The 2023 UK Display Season got underway during the coronation weekend with events at Duxford and Old Warden. The latter held its traditional Season Premiere Airshow with over three hours of flying displays from the Shuttleworth Collection fleet and visiting aircraft. Amongst the displays were some firsts and some very welcome returnees to the display circuit.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
With Shuttleworth’s first airshow of the season coinciding with the Coronation Weekend, it was little surprise that the event took on a regal theme dubbed the ‘King & Country Airshow.’ The theme really suits the Shuttleworth Collection which celebrates some of the very best of British engineering and achievements within aviation.
While much of the Coronation weekend saw unsettled weather, the show day on the Sunday was near perfect for the airshow with cloud dappled blue skies and a light wind. The poor weather in the lead up to the event did however mean that the Collection’s heavier aircraft such as the Spitfire, Sea Hurricane and Anson were unable to use the grass runways.
The show opened with a very brief banner tow by the Collection’s Piper Super Cub. It was perhaps kept brief as some of the letters that spelt ‘God Save the King’ were upside-down or back-to front! Following on were the Collection’s stunning trio of racers; the de Havilland DH88 Comet, Percival Mew Gull and Miles Hawk Speed Six. The sight of these three potent racing aircraft from the 1930’s cavorting around the Bedfordshire skies is always one to behold and a perfect starting point for a patriotic afternoon of flying.
As ever, the flying display saw many solo displays and combines from the Collection’s fleet of vintage aircraft. The 1930’s theme was continued with the Avro Tutor pairing up with the de Havilland DH51 ‘Miss Kenya’ while the RCAF DHC-1 Chipmunk performed aerobatics overhead with red, while and blue streamers trailing from the fuselage and wingtips. Another very patriotic formation saw red, white and blue painted in the skies by the de Havilland DH60X Moth, Southern Martlet and David Cyster’s DH82a Tiger Moth. Vintage gliders were also on show with the EON Primary and Letov LF-107 Luňák with other solo displays coming from the Collection’s own Tiger Moth and the Polikarpov Po-2.
The First World War aircraft also featured well with two displays from the Bristol F2b Fighter during the afternoon plus the Sopwith Triplane, RAF SE5a and Sopwith Pup. While the Spitfire and Hurricane remained on the ground, the Collection’s Mercury-powered duo of Westland Lysander III and Gloster Gladiator gave some superb displays to represent the Collection’s Second World War aircraft.
However, it was the ‘visiting’ aircraft that really stood out. The display included a solo display from de Havilland Chipmunk T10 WP903. This was the very aircraft used by the Royal Air Force to provide flying lessons to King Charles III between 1968 and 1970. For that task, it was given a bright red colour scheme and a much larger anti-collision beacon on the aircraft canopy. The aircraft was also used to provide flying training to other members of the Royal Family including the Duke of Kent and the late Queen’s cousins Prince Michael and Prince William to fly. In 1979, the aircraft was assigned to the Royal Navy grading flight for Prince Andrew’s pilot training. The aircraft subsequently served as a glider tug for the Culdrose Gliding Club before being acquired by its Current owner, the Henlow Chipmunk Group in late 2001. Since the closure of RAF Henlow in 2020, the owners have based the aircraft at Old Warden.
It was wonderful to the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight back in the skies over Old Warden with Avro Lancaster B1 PA474. Despite missing out on flying over London for the Coronation flypast, it had been a busy week for the Lancaster which returned to the Netherlands and Belgium on the 4th May to mark various commemorations. At Old Warden Flt Lt Seb Davey gave three epic flypasts around Old Warden’s dog-legged crowdline.
One of the latest additions to UK’s growing collection of airworthy historic military helicopters also made it public display debut at the show. Westland Lynx AH7 XZ179 is the second example of the type to be returned to flight on the civilian register following Historic Helicopter’s example – XZ616. XZ179 is operated by Project Lynx XZ179 and was restored at North Weald Aerodrome in Essex by Weald Aviation Ltd. The project to restore the Lynx to flight began in late 2019 and by Spring 2021 the aircraft had been ground run for the first time. The First hovers were achieved in December 2021 and the aircraft flew again in February 2022. The Project Lynx team also have an ex-Royal Navy Lynx HMA8 ZD252 under restoration to flight. At Old Warden, Lynx AH7 XZ179 was put through a very punchy display which was greatly appreciated by the audience.
Making a very welcome return to the display circuit was Fairey Swordfish I W5856 flown by Glenn Allison. For many years, this aircraft was part of the military Royal Navy Historic Flight based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. Today she is still based at Yeovilton but is operated on the civilian register by the NavyWings Heritage Flight following disbandment of the RNHF. She has been absent from the display circuit for several years while a few issues were rectified. However, she made her first flight on the civilian register in August 2022 ahead of a testing program to gain her full CAA certification. Her sister Swordfish, LS326, is also under the care of NavyWings and is currently under restoration. Alongside the flight’s other aircraft such as the Seafire she looks to have a busy season ahead appearing at several major airshows. Amongst the guests at the show was 99 year old David Berry, a veteran WWII Swordfish gunner who talked vividly about his experiences of flying the Swordfish on operations to the show commentary team.
The finale to the main flying was a display from the Parachute Regiment’s Red Devils Army Parachute Display Team. Their jump included some spectacular canopy relative work, their enormous 2000 square foot union flag and some very dramatic landings in front of the crowd.
Capping off a perfect Old Warden day were flights from the Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite replicas plus a short hop or two from the English Electric Wren. After what has proved to be a challenging winter for the Shuttleworth Trust with many changes, the success of the Season Premiere ‘King and Country’ Airshow is a sign of brighter times ahead at Old Warden which remains a jewel on the air display circuit and for aviation heritage in general.