Shuttleworth Best of British Airshow

Shuttleworth Best of British Airshow

2024 is a year of change for the Shuttleworth Collection’s air display season. It got underway slightly later than usual in mid-May with the Best of British Airshow. The event showcased many of the great names in British aviation heritage whether they be designers, manufacturers, pilots or famous aircraft.

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

2024 sees a significant revamp of the Shuttleworth Collection’s flying display season. Except for the July Evening Air Display and Flying Proms, the smaller evening shows have disappeared. In their place, the Collection has looked to enlarge and improve their daytime airshows. The centrepiece of these will be the late June ‘Festival of Flight’ which takes places over three days and will likely encompass much of Old Warden Park rather than just the aerodrome paddock. The Military and Family Airshow too have become ‘Weekends’ with the traditional Sunday flying displays augmented with ground attractions throughout the weekend.

Even for the Single day events in May and October, Shuttleworth promises to improve the event. Certainly, for the opening ‘Best of British Airshow’ it was clear that some of the comments about the showground had been listened to with an improved catering area and bigger ground displays involving classic car clubs, buses and trading village. Helped by some glorious weather, the event seemed much better attended than usual which it the current economic it great to see.

 

When it came to the aviation side, everything was reassuringly familiar. It could be argued that the ‘Best of British’ theme is rather easy for the Shuttleworth Collection to fulfil with its incredible and unique collection of vintage and historic aircraft. However, that didn’t stop those coordinating the flying the programme from pulling in some stunning historic British aircraft from other operators to create a very enjoyable afternoon flying display.

The display was opened by Sqn Ldr Mark Sugden in Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performing three flypasts.  The display then moved into the first of the major themed segments with a series of display celebrating all things de Havilland. This saw a combination of de Havilland DH60X Hermes Moth, DH80 Puss Moth and the DH51 ‘Miss Keyna’ flying together while the de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk flew aerobatics over the top. The finale to the sequence was a solo display from by perhaps the Collection’s ultimate ‘de Havilland, the DH88 Comet.

 

Other famous aircraft manufacturers were remembered during the afternoon with a World War One segment devoted to Sopwith with Pup and Triplane, a Miles three-ship featuring Hawk Speed Six flanked by a pair of Magisters and a Percival sequence featuring solo displays from the Collection’s Provost T1 and the Newcastle Jet Provost Groups BAC Jet Provost T3A.

The aero-engine company Bristol was also celebrated with a sequence of displays from the NavyWings Heritage Flight’s Fairey Swordfish powered by the Pegasus engine and a three-ship of Mercury powered led by the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Bristol Blenheim IF with the Shuttleworth Gloster Gladiator and Westland Lysander IIIa.

 

A further First World War section celebrated some of the great aircraft of the conflict with the Collection’s own Avro 504K and R.A.F SE5a joined by David Bremner’s beautiful reproduction of an early war Bristol Scout. Further solo displays came from the Parnell Elf, Slingsby Petrel. Comper Swift, EON Primary and Avro C.19 Anson.

An absolute highlight of the visiting displays was the long-awaited Old Warden debut of Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Fury I. Despite having been airworthy since 2012 and appearing at Duxford and Cosford, it has somehow missed Old Warden. Finished in its original 43 Squadron markings when the unit was based at RAF Tangmere in 1936, it is a stunning restoration and remains the only complete example of the Hawker Fury in the world. It was flown through a series of passes at Old Warden by Clive Denney and we hope it returns soon, particularly when the Collection’s Hawker Hind is back in the air.

 

The penultimate display of the afternoon paid tribute to one of Britain’s great aviators – Alex Henshaw. Before the Second World War, Henshaw was a very successful air racing pilot competing in and winning several major competitions. But it was in 1939 that he completed perhaps he most famous feat in setting the record for flying from the UK to Cape Town and back in Percival Mew Gull G-AEXF. His record stood at 39 hours 36 minutes, and it stool for 70 years until Steve Noujaim bettered it by just fours hours in a Vans RV-7 in 2009. G-AEXF is now part of the Shuttleworth Collection and flew in formation with Supermarine Spitfire Vc AR501. This pairing also marked Alex’s incredible contribution as a test pilot for Vickers during the Second World War. He test flew 10% of all Spitfires and Seafires, often flying up-to 20 a day in less than ideal weather condition. While a pairing of Mew Gull and Spitfire has been done before, it is still an intriguing sight with the Mew Gull dwarfed by the much large fighter aircraft.

 

The flying was closed by another Spitfire, this time Fighter Aviation’s recently overhauled Supermarine Spitfire FR.XIVe MV293. Now painted in its authentic post war Royal Indian Air Force markings, it looked sublime in the late afternoon sunshine displayed by Nick Smith.

A great line-up, some fantastic weather and that special Shuttleworth atmosphere made to an superb start to Old Warden’s flying season. Their next show will be the Military weekend with the flying due to take place on the 2nd June.