Shuttleworth Collection Autumn Air Display Report

Sunday 2nd October 2011

The Summer of 2011 has been a bit of a letdown and airshows up and down the country have invariably found the great British weather intervening in some form or another. If it wasn't overcast, windy or wet, it was probably a combination of all three, with very few airshow weekends blessed with any meaningful sunshine. It was quite surprising therefore to find ourselves basking in an autumnal 'heat wave' that bettered anything we'd seen in the UK since Spring and even more surprising that it actually lasted right through to Sunday October 2nd for the final display at the Shuttleworth Collection's picturesque Bedfordshire home.

Dan Butcher reports from an unseasonably warm Old Warden. Photography by the UKAR team.

As a self confessed 'fair weather photographer', it was the forecast for clear blue skies and soaring temperatures that ensured my attendance at Old Warden more so than the participation list which, on paper, looked solid rather than spectacular. A selection of Old Warden's familiar residents were to be joined by a handful of visiting aircraft, headlined by an unspecified P-51 Mustang. One notable absentee from the advance list was the Sea Hurricane, sadly laid up for the winter one weekend early with an oil leak ruling it out of this display.

Taking advantage of the online booking system on the Collection's website, which remains open right up until 1pm the day preceding any of the Shuttleworth events, my ticket was booked at the discounted early bird rate of just £19, which is good value considering it included admission to the Swiss Gardens and Bird of Prey Centre that are to be found in the Old Warden grounds; alternative entertainment a cut above any other airshow and with flying not underway until 1400, there's plenty of time to appreciate them if you arrive early.

A pair of vintage gliders got the action underway before Peter Teichman arrived from North Weald in his P-51D 'Jumpin' Jacques', presenting the aircraft to the crowd with some lovely topside passes that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon's flying.

There was plenty of variety in the air, with a rare formation of Miles aircraft - Magister, Falcon, Whitney Straight and Gemini - displayed first in formation, then individually in what turned out to be a memorable segment. These are aircraft seldom seen at airshows in the UK, let alone flown together like this. Another interesting formation display of Spartan Executive and Avro Nineteen was well received, the Anson especially well flown.

For my money though, it was the Hawker Hind that stole the show - after breaking from the Gladiator, a marvellous solo routine followed with topsides aplenty. A fine example of how to display a vintage aircraft and, had the display ended at this point as looked likely, it would have been a good way to bring the flying displays at Old Warden to a close for the 2011 season. There were bonus items to follow however...

The Westland Lysander had earlier been forced to shut down and cancel its display slot with a technical issue, but commentator Tim Calloway informed the crowd late-on that the engineers were still working away to try and bring us a display before sun down. Visiting aircraft departures in the evening light kept us entertained until then, with the Lysander finally taking to the skies in the last rays of the setting sun. Credit is due to all those involved with making that decision and turning it into a reality; many other airshows may simply have given up once the slot had been missed.

I have been fortunate to see the Edwardians displaying on both my previous visits to Old Warden, but a breeze had picked up throughout the day which led to a bit of an on/off saga with these fragile antique aircraft throughout the afternoon. With the Lysander back on the ground and the visiting aircraft having almost all begun making their way home, the winds dropped to provide the perfectly calm evening 'the Eds' require and so it was left to the Avro Triplane and Blackburn Monoplane to wrap up in the twilight; a fitting finale.

It may have taken all year to arrive, but at the twelfth time of asking the people and aircraft that make the Shuttleworth shows what they are finally got the weather they deserved. Although varied, it wasn't perhaps the strongest line-up they'd had all year, but good weather is vital for any outdoor event and this turned out to be an excellent air display in ideal conditions. It's that combination which will make this display the highlight of many people's airshow year.

On a day like this Old Warden really is special.