The first of the Shuttleworth Collection’s Evening airshows open with the ‘Spies and Intrigue’ event in mid-May. The show featured aircraft with links with various special operations throughout the earliest days of aviation through to the Cold War.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Just outside Sandy a few miles away from Old Warden is the site of the former RAF Tempsford. During the Second World War, this was one of the most secretive airfields in the UK as it was a staging post for many operations by the Special Operation Executive. Various squadrons operated from the base, but most famously 138 (Special Duties) and 161 (Special Duties) Squadrons were based at the airfield transporting agents and supplies into occupied Europe. Old Warden’s location close to Tempsford makes it a very apt location for a show celebrating aviation’s link to special operations.
The weather would unfortunately prove to be a major influence on the day. The morning and early afternoon were pretty miserable with a grey overcast and intermittent spells of light rain. As the afternoon progressed, the rain clouds did break and the winds dropped allowing the visiting displays to reach Old Warden. By late afternoon there were periods of glorious sunshine which did continue into the evening. However, the flying display was interrupted by two short periods of quite heavy rain which meant some quick thinking was required to re-jig the flying displays.
One of the surprise participants of the show that flew into Old Warden for a few minutes before the main displays was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10 WG486. This aircraft was for a time based at RAF Gatow in West Berlin as part of the BRIXMIS (British Commanders’-in-Chief Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany) operations. Collection pilot John Hurrell flew in these clandestine operations and gave the day’s Pilot chat over the commentary radio transmission.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also made an early contribution to the flying display with some flypasts from the pair of Supermarine Spitfire Vb and Spitfire XVIe flown by Sqn Ldr Mark Discombe and Flt Lt Andy Preece.
The first of the themed displays of the evening looked at Army Co-operation flying with a trio of Taylorcraft Austers. Opening the sequence was Richard Ellingworth’s Auster IV MT197 which represented the Second World War Auster operations wearing its invasion strips. Auster operations continued after the war and these were presented by the pair of Auster JN1 flown by Mark Miller and Kevin Hale’s Auster AOP6 which flew in close formation. Later in the evening there was a second Army Cooperation slot, this time focussed on the exploits of the Piper L4 Grasshopper with a pairs display from Tom Turner and Jean Munn.
Another visiting aircraft fitting into the Spies and Intrigue theme was the Spartan 7W Executive flown by Bob Morcom. This is an Old Warden regular, particularly as part of the Race Day events. However, the type was used on clandestine photo-reconnaissance flights over Germany in the late thirties making it a very apt addition to the event.
The highlight of the evening was the return of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Westland Lysander IIIA which joined the Collection’s example to reprise the duo display seen at the 2019 May Evening air display. The pairing is particularly apt as 161 (SD) Squadron flew the type from Tempsford flying agents into and out of occupied Europe. It was also the debut of the ARCo Lysander carrying the Stub Wings and bomb racks mounted on the undercarriage legs. Fitted to the Lysanders that fought in the Battle of France, these are thought to be the only Lysander stub wings in existence. Sadly, the Lysanders display was somewhat truncated by the arrival of a very heavy rain shower forcing an early return to Duxford for John Romain in the ARCo example. That rain also meant the appearance by the Collection’s Spitfire Vc and Gloster Gladiator was cut down to just a take-off and landing.
Despite the rain interruptions, the Shuttleworth Collection did manage to fly a good number of its own aircraft. The early First World War aircraft trio of Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Triplane and Avro 504k managed to fly in some of the best light. The 504k’s training successor, the Avro Tutor also flew a solo display. Both the EON Primary and Fauvel AV36 gliders also managed to find gaps in the cloud too. The Fauvel piloted by Graham Saw reprised its close formation routine with the Piper Super Cub tow aircraft seen for the first-time last year.
The ’Barnstorming’ sequence also returned just beating the final rain shower of the evening. The display featured flour-bombing and limbo flying by the de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, the Miles Magisters of the Collection and David Bramwell, the Southern Martlet and de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk. The Chipmunk also attempted some ribbon cuts though the passing rain shower didn’t really help!
Once the last rain shower had cleared through, the skies over Old Warden for a short time were really magical with some really dramatic cloudscapes illuminated by the setting sun. The first aircraft to venture into the clearing skies was the Percival Provost T1 which performed some graceful aerobatics. The main part of the flying display was brought to a close by the trio of de Havilland DH88 Comet, Percival Mew Gull and Miles Hawk Speed Six. The emotive sights and sounds of these 1930’s racers powering around the darkening skies is one of many reasons Shuttleworth’s evening shows are such a special part of the UK airshow season each and long may that continue.
But the evening was about to become that bit more special. Usually, any sort of bad weather pretty much writes off the chance to see the Edwardians fly. However, the light winds dropped off completely after the final rain shower and there was just enough time before darkness to fly both the Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite. A reward for all the crowd that stayed on through the earlier interruptions and the perfect way to sign off another special evening at Old Warden.