Can Shuttleworth sustain Fly Navy?
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Cancellations fail to mar Shuttleworth’s Fly Navy: But is the theme sustainable?

Cancellations fail to mar Shuttleworth’s Fly Navy: But is the theme sustainable?

The third iteration of the Shuttleworth Collection’s Fly Navy airshow played out under blue skies and wispy clouds on a balmy June afternoon. Cancellations in the lead up to the event meant that the 2018 airshow didn’t quite meet the lofty heights of the first show in 2016, but Old Warden enjoyed a thoroughly excellent afternoon’s flying nevertheless thanks to the breadth of participants and quality of displays.

When Fly Navy was introduced to the Shuttleworth calendar in 2016 it was a breath of fresh air. With a host of visiting aircraft illustrating the theme well, and some terrific flying to boot, it is rightly remembered as one of the best airshows of recent years. The flying programme is naturally built around the based Shuttleworth Collection aircraft, of which some have navy links, however it is the visiting aircraft that elevate Fly Navy to another level. It is a shame, then, that the 2018 event experienced numerous cancellations, though on the whole though this didn’t affect the enjoyment of the show, which was helped in no small part by some fantastic spring weather.

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In lieu of the Seafire LF.IIIc’s booking (it is currently unavailable after being put up for sale) it was down to the Collection’s Spitfire Mk.Vc AR501 to represent Seafires, opening the show alongside the Sea Hurricane. Making his first public display in the clipped wing Spitfire was Jim Schofield and following some formation work with the Hurricane, concluding with a nice break, he performed a solo display with great verve. It’s a pleasure to see AR501 back at Shuttleworth airshows and particularly so when it is flown so masterfully.

The Fighter Collection provided two out of the four navy fighters originally listed and unfortunately their Hawker Nimrod and Grumman Bearcat were unable to join the Corsair and Wildcat. The back-to-back appearance of the three higher-powered radial types in 2016 was one of the highlights of the season. Nevertheless the Corsair and Wildcat performed excellent displays this time round in the hands of Pete Kynsey and Stu Goldspink respectively. From a photographic perspective, this presented likely the best opportunity to shoot these particular aircraft in the air. It was a nice touch too to see both aircraft landing on at Old Warden, most notably the Corsair, which marked the first time the type had landed at the aerodrome.

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It was a shame that we were unable to see TFC’s example join the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Nimrod, which flew with the Hawker Demon. Since the Collection’s Hind has been out of action for the last few years, it was wonderful to have these two cavorting around the Old Warden skies as the Hind and Demon used to do. These Hawker biplanes seem to be overlooked by all bar a few airshows nowadays and opportunities to see them fly are becoming few and far between. An Old Warden appearance by the Hawker Fury would go some way towards righting that! Another visiting biplane from Duxford was David and Mark Miller’s immaculate de Havilland Dragon Rapide, which Mark himself displayed with typical gusto.

As predicted (owing to their long-term restoration/maintenance), Kennet Aviation’s Seafire XVII and Skyraider vanished from the participation list. Sadly this was also the case for Didier Chable’s Grumman Avenger, which is based at Melun-Villaroche in France. Shuttleworth had first been in discussions to bring this seldom seen Avenger over for Fly Navy 2017 only to have their plans scuppered by technical issues. To have the aircraft cancel again was a real shame after what must have been a significant amount of work to try and secure its appearance. What a coup it would have been!

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One aircraft making its Fly Navy debut was the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s (RNHF) Sea Fury T.20, which has launched back onto the display circuit following repairs after its forced landing at Culdrose in 2014; Chris Gotke looked at home in the Centaurus-powered Fury with his signature display of graceful aerobatics. The show featured two Hawker Furies, with Anglia Aircraft Restorations Ltd’s eye-catching prototype also being displayed by Pete Kynsey.

