Closing the 2018 season of airshows at The Shuttleworth Collection and indeed the UK as a whole was ‘Race Day.’ This unique event celebrates Richard Shuttleworth love of 1920’s and 30’ motorsport and air racing with the “Shuttleworth Sprint” down the main runway plus mock air races and themed flying sequences in the air display. After poor weather curtailed the event somewhat in 2017, this year enjoyed bright conditions and very light winds for a perfect finale to the flying season.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The Shuttleworth Collection has enjoyed an excellent flying display season in 2018 helped enormously by fine weather at all their events. The weather and a number of recent high profile airshows such as the RAF100 Season Premiere have helped expose Old Warden’s airshows to new audiences bringing in larger and larger crowds. However, the events have lost none of their charm or that unique Old Warden atmosphere that mark them out from other airshows.
Race Day is one of the most atmospheric airshows at Old Warden. The day celebrates Richard Shuttleworth’s passion for motor racing, veteran cars and aviation. Joining the aircraft are a large collection of pre-1939 cars. Unlike other Shuttleworth shows, the cars are not just paraded along the crowd-line, but take part in the “Shuttleworth Sprint” down the main grass runway. This is purely for fun and is not timed or competitive but does allow some of the very powerful cars to “stretch their legs” for the public.
In the hangars, there was a chance to see some of 2019 potential airshow stars. The Collection’s own RAF SE5a has been joined by a privately own reproduction. This aircraft was built over 30 years ago but has spent the last ten years on loan to the Memorial Flight Association in France. It has now returned home and is expected to be part of Old Warden airshows in 2019. Also residing in the hangars was the World War One Aviation Heritage Trust’s (WAHT) new Albatros DVa which has just arrived from New Zealand. This aircraft is another amazing reproduction built by the New Zealand based TVAL company and wears the striking black colour scheme of Otto Kissenberth, the commander of Royal Bavarian Jasta 23b. Otto was credited with 20 victories but his flying career was cut short after being shot down by a Sopwith Camel in May 1918. The Albatros will be based with the rest of the WAHT fleet at Stow Maries and is expected to make its display debut during the 2019 season.
Brooklands Museum with its strong ties to Motorsport and Aviation supported the event very well bring not only the Napier-Railton racer, but also their beautiful replica of a Sopwith Tabloid. Equipped with floats, the Tabloid won the 1914 Schneider Trophy air race in the hands of Howard Pixton.
The flying displays over the course of the afternoon celebrated various different famous air race competitions and classes. Kicking off the afternoon was a very elegant “glider race” featuring the Slingsby Kite prototype, Slingsby Petrel and the Slingsby Falcon. While perhaps the most unlikely race of the afternoon, it was certainly pleasing to see three very beautiful vintage gliders fly together.
The first ‘mock race’ of the afternoon was a mixed affair highlighting how the handicap system works. The course was a simple oval shape over the airfield and countryside behind the runway. The race make up was very varied with a selection of aircraft ranging from 1920’s biplanes through to powerful metal mono-planes. It featured the de Havilland DH60 Moth and DH60X Cirrus Moth, the Blackburn B2, Miles Magister, Southern Martlet, Chilton DW1 and the beautiful Spartan 7W Executive. The Air racing is fun to watch, particularly as the more powerful Spartan carved it’s way (seemingly a little unfairly at times) through the pack though those who hope for endless topsides around the dog-legged crowd-line may have felt a little disappointed.
Perhaps the best ‘race’ to watch was the Pitts Special class. This brought together six very different and colourful Pitts Specials for a very fast paced race around the circuit. Unlike the Mock air race which was from a staggered standing start, the Pitts class started in the air from a formation led by a pace aircraft which in this case was a Vans RV4.
Race Day also saw multiple examples of the Comper Swift take to the air for the first time. A total of three were present with the collection’s example joined by two privately owned examples. Though the trio completed a three-ship photo sortie in the morning, only two were able to fly in the flying display.
