Shuttleworth Collection Autumn Air Display Report

Sunday 6th October 2013

As the 2013 UK air display season draws to a close, the organising team and aircraft at The Shuttleworth Collection will be looking forward to some well earned care and maintenance. With no less than nine air displays, three evening displays plus Flying Proms and Aeromodel weekends, the Bedfordshire airfield faced her busiest year yet whilst still squeezing in her 50th Anniversary of opening to the public.

Ian Matthews was on hand for UKAR as the Shuttleworth season drew to a close.

In a constant battle against the British weather, the 'Big Green Time Machine' at Old Warden continues to showcase the cream of aeronautical engineering together with some of the best display pilots in the business. Unfortunately, as soon as the UK forecast takes a turn for the worst, the unique Edwardian and Great War aircraft are left floundering and the audience disappointed at the inevitable gaps in the flying display. This is compounded further when one looks in the hangars and sees the Comet, Spitfire V and Wildcat in various states of readiness and crying out for a slot in the flying programme. Visiting display aircraft in 2013 have been varied - BBMF, Red Arrows, the Hangar 11 Collection and the warbirds at Duxford being strong supporters and give a Shuttleworth display some much needed variety.

So after a turbulent year, it was to the October Air Display that the SVAS faithful hoped to witness their favourite classics in golden autumn light - they were in luck. Blue skies, light cloud and a favourable breeze straight down the runway meant that the full might of Shuttleworth could be unleashed.

There was a dramatic start to the proceedings. Not just stunning airmanship by Chris Heames in the 1948 Eon Primary glider, but following take off with the Lysander and Sea Hurricane, the Gladiator's airspeed indicator wasn't working. The World War Two three ship entered the hold at crowd rear before the Gladiator broke formation and made a steady descent towards the approach. Intercepting and escorting the biplane fighter to a perfect landing was Keith Dennison in the Lysander, calmly calling out his airspeed over the radio. What a hero!

With so many air events during the year it is possible for the outsider to view the Old Warden line-up as a bit stale as there's only so much you can do with the same aeroplanes. So credit to the organisers at Shuttleworth in trying something new - a mini air race around the airfield and surrounding area. Race participants Chilton DW1, Miles Magister, Gemini, Miles Falcon, Comper Swift, Chilton DW1a and Miles Whitney Straight all tussling in the air for position. After a few laps, Anna Walker in the blue Chilton fought her way to the front to finish first, although allegedly with a few sneaky shortcuts along the way. The air race was great fun and well received by the audience.

Visiting displays included Kester Scrope performing stomach churning aerobatics in his Zivko Edge 540 and Peter Davies in the Calidus Gyroplane. The latter routine being poignant as it proceeded to commemorate the death of 'the father of the autogyro' Wing Commander Ken Wallis MBE who passed away in September of this year. From Primary glider, to Chipmunk, to Hawker Hunter; Old Warden pilot Chris Heames went through his own aeronautical evolution to get to North Weald in order to pick up Hunter T.7 WV372 and bring her to Bedfordshire. The II(AC) Squadron marked jet brought a welcome touch of power and noise to the display, with the ex-Team Viper pilot demonstrating his 12000+ hours of flying experience.

The calm conditions lent themselves to another of the traditions at Old Warden with some unique formations of the Collection's aircraft. It was great to see the Avro 504 back in the air and the highlight for many was the flypast of this armed trainer with the Sopwith Pup. The Avro Anson and Spartan Executive made the most of the blue skies for some passes together whilst the Bristol Fighter and SE5a reminded us what a pleasure it is to see these delicate types in the air. With the airfield bathed in late afternoon light the Avro Tutor and Hawker Hind delighted the crowd with some photogenic topside passes.

A personal highlight of the flying display was the inclusion of the Bristol M.1c, the British monoplane scout from the First World War. With a maximum speed some 50mph faster than the comparable German Fokker Eindecker, this 1916 fighter with its 110 horsepower Le Rhône rotary engine had the potential to cause havoc in the skies above the Western Front if the Royal Flying Corps had more faith in monoplanes. In the end only 130 were built, the example at Old Warden being a reproduction.

With the evening breeze just a tad above the limits for the majority of the Edwardian types, it was left to the 1911 Avro Triplane (replica) to close the show and send everyone home in the pleasant October sunshine.

So that was 2013 at The Shuttleworth Collection. When the weather plays ball Old Warden is one of the greatest places on earth for the public to experience the joys of aviation. The combination of unique aircraft, supreme airmanship by its pilots and picturesque setting make the Bedfordshire aerodrome one of the best air display venues in the UK. The seeds of a fruitful 2014 could be seen; the Comet in Hangar 1 undergoing engine checks, the newly arrived Sopwith Camel taking shape and work continuing apace on the Collection's Spitfire. With 2014 marking the 100th Anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, it's busy times ahead for all at Old Warden.