One of the best loved airshows at Old Warden is the Shuttleworth Collection’s Military Airshow. The show not only showcases its own military aircraft, but also includes a large cohort of visiting displays. After last year’s ‘Fly Navy’ themed display, 2023 saw a more general spread of aircraft covering a variety of themes and stories.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
June was dominated by some very settled and hot weather. That all broke down in time for July with a return to more typical British summer weather best described as ‘unsettled.’ While the Military Airshow escaped rain, it did see some rather fresh, gusty winds which played havoc with the planned flying displays. Those winds were just too much for the earlier, lighter aircraft scheduled to make an appearance. Also, as the winds were straight across the main runway, some of the later, more potent aircraft were also unable to fly.
The show was opened by the first of the visiting warbird displays, the Rolls Royce Heritage Flight North American P-51D Mustang which was flown by Alistair Williams. Formally owned by the Scandinavian Historic Flight when it was marked as ‘Old Crow,’ it now wears the colours of Col Donald Blakeslee, Commanding officer of the 4th Fighter Group, the Debden Eagles. There was a slight moment towards the end of the Mustang display when the engine seemed to faulter. However, after flying a couple or circuits away from the aerodrome to settle things down again, the Mustang flew one final pass before heading back to its base at East Midlands Airport.
Joining the Mustang were several other solo warbirds. Jon Gowdy gave a super-smooth display of lyrical aerobatics in the Imperial War Museums’ Supermarine Spitfire Ia N3200. It had been hoped the Spitfire Ia would have joined the Collection’s own Gloster Gladiator to represent the RAF’s equipment during the early months of the Second World War. Another visiting Spitfire, Spitfire IX TE517 was to have flown with the Collections Spitfire Vc to mark the important contribution of the Czechoslovak squadrons to RAF operations throughout the Second World War. Sadly winds prevented the Collection aircraft getting airborne and the pilot of TE5176 was forced to abandon his display after sensing a rough-running engine.
NavyWings had hoped their Seafire would take part at Old Warden. Sadly, a problem with the Seafire’s Constant Speed Unit grounded the aircraft but NavyWings did send their North American Harvard IV which gave a spirited routine under the rather grey cloudscape.
Further Second World War aircraft came from the collection itself with the Avro C.19 Anson, Hawker Sea Hurricane Ib, de Havilland DH88 Comet (included in the military line-up as it was briefly considered for some special operations), Westland Lysander III and Polikarpov Po-2 all giving solo displays during the afternoon.
The Shuttleworth Collection features a wide range of training aircraft within its fleet. A very pleasing formation was put together to represent RAF training aircraft from the 1930s through to the 1950s with the Avro Tutor leading the de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, Miles Magister and DHC-1 Chipmunk. Later in the afternoon, the RAF training theme continued with a solo display from the Collection’s Percival Provost T1. Adding the vintage glider angle to the military theme was the EON Olympia 2B glider wearing the colours of the Empire Test Pilots School.
A further visiting display added to the training theme, though this time offering a glimpse at rotary wing military training. The Gazelle Squadron have become something of an Old Warden regular with their four-ship display of Westland Gazelle HT2s and HT3. They presented a very tight display at Old Warden which kept action in front of the crowd all the time with a mixture of formation passes as well as a short solo display highlighting the agility of the Gazelle.
Further colour was added to the display with two unusual visiting Cold War aircraft. The SOKO J-20 Krajug (Sparrowhawk) is a formation Yugoslav Air Force light attack and observation aircraft able to operate from short, unprepared airstrips. It is an incredibly noisy aircraft thanks to it Lycoming engine and exhaust system and has quite the presence in the sky. It is no stranger to UK airshows having been display by various owners since the 1990’s but has been absent for the past few years. Now in the hand of Richard Ellingworth it is once again available for air displays.
Simon Tilling displayed his quite elegant Ryan (North American) NA-154 Navion wearing the colours of the US Army. Designed in the 1940s, the Navion was one of the light aircraft produced following the end of the Second World War. It soon found a military role as the L-17 firstly as a liaison and communication aircraft. During the Korean War Navions also took on Forward Air Controller and Casualty evacuation tasks.
The modern-day Royal Air Force was represented in the display by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team jumping from their Dornier Do228. Despite the quite gusty conditions, the team created a superb spectacle dropping into the airfield trailing orange smoke and flags to close the main flying display.
However, the highlights of the afternoon came from the heavy bombers. Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B capped off a busy weekend of displays with a very elegant yet imposing display by Peter Kuypers and crew. Closing the event outright was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster B1. The winds had delayed the Lancaster getting airborne for a busy flight taking in displays at Swansea and Headcorn but the team were determined to make all their major commitments. That did mean they appeared some 20 minutes after the RAF Falcons had landed but it was worth the wait as the clouds broke illuminating the Lancaster in golden light against the darker clouds out to the east.
Despite the gusty winds eating into the planned line-up, Shuttleworth still managed to showcase a really varied line-up of displays full of interesting aircraft. There were also some memorable moments, not least from the big four engine bombers that really stole the show.