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Old Warden’s Military Pageant is another triumph

Old Warden’s Military Pageant is another triumph

The Shuttleworth Collection has already staged several excellent airshows in 2017, and early July’s Military Pageant saw army, navy and air force types take centre stage for yet another fine event.

The Collection and its airshows at Old Warden are world renowned, and now more than ever the venue is receiving the wider recognition it deserves for the high quality air displays it stages month after month – the place seems to be firing on all cylinders.

Visiting warbirds are always welcome at Shuttleworth airshows and opening the show was a Mustang making its first visit to Old Warden – TF-51D Miss Velma of the Anglia Aircraft Restorations stable. In years gone by, a Mustang display at Old Warden would typically have been provided by Peter Teichman in his P-51D – always a welcome addition, however varying the line-ups with different visiting acts helps keep them fresh and interesting.  Credit to Shuttleworth for not resting on their laurels and instead seeking out other warbirds visitors may go out of their way to see. Miss Velma was presented on the day by Richard Grace, who took the fighter through a perfect aerobatic routine. Myriad vertical figures, including a reverse cuban and eight-point hesitation roll, demonstrated the machine to the crowd at all angles before Richard brought the Mustang in for some low and close topside passes, illustrating how a warbird display can seamlessly blend vertical aerobatics and those all-important photo passes.

After finishing his routine, Mr Grace headed away from the airfield to link up with Duxford-based B-17 Sally B and provide her with the escort of a ‘little friend’ for several passes. It is always wonderful to see a multi-engine aircraft with the Flying Fortress’ stature and presence displaying at the Old Warden amphitheatre. On this occasion, Peter Kuypers kept the bomber turning and wheeling about the sky in a dynamic sequence that effectively utilised the tighter confines of the aerodrome – this was one of the best showings of the aircraft I have seen at Old Warden.

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Another bomber appeared in the form of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Bristol Blenheim, and John Romain gave a good account of the aircraft in what was its third display of the day (having flown previously at The Welsh National Airshow over Swansea Bay and the Chalke Valley History Festival). A Hawker warm-up was provided by the silver wings of Hawkers Demon and Tomtit. One never tires of seeing these exquisite 1930s biplanes being displayed so engagingly.

Just two weeks on from the first Old Warden Hawker Hurricane three-ship, we were treated to an even more refined performance. Paul Stone led several formation passes in the Sea Hurricane before the trio flew a beautiful break as they passed the dog leg in the crowd line, with the wingmen breaking left and right and the leader pulling up. The three Hurricanes then filled the sky for their lengthy routine, with one (P3717) performing aerobatics above and behind the pair which flew back and forth in front of the crowd in a stirring low-level tail chase.

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After the pair had peeled off to land we were treated to an extended solo from Stu Goldspink in P3717, which epitomised just why he is regarded as the world’s greatest exponent of the Hurricane (indeed, he has test flown and displayed the majority of the airworthy Hurricane population). The lyrical eight-minute display was flown as if on rails, with vertical aerobatics interspersed with no less than six topside passes. I think he was rather enjoying himself!

A fourth Hurricane appeared courtesy of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) and Mk.II LF363. Sadly, this was a full display rather than the more dynamic flypasts that Old Warden often enjoys from the BBMF and as such, was flown on a high and distant display line.

Opportunities to see Hurricane formations have been few and far between and to be able to see this trio displaying twice within a fortnight really is remarkable. It is a sign of the times that the Military Pageant fielded four Hurricanes and not a single Spitfire! With more privately owned Hurricanes flying than ever before, we have the best chance of giving the type, its designers, ground crew and pilots the recognition they deserve. This is beginning to happen on a larger scale and we have the likes of The Shuttleworth Collection and the Flying Legends team, as well as operators such as Hurricane Heritage, to thank for that.

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Several of the display acts at the Military Pageant honoured the 60th anniversary of the second (post-war) formation of the Army Air Corps in 1957. The roots of army co-operation and liaison were marked with a display consisting of an unlikely combination – Bristol F2b, Tiger Moth and Lysander. Whilst the Brisfit displayed, the Tiger Moth performed aerobatics up above before forming up with the First World War fighter, at which point the Lysander flew past behind the formation, allowing the photographers to capture all three in frame!

Having spent several years away from the display circuit it was nice to see the Army Historic Aircraft Flight (AHAF) airborne once again, offering something a little different at Old Warden. Whilst the Chipmunk and Sioux were unable to attend, the Scout and Beaver made it along for an unusual and well co-ordinated pairs display which began with an impressive formation take-off. The Scout was a strong performer, with sweeping passes and pedal turns as well as low-level hover taxying. By contrast, the Beaver was limited to high flypasts; having seen the ARCo example displayed so vigorously at Duxford over the years, this was a disappointment. It is, however, worth keeping in mind that the AHAF has been on a hiatus, and a sedate return to the circuit is perhaps to be expected.

A pair of Austers rounded off the Army Air Corps tribute – whilst not the most exciting aircraft, this duo surprised me by putting on a thoroughly entertaining display. The flight envelope of the type was demonstrated well with AOP.6 TW536 and T.7 WE569 flying a combination of high and slow speed passes and tight turns.

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The crowd enjoyed two masterclass displays of aeroplanes from either end of the First World War. The 1914 B.E.2e was renowned for its lack of agility, but Jean-Michel Munn’s showing of the ungainly dragonfly-like biplane went some way to dispel that myth as he flew a terrifically energetic routine – certainly the best showing of one of the B.E.2es that I have seen!

The B.E.2 was joined in the air by the 1916 Bristol M.1c for an interesting comparison of the two types, before the former landed and Dodge Bailey put on one of the finest displays of the M.1c that I have seen since its return to the air in 2012. The low and fast sweeping passes and spiral climbs showed just how potent this diminutive fighter was. These back-to-back displays vividly illustrated just how quickly aviation developed in such a short space of time during the First World War.

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Having traded the Hurricane for the Sopwith Triplane, Stu Goldspink got airborne on the new swathe of grass available to the pilots. Over the winter the horse fields that lay to the south of the runway were removed and new grass seed sowed to provide an extension to the aerodrome, somewhat akin to the big grass strips of the 1930s which allowed aeroplanes to take off and land directly into wind. This proved its worth at the Military Pageant as the wind changed direction during the show and the First World War aircraft which had initially been towed out to the north-eastern hedgeline were moved to this new grassy area.

Dodge Bailey was aloft again a short while later for a pairing of even earlier types, as the winds allowed the Bristol Boxkite and Avro Triplane replicas to take flight. Opportunities to see these aircraft fly are few and far between and it was a most welcome end to the day’s flying. The pair even joined into loose formation for a time – no mean feat for aeroplanes designed more than a century ago!

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Pretty much everything flown at this show put on an excellent display, such is the quality of flying from both based and visiting pilots – indeed, those around me agreed that in a number of instances, the routines were the best we’d seen from those particular types. More than just the quality of the air displays, Shuttleworth has nurtured and moulded its heady atmosphere perfectly. Quite simply, Shuttleworth airshows are unmissable.