A star-studded summer awaits
Anticipation builds for 2024 UK Airshow Season

Anticipation builds for 2024 UK Airshow Season

The UK airshow scene has had a turbulent few years, reeling from several incidents and subsequent regulation changes, the Covid-19 pandemic and an ever diminishing number of shows. Ahead of the 2024 season, though, there is already a real buzz developing, and with some new events, changing traditions, the ever increasing importance of online event promotion and some star participants, there is cause for positivity even in these early winter months. I cannot recall the hype for an airshow season this early in the year; it really is refreshing to see.

With the growing importance of social media marketing and the majority of events moving towards advanced ticket only business models, recent years have seen airshows evolve the way that they market themselves, with advanced participation announcements being key. No longer can events survive solely on reputation, and gone are the days of turning up not knowing what would be at an event; they must be actively showing what value they’re going to bring to the customer in order to convince them to part with considerable cash sums in advance.



This is something that Shuttleworth have improved at over recent years and, with a huge calendar shake-up for 2024, they are really leaning into it. For many years the Shuttleworth calendar has remained largely the same, with upwards of 11 flying events from May to October in a fairly rigid first and third weekend of the month format, taking a lot of effort by staff and volunteers to host so many events in such quick succession. The 2024 calendar sees seven flying events taking place, with some being weekend events featuring the airshow on the Sunday, sitting alongside a three-day fly-in featuring a two-day airshow – distilling that Shuttleworth magic into a more concise set of events. The team have also started early in announcing some of the star participants. I can recall the time when Shuttleworth had virtually no online marketing presence, so it is a joy to see them ever improving. With the airshow calendar more threadbare than ever, the Collection has become a rock of the UK airshow scene.

Kicking off Shuttleworth’s diamond jubilee year on Sunday, 12 May is the Best of British Airshow, with Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd’s Spitfire Mk XIV MV293 making its Old Warden debut in its new postwar South East Asia Command paint scheme. The Military Airshow will be on Sunday, 2 June with Spitfire Mk IXe TE517 returning to fulfil a Czech Spitfire pairing with Shuttleworth’s Mk Vc AR501, as well as welcome appearances from the WWI Aviation Heritage Trust’s lesser-seen Albatros D.Va and Sywell-based newcomer P-51D Mustang ‘Jersey Jerk’. The last weekend in June plays host to the three-day Festival of Flight, an international fly-in taking place between 28th and the 30th. There will be a short evening display on the Friday followed by day airshows on the Saturday and Sunday, and headlining the weekend airshow is Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd’s Hawker Tempest Mk II MW763 – the hottest act of the coming season, having returned to flight late in 2023 – as well as Plane Sailing’s perennial favourite, the PBY-5A Catalina. Saturday, 20 July sees the Summer Evening Airshow followed by the Family Airshow on Sunday, 11 August, the latter featuring the ex-Sydney Cotton Lockheed 12A Electra Junior owned by Fighter Aviation Engineering. The traditional Flying Proms will be held on Saturday, 31 August and, rounding off the airshow year, Race Day brings the curtain down on Sunday, 6 October.



Whilst one staple of the UK airshow scene adapts, we were sad to learn of the loss of Flying Legends from the 2024 airshow calendar after more than 30 years’ standing as the classic aircraft airshow in Europe. We’ve been staunch supporters of ‘Legends over the years – indeed, the Echo’s editor has been going since the very beginning – and we live in hope that The Fighter Collection may yet find a new home after such a well-received début at Church Fenton in 2023.  In the wake of the disappointing Flying Legends news came the announcement of a new event – Sywell 2024.

Since then it has set the social media channels alight, announcing two participants per day for most of January – an unprecedented turnover of acts so early in the year. These include aircraft from the majority of the UK’s warbird operators, as expected the majority from the combined Ultimate Warbird Flights and Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd Sywell fleet, The Fighter Collection, the Aircraft Restoration Company and the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, among others. Around 40 aircraft, all told. It may well be the Tempest’s debut, pending any earlier bookings, which will be a hugely historic moment. The UK debuts of the Egmond Vintage Wings’ remarkable Fokker D.XXI and Mikael Carlson’s Fokker D.VII reproductions are equally exciting for aficionados. Sywell is also already set to be the largest gathering of Mustangs in Europe for several years, with six already confirmed, including the new Sywell resident Mustang imported from Australia and recently rolled out as ‘Jersey Jerk’.



The airshow side of the event is being organised by Richard Grace and his team, who are taking everything they love about, and have learned about, airshows and are rolling it into one event – I’m sure it will be a very memorable weekend indeed. Meanwhile, Flying Legends state that they are working towards a return again in 2025, which is positive at least. If this comes to fruition and Sywell does well and continues into future years, the UK could be heading into a new golden age for warbird shows – a supremely exciting prospect.

The Midlands Air Festival at Ragley Hall has been turning heads, too, with a series of striking participation announcements for an airshow of its size, with the likes of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight SAAB J35 Draken returning for a second year in a row, the UK display debut of Frédéric Akary’s F-86F Sabre (a joint debut, in fact, with Duxford’s airshow the same weekend) and the Flying Bulls’ Douglas DC-6, B-25 Mitchell and P-38 Lightning, among others. IWM Duxford have also bagged the Red Bull trio for their Summer Airshow, which commemorates the 80th anniversary of Operation Overlord.



As well as all of this, June will also see a return of the D-Day Squadron to the UK and Europe with their 2024 Legacy Tour, repeating their momentous first visit in 2019. 11 aircraft of various C-47 variants will gather in the UK from North America and Europe to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. North American participants will fly the northern ‘Blue Spruce’ ferry route via Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland just as the same aircraft did during the Second World War, and will gather with European participants at North Weald airfield in Essex as their primary base for operations whilst in the UK.

Several aircraft will attend a special weekend hosted by the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden, where members of the public will be able to get up close with the aircraft, on the 25-26 May. The following week, the North Weald Embarkation event will open its gates from 31 May to 2 June, in conjunction with Aero Legends, where visitors will enjoy Second World War dioramas with period vehicles and re-enactors alongside the C-47s. On the 1-2 June, some of the aircraft will also participate in IWM Duxford’s Summer Airshow.



The aircraft will cross the Channel to Cherbourg-Maupertus Airport in France to be based at ‘Camp Dakota’, from where commemorative flights and parachute jumps will be undertaken between the 5th and 11th of June. From there, aircraft will move on to Wiesbaden Army Airfield near Berlin to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Berlin Air Lift, and then on to Aeroporto Nicelli in Venice, Italy, where DC-3s used to be based. The D-Day Squadron visit in 2019 was incredible to experience, and the 2024 tour has the potential to be even more memorable.

Another new event has been announced for later in the year at the idyllic hilltop airfield of Compton Abbas in Dorset – the Golden Age of Aviation Airshow on the 10-11 August. Since being bought by Guy Ritchie in late 2022, the airfield has undergone a revamp, including renovations to the airfield restaurant and bar. In 2023 the airfield often hosted Aero Legends’ pleasure-flying weekends with their Stearman, T-6 and Spitfire, and they are organising the show at Compton Abbas. The smaller, more intimate airshows are so important to the fabric of the UK airshow scene and so many have been lost in recent years, hence it is especially pleasing to have a new event announced for 2024, particularly in a part of the country where airshows of any kind are few and far between.

2024 looks to be showing real signs of much needed regrowth for the UK airshow scene. It should be a summer to remember.