Shuttleworth Collection 'Best of British' Evening Airshow

Saturday 18th July 2015

Following a sell-out Military Pageant at the beginning of July, many Old Warden regulars were eager to evade the hype and to claim 'their' Old Warden back with the 'Best of British Evening Airshow' - out went the public's infatuation with the great Tin Triangle which characterised the former afternoon's display, and returning was the true hype-free flavour of the Shuttleworth Collection's shows which us enthusiasts oh so love and treasure.

While many may have followed the Vulcan to RIAT on the same weekend, Tom Lantaff opted for a genteel evening in the Bedfordshire countryside and reports for UKAR. Photography as credited.

An airshow at Old Warden is always a treat in that it takes the Shuttleworth Collection's exquisite fleet and complements it with the best of those dotted elsewhere across the country, resulting in a fantastic array of aircraft all under the one proverbial roof. Conceivably we can expect around five or six visitors per show; we were however presented with no fewer than fourteen, including several types the author had never before seen display. Aircraft such as Mark Miller's De Havilland DH.87b Hornet Moth, a Wicko GM1, Supermarine Spitfire, the world's only four flying Miles Magisters and the splendid De Havilland DH.90a Dragonfly all graced the flightline as Chris Heames opened the display in the 'Yellowjack' Folland Gnat T.1 at 6pm sharp.

In addition to a similar number of based aircraft including the famous De Havilland DH.88 Comet, the question was how everything was going to fit into the 2.5-or-so hours before sunset. The simple answer was... it wasn't! In fact, the final act didn't land until just past 9:30pm, by which time the sun had already set and a chill was in the air, while out on the airfield the aircraft were, one-by-one, being taken inside to rest for the night. It was certainly atmospheric, and served as one of those special unique Old Warden moments and gave an impression of conditions servicemen would have faced during the Great War returning from home after long, gruelling mission. On a practical, and photographic, basis however it would surely have been more beneficial to have started the display an hour earlier at 5pm; this would have allowed more aircraft to utilise the daylight while it lasted, as well as not making photography so tricky as the evening grew late.

While we cannot possibly mention every display throughout the evening, an honourable mention must go to Dave Ratcliffe in the IWM's recently-acquried Supermarine Spitfire N3200. After displaying its ex-stable mate 'P9374' at Old Warden last year, Dave flew the aircraft through a superb display of close passes, including five wonderful topside views. It was a display which bared similarities to the much-praised Blenheim display at the previous show and emphasised how little need there is to take a precious Second World War fighter through an endless series of loops and rolls in order to give spectators the view they all crave. Other display highlights included Dan Griffith in the Dragonfly alongside the Comet and the quartet of Miles Magisters with the two visiting aircraft joining examples based at Old Warden, owned by The Shuttleworth Collection and Peter Holloway. The Sea Hurricane, like the Spitfire, was also superbly flown - as commentator George Ellis pointed out, Chris Huckstep really is making the Hurricane his own, and he certainly does know how to get the best out of the aircraft, displaying at incredibly low level!

Stealing the show however (the highlight of the highlights so to speak!), were two highly-anticipated, brand new arrivals from New Zealand in the shape of a Sopwith 7F1 Snipe and Albatross D.Va. Built from scratch by The Vintage Aviator Ltd (TVAL) under the leadership of Gene DeMarco, the attention to detail is second-to-none and never ceases to amaze, down to every bolt. Having arrived in a shipping container a mere week before the show, they were re-assembled, rigged up and test flown during the week to be ready for the show. Like the BE2e pair which arrived on the UK airshow scene at a similar time during 2014, these are both owned by the 'World War 1 Aviation Heritage Trust' and, unlike the last Albatross to be brought to us by TVAL, will not be permanently grounded and wasted as static museum exhibits. Gene DeMarco and fellow New Zealander Keith Skilling (who had already been in the UK for Flying Legends) were able to display the Snipe and Albatross respectively, the crosswinds easing throughout the evening to within the limit for such fragile aircraft. While the Snipe display may have begun well after sunset and had the photographers entering the realms of five-figure ISO settings, the Albatross enjoyed what can only be described as sumptuous golden evening light, Keith Skilling putting her through a prolonged solo display in the final rays of sun.

The potential for such spectacular lighting may not be unique to Old Warden but is certainly one of its key selling points - nowhere else are aircraft so frequently seen in conditions which allow them to express their true beauty. Other acts to enjoy the 'Golden Hour' were the Hawker pair of Hind & Demon, Avro 504k and the beautiful Slingsby Petrel glider, glowing red against deep blue skies as Graham Saw floated silently to the grass. Likewise the Dragonfly, arguably one of our finest vintage aircraft, and Comet enjoyed similar lighting on taxi and takeoff, only to be denied by a typically-placed grey cloud. In fact, despite being a lovely summer's day for the majority, the lighting hadn't been the best throughout the earlier stages of the flying display with an irritating thin layer of cloud masking the sun for long periods. Moments like this, however brief, make everything worthwhile though.

There was some debate pre-show about Shuttleworth's new ticket prices - the £28 gate price is significantly up on last year and over half what one would have paid for the day at RIAT for a considerably shorter flying programme. Value for money (compared to last year's prices at least) seemed questionable for some earlier shows with few visiting airframes, however on this occasion the Shuttleworth Collection justified the price with a non-stop 3.5 hour flying display. Line-ups akin to this one and the previous Military Pageant display, with both quality and quantity of visitors, need to become the norm to quash any lingering debate though as Old Warden is looking a pricey proposition this year, especially these (normally) shorter evening displays.

This was a truly superb evening of flying; top marks to the Shuttleworth Collection for assembling, for the second show running, a quite superb range of both visiting and based aircraft. There are just four more shows to follow in 2015 at Old Warden, and if they're anywhere near as good as this one, then we're in for a real treat.