Shuttleworth Collection Edwardian Pageant

Sunday 7th August 2016

Well into the swing of their somewhat slimmed-down annual catalogue of events this year, the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden once again opened their gates, this time playing host to the much-loved Edwardian Pagent. Dodgy weather predictions notwithstanding, news that the venue had been granted an exemption from some of the CAA's new rules and regulations allowed for a positive vibe ahead of the show.

Messrs Tom Jones and Andy Evans provide coverage of the first of Shuttleworth's August events of 2016.

The show might well have been called the "Edwardian Pagent that wasn't", perhaps. Sadly, the show listed differed greatly from the one performed. That most cursed of British phenomenon, the not-so-great summer weather, put paid to the idea of the Collection's revered Edwardians performing with ferocious winds to spoil otherwise perfect conditions.

It wasn't just the Edwardian machines that suffered, either. The beautiful visiting Albatros DVa, Sopwith Snipe, and Avro 504K replica also fell foul to the prevailing conditions. Fortunately, the machines were present at the show on static display to allow the public closer inspection, which offered some small measure of consolation. On the topic of non-flyers, it was excellent to see the much-missed Sopwith Triplane replica "Dixie II" looking in fine fettle following the machine's grief-stricken encounter with a fence post in 2014. It will be great to see it performing at shows again.

Thankfully the conditions were not so bad as to preclude the true jewel of the Collection, the mighty DH.88 Comet, the chance to perform a typically excellent display in the skillful hands of Dodge Bailey. Formating with the collection's Mew Gull, and David Beale's visiting Mew Gull replica, it was a splendid piece of airmanship.

It was - it's fair to say - a slightly dimmed-down start to the UK airshow season, based mainly on the apparent ill-conceived and poorly thought hack and slash regulations, costings and display distances. Even Shuttleworth was unable to escape the CAA's axe, and it’s fair to say some - not all - but some of the magic of the place seemed lost. Gone were the trademark close passes, and an element of the elegance and spectacle the venue is famed for. Indeed, the only real negative point about the Collection's most excellent "Fly Navy" show in June was the vast distances the relatively diminutive machines were flying at. Such welcome news it was, then, that word came that those at the Collection had worked hard with the CAA, and had been re-granted their special dispensation display lines. A rare victory for common sense, and indeed, credit must go to the CAA for recognising the special case to be made for flying at the Bedfordshire aerodrome.

The change was apparent from the off. The Comet flanked by the two Mew Gulls flowed through their three-ship display, along with individual displays in their own right, as did the majority of the machines that flew on the day. Perhaps a minor gripe, but it was a shame that the Comet was the first item to fly (much like the Sea Vixen at the Fly Navy show), when the sun hadn't quite moved all the way around to the rear of the crowd. Comments made of the Lysander flying over the trees and houses on the other side of the airfield at previous shows this year were rendered void as the 'Lizzie' flew on the old display datum for the first time since her significant period spent in maintenance.

The Pageant also saw the triumphant return of a Shuttleworth stalwart and crowd favourite in the form of the flour bombing, balloon bursting, barnstorming sequence. Despite the challenge faced from the gusting wind the sequence, flown by the Collection's highly experienced pilots, is a welcome change from the aerobatics and other forms of display commonly seen at other venues. It's the little touches like this that make Shuttleworth so special.

Other excellent flying displays came from the plucky formation of nine Tiger Moths of the Tiger 9 formation display team, complete with multiple opposition passes and bomb-bursts. Credit must go to all of those pilots for keeping a decent formation whilst flying in stiff conditions, in open cockpits no-less. A team likely to be overlooked, making the time to watch the Tiger 9 team at an airshow will not be a decision many enthusiasts would regret.

News trickled in slowly on the afternoon that the BBMF, due to send one of their Hurricanes, had been grounded due to the wind conditions at both RAF Coningsby and Blackpool, where some of the flight were based that weekend. It was not all bad news for Hurricane fans, though, because to close the show, Hurricane Heritage's beautiful Hurricane I, and the Collection's Sea Hurricane took to the air. Their display was one of those that reminds an enthusiast why they're an enthusiast. There are far, far worse ways to spend a summer's afternoon than watching two Hurricanes, in formation and on their own, gracing the breezy but gin-clear blue skies over Bedfordshire.

Conclusions on the show? It's perhaps best to start by looking to those of my fellow staff member discussing the Season Premiere: "…in the light of what has been lost even at this most outstanding of locations we must, as a community and in coordination with the industry, work hard to prevent the magic from disappearing completely."

Shuttleworth clearly have worked hard with the CAA, other relevant authorities, and all others involved to preserve what we thought had been lost. The overall result? It worked. The king of airshow venues is back, and it's bloody marvellous.