The Shuttleworth Collection had a successful start to its 2021 airshow season, hosting its first Sunday airshow with the Season Premiere on 2 May followed by the Spies and Intrigue Evening Airshow on 15 May. The events were a welcome return to something approaching normality, even if spring showers did their best to put a dampener on things.
In July 2020, in the wake of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and the first nationwide lockdown, the Shuttleworth Collection led the way in the aviation (and public) events field by staging world-first drive-in airshows, beginning partway through the season and continuing until October. The events allowed people to safely attend airshows and generated vital income for the Collection. The Collection has picked up where it left off, this time beginning the airshow year in May as normal.
The 2021 Season Premiere proved to be quite a tonic. A chance for the community to reconnect face-to-face following a long, dark winter lockdown and breathe a collective sigh of relief. An airshow of any calibre would have been most welcome to enthusiasts devoid of any recent aviation experiences, but the Shuttleworth Collection provided its usual high-quality fayre to lift the spirits, with a core of Collection aircraft bolstered by a handful of visiting acts.
Let’s not forget that although there were several airshows in 2020, pilot and ground crew currency at the start of May was lower than usual owing to the curtailed 2020 airshow season and lengthy lockdowns. It is a testament to the team that they have seamlessly got back into the swing of things.
From the get-go this year, Covid-19 restrictions were such that visitors could leave their allocated parking boxes and wander the site (whilst maintaining social distancing) before the flying began. At the Season Premiere this gave everyone the opportunity to catch up after the long winter. You couldn’t walk more than a few paces without seeing another friendly face and having a good chat – though that meant it took an age to get anywhere!
With the flying underway, one of the real ‘ahh, we’re back!’ moments was the display by the Collection’s Gloster Gladiator, which was a particularly lovely showing from Willy Hackett. A firm favourite of many and one of the regular Shuttleworth ‘heavies’, it was like seeing an old friend. Carrying a lot of energy with big climbing turns, the Gladiator’s Mercury was purring beautifully and the wind was whistling through the wires, sun glinting off the silvered wings all the while. Classic Shuttleworth!
The latest deep overhaul to emerge from the Collection’s workshop is the Bristol F.2b Fighter, which made its first post-overhaul airshow appearance having spent 18 months in Hangar 1 under the care of Andy Preslent and his diligent colleagues. The F.2b is resplendent in a new paint scheme depicting the 22 Squadron mount of Sgt Ernest John Elton in 1918; by the war’s end, Elton was the highest scoring NCO in the RAF. It stands as a reminder of the perpetual overhaul and maintenance that Shuttleworth engineers undertake to keep the vast fleet in working order.
It’s always impressive to see larger aircraft operating from the intimate confines of Old Warden, as Plane Sailing’s Catalina Miss Pick Up did at the Season Premiere. Landing on in the morning, visitors were able to enjoy the sight of the aircraft carefully manoeuvring into its parking spot and looming over the fence line.
The amphibian was displayed in exuberant fashion later in the day with Paul Warren-Wilson captaining, demonstrating just how agile the large aircraft is with low, fast passes and tight turns being the order of the day. It was nice to see the Catalina back in action after its troubles in the autumn of 2020 when it was marooned on Loch Ness in Scotland following an engine failure during filming work. A concerted community effort allowed the Cat to be repaired and flown back to Duxford.
A highlight of the day was seeing James Brown making his public display debut in his exquisite Harvard FE511. James has been the owner of Hurricane R4118 since 2015, and in the proceeding years has undertaken his tail wheel conversion and worked his way up to flying the warbird fighter, which he did for the first time in 2018. Whilst building time on the Harvard he has worked up to obtaining his public display authorisation (DA) – with that milestone achieved, he intends to display the Hurricane in the future and has been practicing for this at Duxford in recent months.
James’ routine was very enjoyable, starting at height for a series of well-choreographed aerobatics before working down for some lower passes. We don’t tend to see too many Harvard aerobatic displays at UK airshows anymore, and I hope James’ aircraft becomes a more regular sight. Congratulations, James!
