Shuttleworth Collection 'LAA Party in the Park' Report

Sunday 15th June 2014

The Shuttleworth Collection host a number of annual air displays, and Sunday 15th June saw the third flying day of 2014 hosted on their intimate grass airfield at Old Warden, Bedfordshire. Special guests were the Light Aircraft Association [LAA] who have provided a basis upon which an increasing number of vintage aircraft are being operated. Since this is the ethos of the Shuttleworth Collection, it seems only fitting that the LAA brought a selection of aircraft, both old and new, along for both the flying and static displays for this event, aptly entitled the "LAA Party in the Park".

Much like the grey skies, Tom Lantaff descended on Old Warden. Additional photographs from UKAR forum members as credited.

Among the static displays from the LAA, aside from an overly large private enclosure which had sprung up adjacent to the control tower, were a Yakovlev Yak-52, Isaacs Fury, De Havilland Chipmunk and most pleasingly a row of three De Havilland Hornet Moths, all of which would later depart after the show for those who decided to stick around.

The flyers were just as welcome, and really rather impressive! The most notable contribution was that of the e-Go, the winner of the LAA’s design competition in 2007. Notwithstanding this being one of the most eccentric aircraft designs ever to take flight, test pilot Keith Dennison - incidentally also a regular Shuttleworth pilot - has described how effortlessly the aircraft handles and hence could revolutionise the future of sport flying. The routine was as impressive as the aircraft itself, with a series of fast passes demonstrating the e-Go’s agility, complemented by some slower passes to demonstrate its full array of credentials.

The second of these was the inaugural public display by Richard Seeley's Travel Air Type R "Mystery Ship" replica. Despite having approximately zero forward visibility owing to the huge 9 cylinder Lycoming radial engine she formed up with the Shuttleworth Collection's newest acquisition, the Percival Mew Gull, for a loose formation pass before the two aircraft separated into solos. The Mew Gull disappointingly only gave 3 passes, however this was more than compensated for by LAA director Jez Cooke displaying the Mystery Ship with gusto; she is sure to be a star turn on the display circuit.

A highlight for many was the first public display in over a year by Spitfire la P9374, operated by the Aircraft Restoration Company and presently residing at Duxford. The mass gathering of spectators around the parking slot as she fired up, and inevitable rendezvous as she did likewise to depart after the show, certainly serves to highlight her popularity. Recovered from a beach in Calais in 1980 and subsequently restored to stock condition she is arguably the world's most historically-accurate Spitfire, and unequivocally one of the most beautiful, thus it was a real treat to see her gracing the clutter-free backdrop that Old Warden is famed for on the UK Airshow scene. Dave Ratcliffe's gentle display opened the show with a series of top- and bottom-side passes (the latter highlighting the distinctive black and white underside markings) and perfectly complemented the purr of her Rolls Royce Merlin up top.

Further Merlin action was provided by the Shuttleworth Collection's own Sea Hurricane as well as the BBMF's Spitfires Vb MK356 and clipped-wing XVI TE311, both now sporting invasion stripes in commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Formation flypasts were followed by a brief tailchase although it is clear just how much the military display regulations starves their routine of the same impact held by that of civilian-owned fighters; this is not just a problem at Old Warden and has been observed elsewhere but there was a distinct sense of "was that it?" as the aircraft waggled their wings and departed home. The BBMF also sent their DC3 "Kwicherbichen" for, contrastingly, a very spirited trio of flypasts.

One certainty when attending a show at Old Warden is that a healthy selection of based aircraft will be flying throughout the afternoon. Today they included the ubiquitous sextet of World War One aircraft including the world's only flyable original Bristol F2b Fighter, alongisde the Bristol M1c replica which tested some people's balance in making a banking pass which certainly appeared to be vertically overhead. The collection also boasts an enviable assortment of interwar fighters. One could describe the smooth sound of the Lysander and Gladiator's Bristol Mercury engines as sumptuous; appropriately these have established themselves as centrepieces of the collection and as always put on the sort of displays intrinsic to an Old Warden airshow: close, energetic and inherently photogenic.

Further displays came from the Barnstormers with their Tiger Moth, Chipmunk, Super Cub (which at one point cheated and threw two flour bombs simultaneously) and Magister, the meticulous Graham Saw in the Letov Lunak aerobatic glider, a quartet of Miles aircraft including Falcon, Magister pair and stunning Whitney Straight, Mark Sharp in his quaint Andreasson BA4B, the familiar sight of the Pitts duo of the TRIG Team and the Edgeley Optica making a welcome return.

The quality of the eclectic mix of aircraft on show was second-to-none; unfortunately the weather failed to replicate this, with somewhat gusty winds precluding the Edwardians from getting airborne. With the winds came plenty of cloud, blanketing Bedfordshire in an unbroken grey gloom which made photography a challenge, silhouettes being the order of the day. On the subject of photography, some of the trees under the display line appear to have been 'trimmed', but have been done so in such a fashion which has left two rather awkwardly angular trunks protruding out from the others which, if we are picky, is less aesthetically pleasing than either a full tree canopy or no canopy at all.

To summarise, this was arguably the best Old Warden line-up in a while, with the organisers seemingly providing a shake-up of sorts with regards to visiting aircraft; the Spitfire Mk1, e-Go and Travel Air were all making their debuts at the venue while the display still contained its rich core of home-based machines. With a further 8 shows still to go in 2014, if line-ups are as impressive as this one then Old Warden, and the Shuttleworth Collection, will be counting their pennies and surely seeing a bumper year in terms of attendances.