an adoring public.
The Hawker Demon marks a golden era for RAF fighter design
The Beast of Bedfordshire
As I have already mentioned, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of attending any air display at Old Warden is how close spectators feel to the flying action. Even though many of the Collection’s aircraft are rather diminutive single engined designs, they are allowed to fly in such a manner that everyone gets a clear view of the aeroplane and can appreciate both the beauty of the design and the skill of the display pilot. This feature makes it especially enjoyable when slightly larger aircraft are on the display listing for a Shuttleworth show and this first display of the year promised an experience that was not to be missed – a display by a WWII Consolidated Catalina.
The Catalina was arguably the most successful flying boat of the Second World War and saw action in most theatres of operation, mounting long range maritime patrols, searching for enemy submarines, or helping to rescue downed airmen. The magnificent aircraft which displayed at Old Warden is presented in the markings of a USAAF 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron Catalina, which flew out of Halesworth airfield in Suffolk during the early part of 1945, charged with locating downed airmen who were forced to ditch their aircraft in the North Sea. This aircraft on which this scheme is based was actually destroyed by a pair of Messerschmitt Me262 jet fighters after suffering a heavy sea landing whilst attempting to rescue a downed US airman - unable to take off, the Catalina was a sitting duck for the Luftwaffe pilots, who raked it with machine gun fire, inflicting significant damage on the aircraft.
The Catalina was without doubt the most impressive aircraft on the programme and despite its size, coped admirably with the relatively confined display area of the airfield. Possessing much greater agility than you would expect from such a large aeroplane, the Catalina put on a memorable display for the gathered masses, casting a huge shadow on the grass during several of its low passes and leaving many to feel that this was by far the most enjoyable venue to watch this mighty aircraft display.
The mighty Catalina proved to be an impressive performer at the show
For a large aeroplane, the Catalina is surprisingly agile
A sight for sore eyes – downed airmen would have been relieved to see this sight
WWII Air Power
Although any Shuttleworth air display can always boast an impressive line-up of historic aviation types spanning the history of flight, for many enthusiasts it is the opportunity to see WWII aircraft at close quarters that keeps us coming back time after time. With Old Warden playing host to Britain’s only airworthy Westland Lysander and Hawker Sea Hurricane, the WWII compliment has further increased recently with the arrival of two Hawker Hurricane fighters, making the airfield a significant venue for this famous British fighter and workhorse of the Battle of Britain. These aircraft will soon be joined by the Collection’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc AR501, which is currently nearing the end of a 12 year restoration project and will hopefully make its first post restoration flight in the very near future.
Joining the home based WWII aircraft, the Season Premier Airshow could also boast a pair of visiting Spitfires taking their place on the display programme, which were Duxford Based Spitfire Mk.Ia N3200 and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Mk.XVIe TE311. As you can see from the pictures below, TE311 turned up in an extremely unusual presentation, as it displayed devoid of markings and just wearing primer paint – the aircraft is due to receive a new paint scheme in the near future, which will make the pictures of its Old Warden display appearance all the more interesting in the years to come.
The Westland Lysander is without doubt one of the most distinctive aircraft of WWII
This shot shows the unique wing shape of the Lysander
The classic lines of the incomparable Supermarine Spitfire
Unusually, this BBMF Spitfire displayed in just a coat of primer paint
The Hawker Sea Hurricane IB has been an Old Warden resident for many years
Famous Hawker Hurricane R4118 saw service during the Battle of Britain
The sight of Hurricane tail chases will now be a feature of future Shuttleworth shows
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome. Any readers who have been fortunate enough to attend an Airshow at Old Warden will probably share my affection for the venue and will no doubt be planning a return to the airfield in the very near future. With the prospect of Spitfire AR501 taking to the air once more in the coming weeks, the crowds at Shuttleworth shows are certainly not going to be getting any smaller in the years to come and we may even bump into one another at a future show. Until then, I hope this Shuttleworth Season Premier review has been of interest.
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We look forward to posting our next blog on Friday 8th September – see you all then.
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