So comes around another airshow season, and with the decline in the number of events in the UK in recent years, Shuttleworth remains a constant – hosting 10 flying display events per year. Whilst such a lynchpin of the vintage aviation and airshow scene may seem solid, the challenges of recent years have tested the Collection, as they have the whole leisure sector. This, combined with the advance of time, has necessitated changes to try and keep things fresh. Most of these changes have made complete sense and are welcomed by most – re-surfacing of the car park and hangar base, improved signage around the site and a branding update across the Trust’s various faculties. There was also a new access road, Alder Drive, which makes much sense for events, however, in 2022 this new entrance was utilised at all times and ticketed from the gate on non-event days – no more dropping into the cafe for lunch without having to buy an entrance ticket to the Collection.
This drew many negative reviews and changed the atmosphere around the place significantly; it also significantly affected the cafe’s footfall and takings. In early spring this year Shuttleworth announced the reversion to the old daily opening routines, with entrance via the Hill Lane gate and no fee to visit the cafe, playground and parkland, rather than the arrangement that had been in place for 2022. Thankfully, during a visit in April, Shuttleworth seemed back to its normal character, with rows of cars parked in front of the hangars and a bustling cafe. For this season too, ticket prices have been kept the same as in 2022, which must be commended. At a time when Shuttleworth could’ve been forgiven for raising them – as the cost of living increases relentlessly, so too does the cost of leisure activities in order for events and organisations to cover their overheads.
Shuttleworth seemed to be in a somewhat more positive place heading into the 2023 airshow season, and this year’s Season Premiere was themed the King & Country Show due to it taking place the day after the coronation of King Charles III. Although the day dawned dry, and the sun began to break through from mid-morning, this Spring’s heavy rainfall had taken its toll on the grass and the car parks were fairly muddy. That too meant that the heavier fighters, namely the Spitfire and Sea Hurricane, were unable to fly due to the soft ground conditions. What this did allow was for them, along with the Gladiator, to be positioned on the hardstanding near the cafe, allowing people close-up views of the fighters.
One particular piece of Shuttleworth history on display at an airshow for the first time since joining the Collection was 1919 Clayton & Shuttleworth Engine No. 48279 ‘Phoenix’, which was donated to the Trust in September 2022. With the Collection’s other steam engine ‘Dorothy’ requiring boiler repairs, ‘Phoenix’ will be in steam at this year’s programme of airshows.
The Royal theme drew participation from an aircraft with a direct link to the new monarch – the very aircraft in which HRH learned to fly in between 1968 to ’69. De Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk WP903 served in the Queen’s Flight and was used to instruct several members of the Royal family, including Charles. Painted in striking Signal Red, the aircraft had a special warning lamp atop the cockpit, the “parrot”, used when undertaking Royal duties, warning other aircraft to stay well away when illuminated. HRH undertook 101 sorties in WP903 including his first solo flight, from RAF Bassingbourn, on January 14 1969. The Chipmunk is now resident at Old Warden having lived at Henlow for many years, and was flown in fine fashion by Bob Brinkley.
HRH continued flying and moved on to the twin engined Beagle Basset before arriving at RAF Cranwell in 1971 for the full jet training course as a No.1 Graduate Entry as a Flight Lieutenant. There he flew Percival Jet Provosts; sadly one had to cancel from the show a few weeks prior. After passing out, HRH moved to the Royal Navy where he flew the Westland Wessex. In 1977 he was made Colonel in Chief of The Parachute Regiment and felt he could not wear the famous Red Beret and Para Wings unless he had experienced some of what the regiment had to go through. He subsequently asked to take part in the Parachute Training Course and in 1978 he attended Parachute Course 841a at RAF Brize Norton. Representing this stage of HRH’s military career was the British Army Parachute Display team, the Red Devils, who enthralled the large family crowd as they returned to earth – particularly the parachutist with a huge Union Jack!
