Saturday, 20 May 2017 marked the return of the popular Evening Airshows staged by the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, Beds, albeit poor weather wrought significant changes to the flying programme.
Dubbed the Classic Evening Airshow, the event was the first of its kind since July 2015, with the concept having been shelved in favour of more informal “at home” days for the 2016 season. Whilst those events included an evening flying element, the display programme itself was more fluid and crowd numbers suffered. The July “at home” day, for example, was a de facto evening airshow which featured early afternoon training sorties and practices leading into a traditional flying display that lasted until twilight – there were, however, fewer than one hundred spectators stood on the fence throughout the evening.
It was pleasing to see the Shuttleworth Collection announcing the return of the Evening Airshows proper and this, the first of three such events on the Old Warden calendar this year, held much promise. Participation at the airshows will be limited to the based aeroplanes, offering chances to see some of the lightest and oldest types getting airborne in the typically more favourable evening conditions, and to that end the May Classic Evening Show was set to include a number of 1920s Lympne trials aircraft, First World War fighters and early 1900s Edwardians. That wasn’t to be on Saturday 20th, with heavy downpours leaving the grass runway sodden and a changeable wind putting several aeroplanes out of limits, the net result of which was that the limited flying programme consisted largely of the heavier aircraft in the Collection.
The Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk.Ib, one of three Hurricanes now resident at Old Warden, had the distinction of opening the flying programme shortly after 6pm, with Chris Huckstep giving a fine account of the aeroplane under a glowering sky. Parking up beside the tower following its display, the Sea Hurricane’s mud-spattered cowling gave a fair indication of the kind of inclement conditions the pilots had to deal with. All credit to them for composing an abbreviated air display during the short interlude between some fairly tumultuous spring weather.
Continuing the flying programme, the Shuttleworth Veteran Aeroplane Society’s Piper Super Cub (flown by Richard Crockett) towed the portly Fauvel glider aloft, the high cloud base allowing Graham Saw to carry out a full aerobatic sequence. Gliders have become a regular fixture at all Shuttleworth Collection airshows in recent years and they add a very different flavour of vintage aviation to flying displays. Whilst the runway was in no condition for the de Havilland Comet to fly, the Percival Mew Gull was able to display individually in the hands of Shuttleworth’s Chief Engineer Jean-Michel Munn, who put the diminutive racer through an entertaining sequence of fighter-like fast passes and sweeping wing overs that ably demonstrated the Mew Gull’s performance.
Four of the Shuttleworth Collection’s trainers also took to the sky; first, de Havillands Tiger Moth and Chipmunk flew both as a pair and solo in the hands of Scott Butler and Peter Kosogorin respectively, the former flying a demonstration of basic flying training manouevres whilst the latter carried out a traditional lavatory roll cutting sequence. Later in the evening, Bob Morcom in the Avro Tutor joined Chris Huckstep in the Hawker Tomtit for a pairs routine in the two unique 1930s Royal Air Force trainers, enjoying perhaps the best weather conditions of the evening as the cloud began to scatter.
Hopes that the weather would continue to break were dashed, however. With a large band of heavy rain inbound, the Sea Hurricane (Paul Stone) and Westland Lysander (Frank Chapman) had to curtail their show-closing duo, landing back on before they could commence their display. A disappointing end to the day, no doubt, but a sensible one given the incoming deluge.
The reworked programme may have been far shorter than intended – around 90 minutes of flying, all told, compared to the scheduled two and a half to three hours – but the efforts of the Shuttleworth Collection’s dedicated pilots, engineers, volunteers and staff mean that the first Classic Evening Airshow of the year should be remembered as a triumph of the will.