A break from the air racing came from some of Old Warden’s First World War fleet. Sadly not all made it into the air but the audience was treated to displays from the Sopwith Camel and the Bristol M1C. Seeing these early fighter aircraft in the air with the heady small of castor oil in the air is one of the outstanding attractions of Shuttleworth Collection.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was a solo display by John Romain in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s beautiful and newly restored Supermarine Spitfire PRXI. The display paid tribute to Lettice Curtis. Curtis learned to fly in 1937 but in July 1940 became one of the first women to join the Air Transport Auxiliary flying a huge variety of aircraft from the Tiger Moth through to four engine bombers such as the Halifax, Sterling and Lancaster. Post War she joined the Aeroplane and Armament Experiment Establishment at Boscombe Down as a Flight Test Technician and Observer before joining Fairey aircraft as a Development Engineer. She also became a high accomplished air racing pilot flying her own Foster-Wikner Wicko and a Spitfire XI owned by the American Air Attaché.
Further warbird action marked the Unlimited Air Racing class at the Reno Air Races. This segment of the flying paired up the collection’s own Hawker Sea Hurricane Ib with Anglia Aircraft Restoration’s North American TF-51D Mustang flown by Mark Levy. This particularly Mustang is perhaps more familiar as “Miss Velma” but has now been repainted as “Contrary Mary” of the 84th Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group based at Duxford in 1945.
Another racing series marked in the flying was Formula 1 air racing. This theme involved Catch 22 Racing’s Taylor Titch, a Midget Mustang and Peter Kynsey’s Le Vier Cosmic Wind ‘Ballerina”. F1 racers are very small lightweight racing machines with superb performance. The Le Vier Cosmic Wing in particularly is a spritely performer and following the formation passes with the other two aircraft put on a punchy aerobatic routine.
The King’s Cup is perhaps the most famous of the Air Races held in the UK and continues to be run to this day. In tribute, the Old Warden flying display featured an impressive cavalcade of types associated with the Royal Aero Club’s blue riband event. The aircraft were displayed in order of their performance so started with some of the slower types which included the de Havilland DH60 Moth, de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, Druine D31 Turbulent, Desoutter and Miles Magister. More powerful machinery included the de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk, Miles Messenger, Scottish Aviation Bulldog and Le Vier Cosmic Wind. Closing the sequence were some of the dedicated racer aircraft which have taken part in the King’s Cup with the Miles Hawk Speed Six leading the de Havilland DH88 Comet and Percival Mew Gull.
Perhaps the most original themed piece of flying of the afternoon was the tribute the Schneider Trophy. The Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider was an competition for seaplanes and flying boats which flew a series of time trials over a set course. The trophy was won outright for Great Britain by the Supermarine S6B following wins in the 1927 and 1929 races by the S5 and S6 aircraft. The development of high speed seaplanes for the competition was significant for the understanding of aerodynamics and high performance piston engines. While the Supermarine Spitfire was not directly developed from S5 or S6 aircraft, many of the lessons learnt by RJ Mitchell and the Supermarine designers were put to use in the development of their fighter. The flying display paid tribute to the Trophy with an unusual pairing of Aviat Husky G-WATR and Cessna 172F G-DRAM flying around the race course while Jim Schofield gave an aerobatic display in the Shuttleworth Collection’s Supermarine Spitfire Vc over the top.
The main part of the show was concluded by the “Famous Racers” combination. This saw the de Havilland DH88 Comet lead a pair of Percival Mew Gulls and the Travelair Mystery Ship Type-R. Set against the evening cloudscape, the four-ship of colourful racers was a fitting finale to main “Race Day’ flying.
With light winds, it was a perfect evening to fly some of the Collection’s delicate Edwardian aircraft after the main flying display. Both the Bristol Boxkite replica and the genuine Blackburn Type-D Monoplane flew while the very delicate Deperdussin racer completed a hop along the runway. It was a special display as Roger ‘Dodge’ Bailey flew his final display in the Blackburn as the Collection’s chief pilot. As well as test flying many of the newer aircraft in the Shuttleworth fleet such as the DH88 Comet and Sopwith Camel, ‘Dodge’ has been instrumental in maintaining the unique way the Collection presents aircraft at its displays, particularly against the backdrop of the challenges of new airshow regulations introduced in 2016. Though he is stepping down as Chief Pilot, ‘Dodge’ will continue as a collection display pilot.
The flat calm of a cool autumnal evening with the Edwardians in the air was the perfect send off for the Shuttleworth Collection’s season of airshows and the UK air display season as a whole. ‘Race Day’ is one of the most unique air displays in the UK bringing together all manner of aircraft often overlooked by other airshows and presenting them in an authentic and fun setting. Special mention must also go to the commentary team of Tim Callaway and George Ellis for their light-hearted yet insightful description of the day’s events which was full of stories and first-hand experience.