On the eve of the next British airshow season we take a whistle-stop tour through the forthcoming events calendar, picking out ten of the highlights to give you a rundown of where to go and what to see in 2017.
UK airshows have been dealt numerous blows over the last 18 months, but through the efforts of a dedicated group of individuals and organisations the scene continues to deliver unique sights that are the envy of enthusiasts across the globe. As the airshow circuit continues the post-Shoreham healing process, it feels more important than ever before to not take anything for granted. We can’t afford to be complacent anymore. Whether it’s a first flight, a public début or an old airshow stalwart – take a moment. Enjoy it. Feel it.
What is it? The Shuttleworth Season Premiere Airshow
When is it? 7 May 2017, Old Warden
What’s the hook? All being well, the big talking point of the Shuttleworth Collection’s airshow season will be the long-anticipated début of the stunning Sopwith Camel reproduction. For many, the Camel epitomises British Great War aviation – the pugnacious rotary fighter was, after all, once the mount of one Captain James Bigglesworth! Whilst the Camel won’t now be flying at the Season Premiere event (having been removed from the participation list on 28/04/17, after publication of this article), it will be on public display in the museum and we hope to see it fly at future Old Warden events in 2017. A delightful list of visiting acts at the Season Premiere includes de Havillands Dragon Rapide and Leopard Moth, Percival Mew Gull and Miles Messenger and Gemini, alongside a welcome Old Warden return for the Breighton-based Arrow Active. Heavier warbird displays from the Catalina and Spitfire Mk.I N3200, both visiting from Duxford, add to the flavour. Notable based participants include two Hawker Cygnets, de Havilland Comet, Hawker Demon and a full complement of Shuttleworth Collection World War One types, amongst them the returning Sopwith Triplane (making its first airshow appearance since summer 2014).
What is it? Flying events at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome
When is it? 21 May, 24 June, 22-23 July & 27 August, Stow Maries
What’s the occasion? Opportunities to see the WWI Aviation Heritage Trust’s aeroplanes flying are limited, and there is arguably no finer place to enjoy them in their natural element than at their home base of Stow Maries in Essex. Stow has a number of “at home” days during spring and summer 2017, with the Sopwith Snipe and one of the two B.E.2es scheduled to appear at each event. A chance to see historically accurate reproduction biplanes operating from an atmospheric, restored Great War aerodrome in the Essex countryside as they would have done a century ago.
What is it? Shuttleworth’s Fly Navy airshow
When is it? 4 June 2017, Old Warden
What are Shuttleworth doing for an encore? The second instalment of arguably the best UK airshow of 2016. Current announced participation includes some of the warbird scene’s heavyweights, amongst them the de Havilland Sea Vixen, The Fighter Collection’s Bearcat, Corsair and Wildcat, Hawker Fury FB11, two Hawker Nimrods, Seafire Mk.III and Kennet Aviation’s returning Skyraider. Other notable attendees include a pair of Westland Wasps, Bristol Scout, Catalina and the Avro 504K replica from Sywell. A chance to see exciting warbird and classic jet action at the UK’s finest airshow venue.
What is it? The Fighter Collection’s Flying Legends airshow
When is it? 8-9 July 2017, IWM Duxford
What are the highlights? “The big dance” of 2017. Participation will continue to be confirmed over the next couple of months, but early announcements are headlined by the return of the Horsemen Flight Team from the USA, bringing with them on this occasion newly restored P-51D Mustang Frenesi to partake in their unique sequence of close formation aerobatics. For the first time in eight years we will be seeing a trio of Hawker Hurricanes, amongst them newly restored Mk.I P3717. Also noteworthy are a trio of racers comprising the de Havilland Comet, Travel Air Mystery Ship Type R and Percival Mew Gull (the Comet and Mystery Ship being ‘Legends débuts), alongside 11 Spitfires, two Gloster Gladiators and The Fighter Collection’s fleet. Expect around 50 classic aircraft to participate in uniquely choreographed set-pieces, concluding with the legendary ‘Balbo’ massed formation of 20+ warbirds. One of the finest airshow spectacles in the world.
