The preserved Great War Aerodrome at Stow Maries opened its 2021 events programme on the May Bank Holiday weekend with its annual Wings and Wheels show. Alongside the superbly preserved First World War buildings, visitors were able to enjoy a fine selection of classic cars and a small garden party flying display for a superb family day out.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Stow Maries is a gem of preservation. It is home to the largest collection of Royal Flying Corps buildings that have been left almost untouched since the First World War. The aerodrome was opened in 1916 to house 37 (Home Defence) Squadron protecting London and the South East from Zeppelin and Gotha bombing raids. 37 Squadron played a key role during ‘The First Blitz’ in 1917 and were absorbed into the Royal Air Force on the 1st April 1918. The next year RAF Stow Maries was declared surplus to requirements and closed. The land returned to agriculture with many of the buildings kept for civilian purposes.
In 2009, the site was designated a conservation area and in 2012 all 24 buildings were given Grade II listed status. The same year the site was acquired by a charitable trust which has preserved the site superbly developing it as a valuable heritage centre. As well as its heritage role, Stow Maries is once again an active airfield hosting several private aircraft as well as the World War One Aviation Heritage Trust Collection.
Each year the trust hosts a handful of special events to promote the site. In 2021 it opened its season with Wings and Wheels. As the name suggests, the day saw aviation and historic motoring to the fore with a number of car clubs exhibiting their wares around the site. Alongside the flying display aircraft, there was a small vintage fly-in which included a de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser plus a very lively Patterson Z-1RA Stummelflitzer.
The flying display had a really charming ‘garden party’ style to it help enormously by some rare warm summer weather and a compact display area. Much of the flying had a colourful 1920’s and 1930’s vibe to it such delights as David Beale’s stunning Percival Mew Gull replica and David Bramwell’s Miles Magister flying elegant routines. Capturing the attention of the crowd were the barnstorming antics of the Tiger Club’s Turbulent Display Team with their flour bombing and balloon bursting.
No display at Stow Maries would really be complete without First World War heritage. A familiar aircraft was the 7/8th Scale replica RAF SE5a flown by John Gilbert. This aircraft was built by the late Des Biggs who was one the founding members of the Great War Display Team and displayed it for many years at air shows across the UK and Europe.
The star of the afternoon was the World War One Aviation Heritage Trust’s Albatross DVa flown by Shuttleworth chief engineer, Jean-Michel Munn. This stunning reproduction was built in New Zealand by the Vintage Aviator Ltd and represents the aircraft of Bavarian pilot Otto Kissenberth who commanded Jasta 23b and claimed 23 victories. The level of detail is superb and it is powered by a modern reproduction of the original Mercedes Benz engine. Despite some tricky crosswinds, Jean demonstrated the aircraft superbly showing off the ‘lozenge’ camouflage wings and the eye-catching edelweiss artwork on the side of the all-black fuselage.
The flying was concluded with the Red Sparrows display team flying a trio of de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10’s in their red and white RAF training liveries. The team flew a series of passes for the crowd in different formation before spectacular final break.
Stow Maries really is a very special place, particularly for such a relaxed and enjoyable event like Wings and Wheels. The trust hopes to run more events this summer and will announce those soon.