The Shuttleworth Collection stages some of the most special airshows in the UK each year. However, given favourable weather, it is the Evening Airshows that are the most magical. The cooler conditions and low winds tempt out some of the Collection’s most unique aircraft as they are set against colourful early evening skies. The first such event of 2019 not only had the right conditions, it also boasted some wonderful visiting aircraft including the Aircraft Restoration Company’s newly restored Westland Lysander IIIa which as making its UK public flying display debut.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The Shuttleworth Collection’s series of air displays throughout the summer are all very special. Each celebrates different themes with some unique line-ups. However, it is the evening airshows that show off the magic of Old Warden at its very best. The first evening airshow of 2019 did just that despite a grey start. The display featured not only the Collection’s own fleet, but also incorporated some very special visitors for a very eclectic three hours of flying.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight have become a regular site at Old Warden and opening the evening’s flying with three flypasts from their Supermarine Spitfire XVIe TE331 flown by Squadron Leader Mark Sugden.
Like all Shuttleworth shows much of the line-up was home based and there were some familiar themes. Vintage gliders are now an established favourite at any Old Warden show and EON Primary and Fauvel AW36 took centre stage at this event. Training aircraft are also well represented with a dedicated section of the flying featuring the Blackburn B2, de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, Avro Tutor and Miles Magister.
The Collection is also home to a unique collection from the Lympe Light Aircraft Trials and that section provided one of the many highlights of the evening. The Hawker Cygnet is a relatively regular sight in Old Warden skies but the slightly ungainly looking English Electric Wren hasn’t been seen from sometime. It is an aircraft that has struggled with engine performance and previously had to be launched via a bungee rope for just a short hop down the runway. Over the winter, the Shuttleworth engineers have worked on the aircraft and in particular its engine. The result was one of the highlights of the evening as pilot Pete Hackett gave a full display in Wren completing several passes up and down the display line in the early twilight.
There was another Shuttleworth first from the First World War segment of the flying. The Collection is home to three stunning late production aircraft from the Great War built by the Northern Aeroplane Workshops over many years. For the first time these aircraft comprising of the Sopwith Triplane, Bristol M1c and Sopwith Camel flew together.
Another unique Shuttleworth trio flew towards the end of the main flying display. These were the glorious 1930’s racing aircraft – the de Havilland DH88 Comet, Percival Mew Gull and Miles Hawk Speed Six. For the first time, the trio flew some formation passes before splitting into solo routines.
Further sporting aviation in the form of aerobatics was represented by a pair of visiting acts. Chris Waddington flew his elegant little Pitts S-1S Special through a routine of classic aerobatics during the early stages of the display. Performing much later on as the skies turned golden was Chris Burkett who gave a sparkling display of modern unlimited aerobatics in his LED equipped Extra 300S.
However, there were two stand out sequences of flying that mixed visiting aircraft with the Collection’s own machines. The first big theme of the evening was Army Cooperation Aircraft. Often, the collection puts together aircraft that normally wouldn’t fly together. It was one of these combinations that opened the theme with the Collection’s somewhat agricultural sounding Polikarpov Po-2 leading Kevin Hale’s Taylorcraft Auster AOP6. The Po-2 could fit into many different themes, but in this case represented the types use as a close support aircraft during conflict on the Eastern Front and latterly during the Korean War.
That unusual combination was followed by perhaps what will become one of the highlights of the whole season with saw the Collection’s Westland Lysander IIIa joined by the recently restored example from the Aircraft Restoration. ARCo’s Lysander V9312 finished in the early war colours of 225 Squadron is the only solely Westlands built example that is airworthy. Built in 1940, it was taken on charge by the RAF in January 1941 at 33 Maintenance Unit, RAF Lyneham. It went on to serve with 613, 225 and 4 Squadrons. In 1942 it suffered an accident and was repaired and converted to serve as a Target Tug. The aircraft was then sent to Canada serving with the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. ARCo found the aircraft in Florida and brought it back to the UK in 2003 and started the restoration project which lasted for 15 Years. It flew in again 2018 and made it first public non-flying appearance at the Goodwood Revival. Lee Proudfoot was at the controls for its flying display debut which saw two Lysanders fly in close company for the first time since 1999.
The other major highlight of the evening was the formation of World War Two fighter. Led by Paul Shakespeare in the Shuttleworth Hawker Sea Hurricane 1b the formation included the Collection’s Supermarine Spitfire Vc flown by Roger Bailey, the Imperial War Museum’s Spitfire Ia flown by Martin Overall and the Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire IXb piloted by Paul Bonhomme. The 20 minute sequence could not have started in a finer way with all four fighter in formation making a sweeping curved pass along the Old Warden crowd-line before splitting into solos. The Sea Hurricane and Spitfire 1a were the first to return as they both share very early Rolls Royce Merlin III power-plants. The OFMC Spitfire IX following with a polished aerobatic solo routine from Paul Bonhomme. His final pass was pure showmanship with the canopy pulled back and waving to the crowd as he curved around Old Warden Park. A final flourish to the sequence came from the Collection’s Spitfire Vc with a short solo illuminated by the sun’s golden rays.
Flying went right on up to official night time with the Edwardians. The Collection’s original Bleriot XI made a welcome return to flying display duties making three hops along the runway. Also display were the Blackburn Monoplane Type D and the Bristol Boxkite ahead some final hops from the Deperdussin.
There are few finer airshow venues than Old Warden and when like on this occasion conditions are perfect there are no more magical flying displays than a Shuttleworth Evening event. They are airshows ‘Unplugged’ ; stripped back to the very basics and very much the richer for it. Just great machines and pilots flying at a superb venue without other distractions.