The Military Airshow is the most popular event in the Shuttleworth year. Even in Drive-In format, it was no less popular selling out a full month ahead of show day. Despite a very poor weather forecast, Old Warden escaped any rain during the flying display period and the capacity audience was rewarded with some great flying and even a public display debut.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The weather forecast was not all that inviting for the 4th July 2021 with lines of heavy and thundery showers across much of the UK. Somehow however, Old Warden manged to avoid almost all of them with the only rain falling on the airfield before and after the scheduled flying displays. Those rain showers did not dent the visiting aircraft roster too much with just the Historic Army Aircraft Flight and Terry Martin’s Wasp HAS1 being weathered in elsewhere in the UK. The weather did however make for quite an imposing backdrop for many of the displays with big shower clouds rolling around Old Warden.
The show opened with the first of the visiting displays with a pair of fighters from the Aircraft Restoration Company. Rather than display together, Martin Overall piloting the Supermarine Spitfire PRXI and Steve Jones in the Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon flew in from Duxford performing their own solo aerobatic routines. Further visiting warbird action came from Flt Lt Mark Long of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flying three flypasts in Hawker Hurricane IIc PZ865.
There was a very full compliment of First World War aircraft on display for the military themed show. Over two sections, the Collection flew its Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Triplane, Sopwith Camel, Bristol F2b Fighter, Avro 504K and Bristol M1C despite a rather choppy wind. Adding to the home-based aircraft, there was also a fine selection of visiting First World War types including David Bremner’s Bristol Scout and John Gilbert’s Neiuport 17 replicas. However perhaps the stand out great war flyer was Roy Palmer’s RAF SE5a reproduction. While it is based at Old Warden, it has seldom been seen at the airshows. Though it is a reproduction aircraft, it is very faithful to the original SE5 design and is powered by a genuine 1918 Wright-Martin Hispano-Suiza Model E engine.
The Shuttleworth Collection is home to a unique collection of former Royal Air Force training aircraft and one of the highlights of the military display was a four-ship of the collection’s aircraft. Led by the de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, the formation featured David Bramwell’s Miles Magister, the de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk and Avro Tutor. With an epic cloudscape, the four trainers performed a delightful and highly memorable formation and tailchase in the Old Warden skies. Kennet Aviation also added to the training theme with a fine solo display from John Beattie in the North American AT-6D Texan while the Collection’s own Percival Provost T1 performed a solo as one of the glider displays climbed to height.
There were two glider displays during the afternoon. Making a welcome return was the sky-blue EON Olympia 2b wearing the colours of the Empire Test Pilots School. However, an outstanding and very punchy aerobatic display came from Graham Saw flying the Letov LF-107 Luňák. This glider was developed in Czechoslovakia during the cold war to prepare pilots for the early generation of jet fighters used in Warsaw Pact air arms. It is very robust and its superb handling meant that in civilian hands, the Luňák became a highly regarded aerobatic performer both at airshows and in competition flying.
‘Special operations’ were highlighted by three Old Warden based aircraft. The Soviet Polikarpov Po-2 and the Westland Lysander IIIa are regular performers at Shuttleworth shows under the ‘special ops’ theme but for this show they were joined by the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog recently aquired by Kennet Aviation and based at Old Warden. This particular aircraft has been in the UK for many years and was owned by the late Justin Needham who took the aircraft to many events. Wearing the markings of the South Vietnamese Air Force, it is an impressive performer and will hopefully be seen at more events under its new owners.
An unusual addition to the military show was the de Havilland DH88 Comet. Though a civilian racing aircraft, the aircraft was evaluated for a number of military roles following the outbreak of the Second World War including a highly improbable mission to assassinate Hitler by bombing his staff car.
What set the 2021 Military Airshow apart was the inclusion of classic UK military helicopters in the display. The Gazelle Squadron made a very welcome to the display circuit with a pairs routine from their eye-catching Royal Navy ‘Sharks’ and Royal Air Force marked Westland Gazelle HT2/3 aircraft. It was however the public display debut of the Westland Sea King HC4 from Historic Helicopters that really caught the attention. Historic Helicopters really is a remarkable civilian organisation in operating multiple marks and examples of the Westland Sea King, a Wessex and a Whirlwind. They have also recently acquired a Westland Widgeon to add to their fleet. The Sea King HC4’s appearance was not just a debut for the airframe itself, but was the first public display by a civilian operated ex-military Sea King. We cannot wait to see further airshow appearances by this and others from the Historic Helicopters fleet.
By the end of the flying display, the weather was once again starting to draw in. However, just beating a very heavy spell of rain was a very fitting ‘Battle of Britain’ finale featuring Collection’s Gloster Gladiator and Supermarine Spitfire Vc alongside Bygone Aviation’s Hawker Hurricane I. After some spirited formation passes, the three fighters split with a shortened solo from the Gladiator before the Spitfire and Hurricane performed some synchronised aerobatics and flypasts together to bring the display to an end.
This was certainly another memorable show from the Shuttleworth Collection team made perhaps that bit more satisfying that the show also beat the weather and presented a nearly-full line-up. Few other shows can match Old Warden for the variety of their historic military line-up with the most delicate First World War pioneers appearing alongside Cold War warriors like the Sea King. We look forward to being back at Old Warden later in the season.