RAF 100 at Old Warden
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Shuttleworth’s RAF100 airshow opens season in style

Shuttleworth’s RAF100 airshow opens season in style

The Shuttleworth Collection began its 2018 airshow year with an RAF100 themed Season Premiere airshow, utilising its extensive fleet of rare vintage aeroplanes and support from a host of visiting aircraft to celebrate the RAF’s development over the last century. This, together with beautiful bank holiday weekend weather, ensured a sell-out crowd, starting the Collection’s year on a high.

Many airshows in 2018 will be marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force in one way or another, be it with a lean towards RAF types or as an official RAF100 event. Whilst all of these events will feature RAF aeroplanes from across the century, the Shuttleworth Collection is in the unique position of being able to field substantial numbers of airworthy types from the service’s formative years, many of which are very rare or unique, particularly so the lighter types from the 1920s to 1940s. Simply put, the RAF’s centenary year would have been incomplete without a dedicated airshow at Old Warden marking the anniversary in its own inimitable style.

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Visiting aircraft were used to build a fuller picture of the RAF’s history. With the organisation team securing public favourites such as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster and the first public outing for 2018’s RAF Typhoon demo, it is no wonder the airshow sold out in the days prior to the bank holiday weekend, helped no doubt by an exceptional weather forecast.

The aforementioned Typhoon opened the flying programme, with Flt Lt Jim Peterson’s first public display of the season restricted to a “rolling” show owing to Luton and Stansted’s airspace restrictions. The appearance of the Typhoon marked the first display by an afterburning jet at Old Warden for many years. Prior to the show, there was some discussion regarding the place of an afterburning jet at one of the most charming and relaxed airshow venues; over the years, however, front line RAF fighters have made semi-regular appearances at Old Warden airshows, including Lightnings, Harriers, Jaguars and Tornadoes. The Typhoon’s inclusion simply brought that lineage right up to date, and was absolutely appropriate given the RAF 100 theme.

Certainly it must have been valuable for the general public to see the modern day RAF front line fighter on show before the flying programme delved into the history of the air force, its inclusion contextualising aeronautical development and contrasting starkly with the earlier types seen in the air throughout the afternoon.

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Another firm public favourite appearing early in the programme, this time of Second World War vintage, was the venerable BBMF Avro Lancaster. It is always enjoyable to see large types perform at smaller venues and that is especially true of the Lancaster. The bomber arrived from crowd left with a lovely topside entry around the curved crowd line, much to the delight of the photographers. Old Warden has to be one of the best venues to enjoy the Lancaster at.

A unique formation of Avros Anson and Lancaster delivered one of the highlights of the show. This was the first public display of BAe Systems’ Avro XIX in its new paint scheme. Over the winter the Anson visited Ardent Paint Care at Gloucester Airport, where the aircraft received an RAF paint scheme especially for the centenary year.

A few days prior to the airshow the Anson emerged resplendent in the markings of TX176, an aircraft used by the RAF Coningsby Station Flight. One of the first ports of call for the aircraft in its new scheme was a visit to Coningsby before its first public display in its new guise at the Shuttleworth RAF100 airshow. In 2015 we also saw the Anson in formation with Vulcan XH558 during the latter’s final display.

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The Anson was joined for a further series of formation passes by another RAF bomber in the form of the Bristol Blenheim, before John Romain took the stub nosed Mk.IF though another typically flawless routine.

No RAF100 airshow would be complete without participation from a Spitfire. The Shuttleworth Collection had hoped that this show would herald the first post-restoration appearance of its Spitfire Mk.Vc AR501 following its mammoth 12-year overhaul. Unfortunately wet weather in the month preceding the show waterlogged the taxiways, and so AR501’s test regime could not be completed in time for the show. The plan was for AR501 to lead a trio of Spitfires but alas, the IWM’s Mk.I N3200 and OFMC’s Mk.IX MH434 came in from Duxford to display as a pair, with Cliff Spink in N3200 leading Stuart Goldspink in MH434 through some formation passes before breaking into interspersed solo routines which highlighted the contrasting performance of Marks I and IX.

