The Shuttleworth Collection opened its flying season over the May Bank Holiday weekend with the Season Premiere Airshow. While sadly the Museum and other Shuttleworth indoor attractions remained closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Season Premiere presented many of the collection’s aircraft in the air alongside some visiting favourites.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
2020 saw the Shuttleworth Collection pioneer the ‘Drive-In’ airshow format in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a break-through moment for airshows during a very difficult time which could have seen an entire season lost. Not only did it start a line of income for the collection once again, it also meant that skills and currency were kept up to date whether it was flying the aircraft or simply those required to run large events. The visiting public also saw some advantages in them too with the assurance of some personal space and the use of FM transmission for the commentary.
Despite the additional organisational and financial challenges the Drive-in format presents, Shuttleworth took an early decision to retain Drive-ins until at least August 2021. This has proved to be a very wise decision given the way restrictions are due to be eased in the UK Government’s roadmap. The Season Premiere was a sell out event and that showed on arrival with many more cars waiting in the ‘Dover Lanes’ for their turn to head to the admission gates which did lead to some delays. Once inside, the paddock too felt that much busier compared with the 2020 Drive-In airshows. People were allowed to walk around the paddock before the flying displays to view the aircraft on the ground as well as some other ground attraction. There were also a handful of traders close to the hangars though the museum remained closed (and will do so until after May 17th.)
The weather for the most part stayed on side too with just a couple of very light showers drifting over Old Warden during the flying period. Sadly however, weather conditions was deemed just out of limits for any flying by the Edwardians towards the end of the day.
The displays were opened by a very spirited display by Paul Warren Wilson in the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. The Catalina was following by more visitors, this time the Spitfire XVIe and Vb of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The BBMF like all other Royal Air Force displays are still working towards their 2021 Public Display Authorisation so the pair just flew a ‘flypast profile’ of three passes before heading home.
Many Shuttleworth favourites appeared during the afternoon. The Fauvel AW26 and EON Primary Gliders returned to skies though it was possibly quite a very wet trip for the Primary pilot who displayed just as one of the showers passed through. Solo displays came from the Comper Swift, Southern Martlet, Gloster Gladiator and Supermarine Spitfire Vc. There was also a nod to the Special Operations theme that will be the main theme of the next Old Warden air display with the pairing of the Westland Lysander and Polikarpov Po-2. The ‘racers’ also stretched their legs with the de Havilland DH88 Comet and Miles Hawk Speed Six pounding around some dramatic skyscapes.
Many of the First World War aircraft also flew with the Sopwith Triplane, Avro 504k, Sopwith Camel and Bristol M1c all taking to sky. However, it was the Bristol F2b Fighter that was the star of the WW1 displays. The ‘BrisFit’ has been absent from the Collection’s airshows for well over a year as it went through some deep maintenance. It returned to airworthiness earlier this year having been recovered and now wears the colours of 22 Squadron .
However, much of the Collection’s own contributions celebrated the 85th Anniversary of the formation of RAF Training Command on the 1st May 1936. The Avro Tutor and de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth opened the theme not only marking pre-Second World War training but also the early aerobatic teams of the Central Flying School. More 1930’s style came from the Miles Magisters of the Collection and David Bramwell.
Expanding the training theme into the Second World War was the Noorduyn Harvard IIb from Hurricane Heritage/Ultimate Aerobatics. This very attractive aircraft has appeared at Old Warden before but the Season Premiere saw the aircraft in the hands of James Brown who was performing his first public display. James is also owner and a pilot of Hurricane I R4118 is often seen in the skies of Duxford and White Waltham where his aircraft are based. Despite being a little unlucky with an approaching shower, James gave a very fine routine of aerobatics before some close-in passes for the crowd.
The training theme finished with a look at Post War training aircraft the Collection’s de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk and an aerobatic routine from the Percival Provost T1.
The finale to the afternoon’s flying display came from Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon flown by John Romain. The aircraft has recently been involved in a major filming project alongside other Buchons and Bf108s. For that filming it has received a temporary paint scheme representing the Bf109s of Jagdgeschwader 27 in the North African desert. The ‘mottled’ desert camouflage looked superb illuminated by the late afternoon sun.
The Season Premiere featured some very memorable displays and was most definitely a solid start to the 2021 Display Season. It hopefully heralds a much more prosperous year for the airshow community now that life appears well established on the long road back to normality. There also much more to look forward to at Old Warden another nine flying displays planned through to October.