The colours of the flag were to feature strongly in the show, with a trio of biplanes forming a red white and blue themed display courtesy Shuttleworth’s DH.60 Moth, Southern Martlett and David Cyster’s Tiger Moth, all adorned with Union Jacks fluttering from the wing struts. The Collection’s Chipmunk also flew trailing red, white and blue ribbons in an aerobatic routine, which really enhanced the lyrical nature of the display.
What more fitting aircraft to appear at the King & Country show than the Avro Lancaster. Bomber Leader Seb Davey put on a tremendous showing of the mighty bomber. Scheduled as a ‘flypast’, traditionally a series of three passes rather than a full display, the aircraft was positioned beautifully as it curved round the bend, soundtracked by the synchronised Merlin engines.
Making a welcome return to Shuttleworth for the first time since 2018 was the venerable Fairey Swordfish from Navy Wings. Having been out of action for a few years owing to engine issues, Mk I W5856 is flying again and this was its first appearance since being put on the G-register – as such, it was possibly the first time it has been displayed with the pilot as the sole occupant, rather than three-up, as was traditional. Its display was made particularly special by 99-year-old Swordfish gunner veteran David Berry joining the commentary team to talk through some of his experiences.
Making its much-anticipated display debut at the show was Project Lynx’s Westland Lynx AH7 XZ179. With the AH7s only being retired by the Army Air Corps in 2015, it was a little strange to see the Lynx lifting off for display in private hands, but very welcome nonetheless – it is always great to see the burgeoning classic helicopter scene represented at airshows. Whilst not allowed to perform the impressive aerobatics we were used to seeing from the in-service AAC Lynx display, XZ179 put on a wonderful display in the hands of Clive Clark all the same, with bows and wingovers aplenty.
With so many interesting visiting aircraft appearing at Shuttleworth shows nowadays it can be easy to take the ‘home team’ for granted, but it is always incredible to reflect on the fact that there are 15 or so unique types airworthy within the Collection (give or take a few depending on exact definitions!). The pairing of de Havilland DH.51 and Avro Tutor for a display exemplified this perfectly, with the two large biplanes making a great pair despite having been built nearly a decade apart.
Shuttleworth hosts an impressive roster of pilots which naturally rolls on as the years go by. It is always promising to see younger individuals brought into the fold and as such it was a pleasure to see Richard Crockett undertake his first public display as an Apprentice Shuttleworth Pilot. Although Richard has flown the Collection’s gliders and indeed the English Electric Wren many times before, it is wonderful to see him officially join the ranks and have the chance to fly more of the types.
Some pilots have such a distinctive flying style that regular attendees will be able to identify a pilot just from a display profile, and that is often the case with the Chief Engineer, Jean Munn, whose lyrical displays are a sight to behold in any aircraft. Pilots at the Collection always work their way up through various types over the years, and this season Jean has stepped up to the Gloster Gladiator, with this being his first display in the type at an airshow. His flying showed off the ‘silvered wings’ of the Gladiator beautifully, with the Mercury-powered biplane swooping about backed by bubbling white clouds. Ahh, the airshow season really is back!
Very luckily for the first show of the year, the winds were calm enough to allow some of the Edwardians to get into the air. The Bristol Boxkite and Avro Triplane replicas made two flights each. The first Boxkite sortie was flown by Stu Goldspink, and whilst it is always a pleasure to see a pilot of Stu’s calibre fly any aircraft, it is particularly nice to see him piloting this as Stu grew up in Old Warden village and dreamed of flying the Boxkite as a child. The English Electric Wren also managed a quick hop after a few trundles up and down the runway. It was interesting to note how many people stayed later in the day compared to the usual Sunday events, presumably due to the Bank Holiday the following day!
Despite facing several challenges, visiting participants dropping out and the soft ground stopping some of the crowd-pleasing home fleet from flying, the Season Premiere once again provided a full and rounded start to the airshow season and a fitting celebration for the coronation weekend.
For more information on upcoming Shuttleworth airshows and to purchase tickets, follow this link: www.shuttleworth.org/events/