Shuttleworth Collection Heritage Airshow

Sunday 2nd September 2018

Few aviation venues in the UK can offer up such highlights for both enthusiast and photographer alike as Old Warden. The evocative sound of purring Merlins, growling radials, and rasping rotaries coupled with the perfect weather conditions forecast for the day meant expectations for this show were high. With all of the pieces in place, including Peter Teichman's final display at Old Warden, the day was set to be a worthy Shuttleworth show.

Nick Jennings reports from the Collection for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the author.

Formerly the Shuttleworth Pageant, now rebranded as the 'Heritage Airshow', the September event at Old Warden is traditionally a showcase of the Collection aircraft, with an ethos of emptying the hangars as much as possible and flying as many of their machines as is feasible. In recent times, the "Uncovered" paddock has also provided a great opportunity for members of the public to get up close to the aircraft and speak with the engineers and pilots about the hard work that goes into restoring, maintaining and operating these vintage aircraft. It was therefore somewhat unfortunate that there were a number of notable casualties from the provisional line-up, including the Anson, Demon, Rapide, Dove and Mew Gull. These coupled with the absence of several other of the resident aircraft, including the Lysander, Tomtit, Hind and Provost meant that the flying programme was rather light in comparison to the Pageant airshows of recent times.

On the day the venue certainly had the feel of a Shuttleworth show from bygone years, with a laid back atmosphere, and a sparser crowd than has been the norm in the last year or two. In fact they were still parking cars on the grass outside the hangars after 11am, in stark contrast to the season opener only a few months before that saw traffic jams clogging up local roads for a large portion of the day. This may have been in part down to the limited line-up, and also that there were a number of other aviation events taking place within the region that weekend. This latter point also seemed to impact the number of visiting light aircraft, even with free entry to pilots in aircraft built before 1945, it was surprising to see just a solitary Boeing Stearman meet that requirement.

Starting airborne proceedings were the Global Stars - though as a three ship, rather than the usual four, as Mark Jefferies couldn't attend. This was a well flown, if plain, routine - bar a minor hiccup in the middle when it looked like maybe one of the aircraft had a technical fault - and although ideal for a small venue like Old Warden, it doesn't really feel 'right' for a vintage airshow.

Of course the highlight of the show was always going to be the first display of two Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIs - PL965 and PL983. The PR.XI is notable in being the fastest and highest flying of all Merlin engined Spitfires, in part down to the lack of any armour or armament, and also the two-stage supercharged Merlin 70 - enabling speeds in excess of 400 mph, and altitudes over 40000 feet. Both Spitfires are late examples of the type that entered service in 1944, and are the only two that remain in airworthy condition in the world. The Spitfires were flown in the capable hands of John Romain and Peter Teichman, with this also being of note as Peter Teichman's last ever display at Old Warden.

The sight of two PRU blue Spitfires rounding the bend was indeed a fantastic moment, and one that will be talked about amongst enthusiasts for years to come. Both were displayed beautifully, including plenty of sweeping moves showing off the Spitfire's classic lines, with a few topside passes thrown in for good measure. It proved to be a fitting farewell for Peter, ending his many years of Old Warden displays in front of his watching family - even though the commentary team managed to confuse proceedings by mixing up the two aircraft during the display, but we will come on to the commentary later.

Another unusual visitor to the show was the Focke-Wulf Fw.44 Stieglitz (Goldfinch). This aircraft has recently moved from Germany to the UK, but is still wearing its German registration D-EMNN. It has been nearly ten years since Peter Holloway's Stieglitz last displayed at Old Warden. D-EMNN was ably displayed by Tobias Ruppel, with the display performed well within the limits of the aircraft - which is capable of performing fully aerobatic routines. The type was used under the guise of 'sports flying' during the interwar period, but really its primary purpose was to train future Luftwaffe pilots for the forthcoming war. The Stieglitz was designed by the German engineer and test pilot, Kurt Tank, who later went on to design the infamous Fw.190 Würger.

Following on, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota made a brief, but welcome appearance at the show, having not appeared at Old Warden since 2016. Having displayed at the Bournemouth airshow earlier in the day, the lumbering Dakota almost completed a successful 'sneak pass' due to the commentary team being oblivious to what was going on - quite some achievement! The Dak then made a few passes for the crowd, before heading home.

The 'home team' did their part for the show too, with a large chunk of the Collection taking part. Though it can't be denied that the cancellations affected some of the set routines that had been planned, such as the 'Silver Wings' routine which only consisted of the Gladiator, after the Demon had to drop out. There was a display by the newly acquired Miles Hawk Speed Six which took part in a formation flypast with the Collection's De Havilland Comet, before both performed solo displays. Most of the Collection's WW1 contingent also took part, with the exception of the S.E.5, which sadly appeared to suffer gremlins moments before being due to fly. The Sopwith Triplane put on a great display, and hopes were raised when the Sopwith Camel took off to join it, unfortunately, the pilots seemed to struggle to get the aircraft into any sort of formation, and the Camel then did a couple of passes before coming in to land after a disappointingly short amount of time in the air. The M1c was another that flew an abbreviated routine, up for only a fraction of the time of some others.

Though very light winds and warm temperatures prevailed throughout the day, they proved to be a challenging combination for the pilots, with even the Collection's chief pilot Dodge Bailey struggling, taking three attempts to land the Comet before bringing her in on Runway 03. Perhaps this was why, even with seemingly perfect conditions, only the replica Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite displayed in the Edwardian section, with the priceless and original vintage Blackburn Monoplane and Deperdussin being left confined to the hangar.

The day however, was marred, somewhat, by the haphazard commentary, which at times was intrusive and also contained factual inaccuracies, mix-ups, and in places a total lack of awareness as to what was actually going on. Referring to the Comet as a 'bitch to land' certainly raised a few eyebrows amongst the audience present on the day, and was matched by some of the other oddball comments uttered throughout the day. Hopefully for the October show the usual team will be back, and normal service resumed.

Finally, a special mention has to go to Peter Borchert in his Super Pitts, if only for the pleasing whine the Russian radial engine makes! Peter put on a nice display in the Super Pitts, with the silver aircraft and smoke contrasting nicely against the deep blue sky.

All in all, while far from a classic Shuttleworth show, it was still an enjoyable day out, and surely that's all that matters?