When is it? 15 July & 6 August 2017, Old Warden
Fourth time lucky? After three blown out World War One airshows, the Shuttleworth Collection deserve a little luck with their next Great War themed events! Previous offerings have boasted more than a dozen airworthy WWI originals, reproductions and replicas, and with more joining the airworthy ranks (including Sopwiths Camel, Dove and Triplane) that number has the potential to swell this year – making Old Warden the most enticing venue for Great War aviation aficionados in the northern hemisphere.
What is it? Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk film
When is it? 21 July 2017, nationwide
What am I watching? Interstellar and The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s next cinematic epic launches audiences headlong into the May-June 1940 Dunkirk evacuation. The ensemble cast is headed by acting heavyweights Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and Cilian Murphy, whilst Inception and The Revenant star Tom Hardy plays a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot thrust into battle over the English Channel. The film’s theatrical trailer and a five-minute IMAX preview show impressive yet understated aerial dogfights, whilst the beach sequences suggest an old-school reliance on practical effects over CGI. With dozens of hours of air-to-air IMAX footage captured across northern Europe, featuring three Spitfires, Buchon and Blenheim, Dunkirk has the potential to boast some of the best aerial footage committed to cinema.
What is it? Biggin Hill Festival of Flight
When is it? 19-20 August 2017, Biggin Hill
How are they celebrating? The previous Biggin Hill Festivals of Flight have been far lower-key events than the International Air Fairs they superseded, but the airfield’s 100th anniversary weekender may present the organisers with the opportunity to spread their wings and add a little grandeur to the proceedings. Impressive early participation includes healthy foreign military commitments from the Patrouille de France, Belgian F-16 and Czech Air Force, the latter sending an impressive contingent of Gripen, two Hinds, Hip and C-295. Expect warbirds from the ever-growing Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar fleet, and one hopes the resident Messerschmitt Bf109E Emil may make one of its first appearances. A potential season highlight.
What is it? The Goodwood Revival
When is it? 8-10 September 2017, Goodwood Racecourse
What should I expect? Known internationally amongst classic car aficionados for its motor races, the three-day Revival at the former RAF Westhampnett is something of a hidden gem for the vintage aviation enthusiast. Goodwood always serves up something interesting, with Spirit of Aviation static participants of late including a mix of UK classics – typically some of the newest restoration projects – and vintage types flown or, in some cases, shipped in from overseas. Flying participation is likely to come from a combination of The Fighter Collection, Old Flying Machine Company and the locally-based Boultbee Flight Academy.
What is it? IWM Duxford’s September Air Show
When is it? 23-24 September 2017, IWM Duxford
Duxford’s Finest Hour? Duxford’s recent large-scale Spitfire set-pieces in 2010, 2015 and 2016 have all been crowd-pleasing, immersive spectacles, the very definition of ‘theatre of the air’ and unique to the UK scene. The Battle of Britain-themed September airshow will present a similar finale, whilst the arrival of a number of new Hurricanes and pre-war era RAF biplanes offers some very tantalising prospects.
What is it? Shuttleworth’s Race Day airshow
When is it? 1 October 2017, Old Warden
Why should I be excited? If beautiful 1920s and 1930s air racers and sporting aeroplanes are your bag, Old Warden’s season-closing Race Day is for you. Previous instalments have been heavy on the mock air racing, from gliders to Formula 1 aircraft, whilst 2016’s critically acclaimed show boasted a quite mad Spartan vs. Hurricane vs. Cosmic Wind vs. Mew Gull vs. Taylor Titch handicap race that was genuinely exciting and unpredictable. With an early line-up promising more of the same, including six Pitts Specials, three Comper Swifts, three Chiltons, Hawk Speed 6, Mystery Ship, two Mew Gulls, Comet and many more, Race Day 2017 has the potential to boast one of the finest vintage line-ups ever seen at a UK airshow.