The late May Bank Holiday saw the return of the Wings and Wheels show at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome. Stow Maries is one of the most unique flying display venues in the UK taking place in front of the remarkably preserved First World War buildings that are preserved at the site. Wings and Wheels brings together aviation and classic motoring in a very special garden party atmosphere.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Thanks to its isolation amongst farmland in the Essex countryside, Stow Maries is a unique aviation heritage site with its original First World War era buildings that have survived for over a century. The aerodrome was built as part of the UK’s fledgling air defence system and was home to 37 Squadron from 1916 to 1919. Aircraft from Stow Maries played a key role during the first London ‘Blitz’ intercepting long range bombers and airships from the Imperial German armed forces. In 1918, Stow Maries was transferred from the Royal Flying Corps to the new Royal Air Force before it was closed 1919. The land was then returned to agriculture.
It is a special place whatever the weather, but with the particularly fine weather this year it was perfect arena for a relaxed day of vintage and classic motoring plus a colourful flying display. It is a hidden gem amongst UK flying display venues offering audiences a close up view of flying displays similar to that experienced at the Shuttleworth Collection, but in a much more compact area. The choice of display aircraft is sympathetic to the venue too featuring a very eclectic mix of some of the lighter display aircraft on the UK circuit.
Opening the display was perhaps the Aerodrome’s most well-known residents, the World War One Aviation Heritage Trust. For the 2023 show they demonstrated their RAF BE2e reproduction alongside John Gilbert’s Nieuport 17 replica. The BE2e is particularly pertinent to Stow Maries as it was one of the types operated by 37 Squadron as a night fighter from the aerodrome between 1916 and 1919.
Later Royal Air Force history came later in the flying programme with the return of David Bramwell and his Old Warden based Miles Magister. However, on this occasion he was joined by another Old Warden based aircraft, the Isaacs Fury II. This particular Fury is owned by Jonathon Marten-Hale and also wears the bright yellow of pre-war RAF training aircraft making it an ideal companion to the Magister. The Isaacs Fury is a 7/10th scale replica of the 1930’s Hawker Fury fighter aircraft and is a popular homebuilt aircraft.
More 1930’s elegance came from the Percival Mew Gull reproduction G-HEKL flown by owner David Beale. The Mew Gull was undoubtedly the most potent aircraft in the flying programme and look superb in the spring sunshine as it powered around the crowdline.
Second World War aviation was remembered with a display from Tom Turner in his Piper L4 Grasshoppper. The L4 Grasshopper played an important role after the D-Day Landings as an airborne observation platform for allied artillery as well as being used for liaison missions. Tom gave a superb account of the L4’s agility and slow speed capabilities helped by the fresh breeze coming off the North Sea.
As well as the solo displays, two formation teams took part in the flying programme. The Duxford based Flying Comrades team of Phil Hardisty and Alex Lewton presented an eye-catching duo display with a pair of Yakovlev Yak-52s.
Providing the perfect finale to a wonderful afternoon at Stow Maries were the colourful Stampe Formation Team. Flying three Stampe SV4, pilots Richard Ward, Richard Meredith and Roger Bishop flew a lovely routine of formation passes, breaks and tailchase flying in the blue skies. Their display was concluded with a solo display by Richard Ward highlighting the superb aerobatic qualities of the Stampe which made it a favourite amongst competition pilots.
Well done to all the pilots, car owners and the Stow Maries volunteers for another relaxed but hugely enjoyable day out.