Old Warden Spring Air Display 2005 Review
Sunday 1st May
The first display of the season is what makes the winter worthwhile. The sights, sounds and even the smell of Old Warden coming to life after the long cold and dark months brings a smile to the faces of all those who enjoy the unique atmosphere of the garden party style shows the Shuttleworth Collection hosts at its home in deepest Bedfordshire. There's nothing to match the sound of Merlins and the sweet smell of castor oil in the air.
reports from Old Warden's first public display of the year. All photography by the author.
Old Warden is the Marmite of air displays. You either love the place, or you hate it. Many of those present in a healthy Bank Holiday crowd have been coming to see the biplanes and triplanes of the Collection for decades - and will continue to do so.
I'm a relative newcomer - this was just my second visit, but I'd enjoyed the first so much the previous September, I decided to forego the longer trek to Abingdon to kick off my season at Old Warden.
Those who arrived early were in for a bonus. Firstly they missed the traffic problems (minor by many shows standards, but certainly unusual for Old Warden) caused by Old Warden Park hosting two events on the day, aside from the air show, a classic car rally was also taking place. Secondly the early birds got to see excellent practice displays from the Collection's beautiful Hawker Sea Hurricane, and a very spirited routine from Chief Pilot Andy Sephton in the Spitfire. We also got to see the Lysander perform a couple of taxi runs, trying to iron out a problem with a sticking throttle. Sadly the problem proved too grave to fix before the display and she stayed on terra firma for the day. The Hurricane too was a no-show in the programme proper - when the crucial moment came, her starter motor decided not to play ball.
The three-hour display started at 2pm with a Jet Provost Mk3. Yes, a jet at Old Warden! Obviously she didn't operate from the grass strip, but flew in from North Weald. A fine way to kick off the action, with some low passes and topsides for the photographers.
For regulars to Old Warden, the bulk of the participants need no introduction. Most of the Collection's aircraft were given an airing. There were starring roles for the Sopwith Triplane, Bristol Fighter and SE.5a representing World War One.
The interwar period was reflected in the Hawker Tomtit, Hawker Hind and Avro Tutor.
The heyday of private flying is marked well by the collection. An array of types from the 1920s and 1930s were in the display, including various Tiger Moths, a Parnell Elf and Southern Martlet. Resplendent in a very striking cream and brown colourscheme reminiscent of a Coventry City away kit from the 1970s was an extremely rare Tipsy Trainer.
There was plenty of barnstorming for younger watchers. Flour bombing, balloon bursting and limbo flying executed to perfection by a Chipmunk and a pair of Magisters.
We even had some modern-day aerobatics in the form of Richard Pickin's CAP-232 F-GKMZ. Plenty of high energy manoeuvres in a cracking routine. Just goes to show that the “daddies” of solo display flying Denny Dobson and Will Curtis aren't going to have it all their own way this season!
World War Two's participation was cut rather drastically by the technical difficulties of the Lysander and Hurricane, but the Spitfire did fly, though it was thrown around considerably less than it had been during the morning session.
Another jet joined the party late in the day. Despite being beset by technical problems on the day, it was a case of better late than never for Golden Apple's T-33. Problems sorted she looked magnificent in the bright Spring sunshine.
The weather was a little too breezy to risk some of the Collection's "Edwardians". The Blackburn Monoplane, Deperdussin and Bleriot IX stayed on the ground, leaving the Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite replicas to take to the skies. The pilot of the Triplane certainly enjoyed himself, waving to the crowds below, while the Boxkite managed just a sedate couple of hops along the runway.
It never ceases to amaze, but there were a large number of freeloaders watching the action from the other side of the hedge. Of course this is commonplace at all airshows, but when you consider the Shuttleworth Collection is run as a charity, and £15 adult admission is not going to break the bank (especially as one freeloader was in a rather vulgar BMW convertible), in my eyes watching from outside at a show such as this one is no different to taking money out of a charity collecting tin. If you want to enjoy the show, then pay the cash! Regardless, it was a great day's flying, aided and abetted by the unseasonally warm weather.