Shuttleworth Evening of Espionage Drive-In Airshow

Shuttleworth Evening of Espionage Drive-In Airshow

As in previous years, the May Evening Airshow at Old Warden was themed around Special Operations. The show brought together both of the UK’s airworthy Lysanders once again plus a gaggle of Cessna Bird Dogs. Another type not usually seen in large number is the Miles Magister, but Shuttleworth managed to attract all of the European based airworthy examples .

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

For 2022, the Shuttleworth Collection has retained the drive-in format for its Evening Shows. With smaller audiences, the Evening shows lend themselves best to the format which does allow people to have picnics in their own space around their car during the evening. While they are called drive-in events, there is no longer the compulsion to stay with your car during the flying display and spectators are free to move down to the fence if they so wish as well as enjoy all the other attractions. However, the rather complex pricing structure for the Drive-ins does mean these events more expensive for the single attendee, even at the super early-bird SVAS rates.

Dubbed ‘The Evening of Espionage Drive-In Airshow’ the flying display reflected the support given to special operations by military air arms. The site of RAF Tempsford is within a few miles of Old Warden. This airfield was one of the most secretive RAF stations as it was used by 138 (Special Duties) and 161 (Special Duties) Squadrons to support SOE and SIS operations on the continent.


The weather was simply sublime for an evening show with gin clear skies and some warm sunshine bathing Old Warden Park. The gentle breeze how did strengthen towards the evening keeping the Edwardians on the ground. Though it was a drive-in show, it was notably busier than the drive-ins last year with some traders, vintage vehicles plus activities in the aircraft paddock before the flying display. Though not part of the flying display, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight returned to Old Warden with de Havilland Chipmunk T10 WK518 which took part in clandestine surveillance missions over Berlin during the Cold War as part of BRIXMIS.


The show was opened by the day’s signature display, the pair of Westland Lysander IIIs from the Shuttleworth Collection and the Aircraft Restoration Company. The pair flown by Jim Schofield and Jon Gowdy gave a very spritely display with close formation and opposition passes before a final tailchase to close their display.

Between the displays themed around espionage were a number of Shuttleworth regulars. There was a really pleasing air racing segment featuring the de Havilland DH88 Comet, Percival Mew Gull, Miles Hawk Speed Six and the Desoutter. Most impressive was the formation of the slightly ungainly and slow Desoutter with the Miles Hawk Speed Six. The Hawk Speed Six  was flown well below the speeds we usually see the sleek racer fly at but was still able to hold station on the wing of the slower aircraft leading the pair.


Also making a return for the 2022 season was the Shuttleworth Barnstorming routine of limbo flying and flour bombing which featured a pair of Miles Magisters, the de Havilland Canada Chipmunk, DH82a Tiger Moth and Southern Marlet.

Several of the Collection’s First World War aircraft flew with the RAF SE5a, Sopwith Pup, Spowith Triplane, Bristol F2b Fighter and Avro 504K all taking to the air. Later military power was demonstrated by the Gloster Gladiator, Supermarine Spitfire Vc, Hawker Sea Hurricane Ib, Avro C19 Anson and Percival Provost T1.


T6 Harvard Aviation’s North American (CCF) Harvard IV ‘Wacky Wabbit’, which is usually seen at Old Warden giving pleasure flights during show days, also gave a very pleasing aerobatic routine in the late afternoon sunshine. It’s desert camouflage really stood out in the golden light in deep blue sky.


Special Operations from the Vietnam War was marked with a pair of Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs. The aircraft, a Cessna O-1A owned by Laurie Gregoire and Kennet Aviation’s O-1E represent aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and South Vietnamese Air Force respectively. Both were beautifully presented complete with dummy underwing phosphorous rockets and large whip aerials.

But perhaps the highlight of the show, and possibly the season for vintage aircraft enthusiasts, was a unique gathering of five Miles Magister trainers. This was certainly the first time in decades that such a large line-up of the type had been seen and flown together. The group consisted of the familiar pair from the Shuttleworth Collection and David Bramwell plus examples from the Real Aeroplane Company based at Breighton, Francesco Baldanza and Richard Santos. The standout aircraft from the group was N3827 which has recently been refurbished at Henstridge in the UK. The day after the display at Old Warden it embarked on the trip to its new home with a historic aircraft collection in the Czech Republic. Considering how rare it is just for the UK based examples to be seen together, this may have been a once in a lifetime opportunity to see all five in one place and certainly something that you would only ever see at the Shuttleworth Collection.


Closing the evening, the display returned to the Shuttleworth Collection’s Westland Lysander III. This time, alongside a vintage Citroen car from the collection, the Lysander performed a re-enactment of an agent drop-off and pick-up in the moonlight twilight. It was a poignant and emotive way to end an excellent evening display that really captured the magic of the Shuttleworth Collection.