Earlier on in the flying display the crowd enjoyed a further Spitfire in the form of the BBMF’s Mk.XVIe TE311, which performed a series of scintillating passes at the hands of flight OC Andy Millikin, showing the new scheme off to great effect. This spring, TE311 was repainted into the colours worn by Polish Group Captain Aleksander Gabszewicz’s personal aircraft, TD240, with impressive boxing dog nose art on the cowling.

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More interesting groupings of aircraft were positioned throughout the flying programme, comprising training and interwar types and utilising some of the unique and very rare aeroplanes that only the Shuttleworth Collection can field – groupings included DH.60 Moth and Blackburn B2; Magister, Chipmunk and Piston Provost, and Avro Tutor, Tiger Moth and Scottish Aviation Bulldog. The latter trio looked particularly grand, all prominently adorned in RAF training schemes, and flew in formation before separating with the Tutor and Tiger Moth tail-chasing as Clive Denney performed an aerobatic display above them in the Bulldog. The Tomtit and Demon also performed a wonderful tail-chase display.

In recent years we have been spoilt with Hurricane sequences at Old Warden and the duo display at this show was no exception. With the Blenheim departing to Duxford just prior to the Hurricanes’ display slot, the opportunity was taken for a formation fly-by which looked marvellous curving round the bend. Paul Stone then led Stu Goldspink through some pairs passes before they split and interspersed their displays, with Stone keeping the Sea Hurricane low and close to the crowd whilst Goldspink took P3717 through some aerobatic figures above. A well-choreographed and dynamic sequence.

Afternoons at Old Warden when conditions allow the raft of First World War types to get aloft are ones to cherish, and the Season Premiere was particularly so. The Collection run the First World War displays in fine fashion, generally displaying in sets of three with an overlapping carousel of types allowing each to perform alone and join the next type in the air before landing.

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Frank Chapman put in a lovely showing of the Avro 504K, contrasting with the very fast raptor-like Bristol M.1c which was flown by Rob Millinship. Claire Tector took the Bristol F.2b aloft for her first public display in the type since becoming (as far as we know) the first woman to fly the type when she converted this spring.

The show heralded the long-awaited debut of the Collection’s Sopwith Camel reproduction. It is fitting that its debut took place at the RAF100 show, as it was one of the first types to be operated when the service formed from the Royal Flying Corps in 1918, becoming one of the foremost fighters of the time.

Having eagerly watched the progress of the Camel since its arrival at the Collection from the Northern Aeroplane Workshops as a mere skeleton, it has been fascinating to see it slowly take shape as systems have been fitted, fabric covering applied and its Clerget engine installed and test run before its first flight last year. After its touted debut was scuppered by weather at the end of 2017, it was fantastic to finally see the project come to completion as Chief Pilot Dodge Bailey took the Camel aloft on a lovely afternoon for its first public air display. Dodge performed a wonderful spiral climb and descent before forming up with Jean Munn in the SE5a; he makes handling the notoriously dicey Camel look easy.

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Unfortunately the Sopwith Triplane decided not to play ball, with the engine refusing to start despite numerous attempts, and the Pup had an engine issue so sat out the display. With the return of the M.1c in recent years and now the Camel joining the airworthy ranks, their loss was not too keenly felt. That speaks volumes from the breadth and depth of First World War types now airworthy at Old Warden.

The early aviation nirvana continued as conditions allowed the Edwardian aeroplanes to take flight in the early evening sun. The Magnificent Men replica Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite were first to slip through the now calm evening air, even performing an opposition pass of sorts! The final display of the show, however, was left to the Blackburn Type D Monoplane – the oldest flying British aeroplane at 106 – bookending the show with the current day Eurofighter Typhoon and the origins of British aviation.

Every RAF100 themed airshow this year will have its own distinct flavour, which should make each a unique and memorable experience in its own right. The Shuttleworth Collection will be able to lay claim to demonstrating some of the earliest RAF types and the origins of British aviation, right through to the present day frontline fighter jet – something we won’t see to the same extent at any other RAF100 event.

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The Shuttleworth Collection’s RAF100 show will surely be remembered as one of the best, and a highlight of the season with so many unique mixed formations, superb displays from the Lancaster, Spitfires and Hurricanes, the debut of the Camel, topped off by the Typhoon and Edwardians, actively demonstrating a large proportion of the RAF’s history. An exemplary start to what is set to be another stellar year for the Shuttleworth Collection’s airshows.