Shuttleworth Collection Military Pageant

Sunday 5th July 2015

Amid grumblings about this quaint, traditional and much-loved venue venturing down the controversial and disliked route of advance tickets, and the presence in the flying display of that nasty great Tin Triangle and the army of "outsiders" the Vulcan would bring in terms of her colourful supporters, this was an airshow which was eagerly anticipated by some, and actually dreaded by others. Whichever side of the fence your feelings lay, the Military Pageant was the Shuttleworth Collection's most talked-about show of the 2015 display season so far.

Tim Croton reports as a sold out Old Warden welcomes back the Blenheim and bids XH558 farewell. Photography by the UKAR Staff Team as credited.

A full house at Shuttleworth. When was the last time that happened? Credit to the organisers too - the numerous "sold out" signs on the route into the venue doubtless deterred even the most determined ticketless punter from chancing their arm. Concerns had been raised in the week leading up to the show about the expected crowd size, due in no small measure to one particular aircraft, the soon-to-be-retired Avro Vulcan XH558. This was to be her belated debut, post-restoration, at Shuttleworth. A sizeable number of posters on our forums had questioned if the aircraft, and equally the distinct demographic she attracts, should even be at this most genteel of venues.

In reality these concerns became less of an issue and despite the gates having to be opened half an hour earlier than advertised and the visibly greater numbers, traffic flowed at a constant rate and there was nothing to be seen of the sort of crowding the two Lancasters placed on smaller venues last summer. Time to park up and have a wander around the hangars and with the main theme of the show being a First World War commemoration event there was plenty to see - not least the superb Bristol Scout reproduction beautifully built from scratch, save for a couple of original parts by brothers David and Rick Bremner with assistance from friend Theo Wilford. She really is a looker, Biggles would have been proud! (Look out for our Display Frequency podcast on the build!).

A number of Great War vehicles provided an interesting cavalcade circling the showground and various other attractions were to be found including the regular "Pilot's Chat", on this occasion hosted by Peter Holloway who gave a fascinating and entertaining talk about his Fieseler Storch.

The flying programme began at 2pm with the much-awaited Vulcan which approached from the south, making for an impressive entrance due to her sheer size at this relatively small venue. Flying close to the crowdline, with a routine of slow and low passes combined with relatively tight turns, the display flown by the often-criticised Bill Ramsey was surely one of '558's better performances, although for the appreciative audience the distinctive howl was notably missing. It was predicted that a fair number of people would depart once the grand delta had completed her display but this simply didn't materialise. Also notable was the commentary by Vulcan To The Sky Trust (VTST) press officer Richard Clarke. A simple, no-nonsense, stick-to-the-facts delivery which at no point veered off into the realms of the twee and toe-curling, as so many Vulcan narrations have in recent seasons.

If the Vulcan was billed as the star item for the public, for the Old Warden purist it was the appearance of the Bristol Blenheim - again the machine's first at Old Warden since, in her case, the latest restoration. It was only after a few hours contemplation that it finally sank in that we had witnessed one of the best displays of the UK airshow season so far. John Romain delivered the goods with a stunning display full of energy in this glorious aeroplane, flown with precision and showcasing apparent silky smooth handling. With a series of fabulous "topsides" and high banking turns which glistened as the sun sporadically appeared between gaps in the cloud, this was certainly a moment that will live long in the memory of all those present. There's something special about these Second World War twins, and the public and enthusiast alike love them. How wonderful it would be to one day have a de Havilland Mosquito to complement the Blenheim!

An unexpected guest was Kennet Aviation's Seafire XVII, back in the air just days prior to the event after engine troubles made last summer's return to flight an all too brief one. The naval visitor lined up with the Collection's Sea Hurricane for what, on paper, should have been a memorable set piece, but following a very loose formation pass to open, the usually-excellent John Beattie flew SX336 in a rather restrained and high manner, whilst the resident "Hurri" put in the usual impeccable display in the hands of Paul Stone.

Chris Heames in the home-based Piston Provost flew aerobatics above the three vintage trainers; Magister, Tiger Moth and Tutor, though it seemed more of a distraction at times as the eye was constantly drawn to the trainer formation - consequently the Provost became lost high in the sky and proved little more than an unfortunate side-show.

A highly-commendable commentary came from Tim Callaway, letting the sound of the aircraft do the talking and interjecting only when appropriate to give some well thought out snippets of information on each aircraft type and ably ad-libbing when the opportunity arose. Overall a very polished performance.

The interwar Hawker pair of Demon and Hind always put in a good show and are among the most photogenic of Shuttleworth's stable when not upstaged by the de Havilland Comet, which sadly was rested on the day presumably due to not fitting into the main theme. The pilots of the duo made formation work look easy but with crosswinds stiffening it took some skilful flying to wrestle the aircraft against the elements and remain in formation. Equally, a brave decision was made to pilot the precarious-looking Eon Primary Glider but Graham Saw brought it safely home and along with the "Radar" and Grunau Baby gliders proving popular acts.

Peter Teichman succumbed to the worst of the weather in his Spitfire PR.XI, and his battle against the stiffening breeze resulted in a somewhat distant display on the day. After making an abortive attempt to land, he came back sometime later and returned to terra firma more successfully second time around.

As the show came to an end the final main themed set piece had to be cancelled as the Great War aircraft were unable to handle the by-now rather stiff crosswind. The proposed poppy drop by the Bristol F.2B "Brisfit" was cancelled, with the floral tribute instead being deployed from the more sturdy Piston Provost, while the airfield observed a two-minute silence.

Other notable highlights included a few very spirited flypasts from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Spitfire Vb AB910. Finally, it seems, the Flight have cottoned on that they need to vary their routines to have any impact at this venue. The aforementioned Storch defied the laws of physics with its trademark slow flying and short landing capabilities whilst the gorgeous Gloster Gladiator did it's best to "shoot down" the German-painted machine in an enjoyable set piece.

The final word goes to the organisers and volunteers at this year's Military Pageant whose efforts were rewarded with a huge crowd and excellent flying. Once again, the venue's dog-leg layout lent itself to some of the finest flying you'll see at any airshow this, or any other, summer.

A superb day, of the sort that Old Warden simply does better than anywhere else.