There has been great interest in the recent film work that involved several UK-based Buchóns and Me 108s, all of which had temporary desert JG 27 schemes applied. Although film work is complete, the Aircraft Restoration Company’s (ARC) Hispano Buchón appeared at Shuttleworth wearing its temporary scheme, with John Romain landing on in the morning ahead of the show. The Buchón joins a handful of warbirds to have landed at the airfield for the first time in recent years, others being the Thunderbolt, Corsair, Catalina and C-47.
John’s display later in the afternoon was a perfect example of how his display has moulded to the venue’s dogleg crowd line, and was one of the finest showings of the type I’ve seen in a long while. A beautiful aerobatic routine that balanced elegance and aggression – and the sun even shone to vividly highlight the desert camouflage and mottling.
As the day progressed there was a classic mix of British spring weather, from warm sun to sharp showers. It just felt right to be stood on the airfield watching the de Havilland Comet display backed by curtains of rain coming down from a passing shower – a warming sense that things were, perhaps, edging towards a degree of normality. That feeling was certainly put to the test at the second Old Warden airshow of the year, this being a somewhat wetter affair.
Two weeks after the Season Premiere was the first Evening Airshow, with this one titled Spies and Intrigue and the headline act being the pairing of both of the UK’s airworthy Westland Lysanders for the second time at Old Warden. This marked the debut of the ARC Lysander’s newly installed winglets and bomb racks, which were completed in 2020 by ARC’s master craftsman ‘Smudge’ Smith. Earlier in the afternoon, the paddock area between the control tower and workshop was opened up to visitors to allow unhindered access to some of the aircraft, the Lysander pair among them, which offered a great opportunity to get a closer look at these intriguing new additions to the airframe.
The planned formation of Lysanders, Spitfire Mk Vb AR501 and Gloster Gladiator was a tantalising prospect that harked back to the early noughties, when Shuttleworth airshows classically ended with a four or five-ship formation of the local ‘heavies’. Unfortunately, an approaching weather front curtailed the quartet and a single flypast by the Lysander pair led into a Romain solo that was itself cut short by the need to get the Spitfire and Gladiator on the ground ahead of the incoming wall of rain. The brief glimpse of what a John Romain Lysander solo at Old Warden looks like was tantalising – next time, please!
Two types often underutilised by airshow organisers are the venerable Piper L-4 Cub and Auster, and the show was due to have a trio of each of these army cooperation types. Mark Miller and his immaculate Autocrat led Kevin Hale in his military Auster AOP6, offering a nice comparison between the two as they tail-chased in the evening sunlight. Unfortunately one of the Cubs scrubbed but nevertheless, the duo was more than adequate in keeping our attention. Following some formation passes, the Cub duo split and displayed simultaneously at either end of the crowd line (Zone C was not in use at this event) before joining for some opposition passes. A finely choreographed sequenced flown by Jean-Michel Munn and Tom Turner.
Thankfully, the first segment of World War One types fell during a period of sunnier weather, with Sopwiths Pup and Triplane and the Avro 504K all enjoying a good run out. The Pup in particular was displayed very nicely by Scott Butler. With several large weather fronts of heavy rain rolling across the airfield during the flying display, the Shuttleworth team did well to keep things going during the dry spells; whilst portions of the flying programme had to be scrubbed, the delectable racing trio of Comet, Mew Gull and Hawk Speed Six rounded off the flying proper, followed by the first Edwardian appearance of the year with the Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite getting aloft in the twilight at 9.15pm. Nowhere else on Earth can you end a day like that!
Shuttleworth aficionados see many of these aeroplanes so frequently that it would be all too easy to become blasé about these airshows and the aircraft that fly at them, but the last 18 months have demonstrated just how precariously ‘normal life’ can hang in the balance. If the tumultuous Covid era has taught us anything, it will surely be to never take any of this for granted.
The Collection has a full season of airshows planned, with all currently set to be drive-in events. The intention is to revert to the usual pre-pandemic format as soon as restrictions permit. More information can be found on the Shuttleworth Collection Website.