A type very well suited to the confines of Old Warden was the RNHF Fairey Swordfish, although I have to say its display a week prior at Duxford made more of an impression. The large biplane was joined in an abstract pairing by Kennet Aviation’s T-6 for the first part of its display, flying a series of high formation orbits. With no apparent reason for the pairing, it would have been far better to lend more solo time to each aircraft.

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Shuttleworth was also graced by another series of flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster, which really impressed with some lovely curving passes to the joy of all the photographers in attendance.

A popular performer at previous Fly Navy airshows has been Tony Whitehead’s immaculate Morane Saulnier MS.317, which once again impressed with an energetic display and showed off its attractive colour scheme in the sun. The MS.317 was paired with BAe Systems’ de Havilland Cirrus Moth.

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Several helicopters were also present with displays from the Westland Wasp and two of the Gazelle Squadron’s aircraft. In keeping with the rotary aviation theme, the Westland Whirlwind would make a great addition to either Fly Navy or the Military Pageant in future – a display that would suit the venue.

The Bremner brothers’ Bristol Scout featured as the earliest true Navy type, with a very nice display flown by David Bremner demonstrating the diminutive biplane’s impressive rate of climb. Other rotary First World War types also flew including Sopwiths Triplane (of which there was a navalised version) and Camel, and the Avro 504K. It was notworthy too that on the ground there were three Avro 504s, with Thomas Harris’ beautiful Skysport-constructed Avro 504K and the Great War Display Team’s radial-powered Argentinian replica joining the Collection’s example. The three 504s were only lined up together for a short while in front of a large corporate chalet, which sadly precluded any opportunities to photograph this significant occasion.

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To conclude the main flying programme TFC’s Wildcat and Corsair were joined aloft by Sea Hurricane, Spitfire and Demon for the finale ‘Balbo’. This was more a procession of formations flying by in a racetrack pattern than one large formation of aircraft, but it was nice to see nonetheless. Winds were calm enough to fly some of the Edwardians to bring the curtain down on Fly Navy 2018, with the Blackburn Type D, Boxkite and Avro Triplane all taking flight, as well as hops from the Deperdussin.

Whilst the aforementioned cancellations didn’t mar the enjoyment of what was undoubtedly a great show, the concern is that these dropouts will diminish Fly Navy’s effectiveness over time. There has been some debate as to whether a Fly Navy theme can be sustained year on year. The show is now in its third year and many of the Navy themed visiting participants are repetitious – as are the cancellations. Perhaps it would be prudent to take a break from this particular theme to allow the pool of Navy themed types to change. Kennet Aviation’s Seafire XVII and Skyraider have been on the participation list for all three Fly Navy shows and unsurprisingly have all been removed in the run-up as they have not flown for several years. Perhaps this situation will change a few years down the line. The Seafire III is also not appearing at airshows now that it is up for sale and with some aircraft from The Fighter Collection typically not making the event (this year the Nimrod and Bearcat), sustaining the theme may be a challenge in 2019.

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One option could be to alternate the early June airshow’s theme. A D-Day airshow would be a fine fit for 2019 (although close proximity to the anniversary period and other events might preclude participation from some key airframes), followed by a Battle of France show in 2020. The latter has particularly strong legs: Collection First World War types representing the birth of air combat tactics, the silver biplanes of the interwar period illustrating further technological and tactical developments, Hurricanes (including Dunkirk veteran P2902), Spitfire Mk.I N3200, the Blenheim and a pair of Lysanders (by that point the Aircraft Restoration Company’s machine will be flying) – the prospects for a major gathering of spring 1940 era types is tantalising to say the least. Equally, the Military Pageant could adopt such themes – Fly Navy receives strong support from the likes of Navy Wings and breaking that link, if only for a year or two, may prejudice their future involvement. It’s a tricky one.

Fly Navy 2018 enjoyed a fine line-up of visiting aircraft despite the raft of cancellations and was a thoroughly enjoyable day out worth every penny of the not inconsiderable ticket price. Let’s hope next year enjoys better luck, either with the rejuvenation of the naval participation or the redirection of the June airshow towards a new and vibrant theme.