Arriving at Old Warden on a beautifully sunny July day, visitors were left under no illusions as to what this show was celebrating, being met by an impressive array of fixed-wing and rotary Naval types lined up on the grass, from the Hawker Nimrod to Grumman Bearcat and myriad helicopters – this was the return of the popular Fly Navy Airshow in conjunction with the Navy Wings charity.
The atmosphere and anticipation for the show was palpable, and one item on the showground drawing much attention was the public debut on static display of the unique Maurice Farman S7 Longhorn being restored by Flying Restorations Ltd at its new premises at Old Warden. Developed before the First World War, Longhorns were used by French and British air services and also Naval Flying Schools. The largely complete wooden airframe is as yet uncovered with Irish linen, allowing visitors to see the intricate craftsmanship. This huge biplane is an exciting prospect to see flying in the future!
The Collection’s Spitfire AR501 and Sea Hurricane were joined by the Navy Wings Seafire XVII SX336 for a series of formation and tailchase passes, followed by a particularly punchy solo from the Seafire in the hands of Lt Cdr Chris Gotke.
A quartet of First World War rotary types featured, with the Collection’s Avro 504K and Sopwith Pup and Triplane being joined by David Bremner’s Bristol Scout, the latter having made few appearances in recent years owing to engine issues.
Not to be outdone by the myriad of visiting acts, a gaggle of the Shuttleworth trainers put on a thoroughly enjoyable routine, with the Tiger Moth, Tutor, Magister and Chipmunk providing a tight and energetic formation and tailchase display – a wonderful and dynamic way to see these aeroplanes that we see in the air so often throughout the year.
A much-missed sight in the skies over Old Warden in recent years has been that of a Hawker biplane. With the based Demon out with engine issues and the Collection’s own Hind and Tomtit on varying degrees of overhaul, The Fighter Collection’s Nimrod Mk.II made a welcome rare appearance away from its home base at Duxford, flown in a beautifully flowing routine by Stu Goldspink.
Plane Sailing’s PBY Catalina provided a very impactful display, helped by a period of sunshine picking out the white amphibian against the dark clouds in the background that were the order of the day. A trio of American single-engined radials trainers also flew together, with Kennet Aviation’s US Navy schemed Stearman leading theirs and Navy Wings’ T-6s.
There was to also be a trio of American naval radial fighters, with The Fighter Collection’s Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, and Grumman F4F Wildcat and F8F Bearcat, however, the Wildcat had a technical issue that precluded it from displaying. It was still very welcome to see the Wildcat and Corsair operating from the Old Warden grass, especially when their home base of Duxford is so close, and the displays by Brian Smith in the Corsair and Pete Kynsey in the Bearcat backed by dark storm clouds more than made up for it!
The show was somewhat of a celebration of the burgeoning classic helicopter scene currently being enjoyed in the UK. One of the stars of the show for many was the appearance of the Historic Helicopters’ Westland Wessex HU5 XT761, making its first appearance at Old Warden since making its return to flight in 2019. Joining the Wessex for a duo display was their ‘Junglie’ Sea King, one of several of the type that Historic Helicopters have returned to flight in recent years.
A trio of Wasp HAS1s featured on the bill, including the very attractive example recently restored by Weald Aviation Ltd. The three encountered a sharp rain shower during their display which added to the atmosphere somewhat! The Gazelle Squadron, too, attended with a five-ship and a very slick and well-formulated routine. The intimate confines of Old Warden lends itself so well to rotary-wing displays and all of them were enjoyed immensely.
The main display was rounded off with a finale formation of warbirds, with the TFC Corsair and Bearcat joining the Collection’s Sea Hurricane Spitfire, and the Navy Wings Seafire for a series of formation passes. The final flying item was the Avro Triplane, able to get aloft in the breeze, however the Bristol Boxkite was unable to, despite being brought out onto the flight line. This, however, led to a wonderful opportunity to see the Boxkite replica and the Longhorn side-by-side as the latter was taken across the airfield back to the Flying Restorations hangar.
This edition of Fly Navy had the same buzz around it that the inaugural event did in 2016 and was a true bumper show – it really felt like a big occasion. The Shuttleworth Collection and the airshows held at Old Warden are a unique phenomenon around the world – both with the array of aircraft and the number of shows held throughout the year – and it should never be taken for granted. Whilst that is the case it can always be beneficial to keep things fresh and the break from the Navy theme for a few seasons meant that this show was once again fresh and exciting for the seasoned visitor. If the Shuttleworth team can continue to do this with their themes going forwards without too much added difficulty, they will raise Shuttleworth even higher as the pinnacle airshow venue.
For more information on upcoming Shuttleworth airshows and to purchase tickets, follow this link: www.shuttleworth.org/events/