Shuttleworth Collection Military Pageant Airshow
Sunday 1st July 2018
Old Warden has been hit and miss this year (in fairness, leaning toward the hits), but there's something about the venue, the machines, the atmosphere that just drags us back time and time again. The Shuttleworth Collection's annual Military Pageant this year focused on the centenary of the end of the First World War, paying tribute primarily to those lost in that conflict, and saw just a handful of visiting aircraft, but with a couple of star headliners, some great set-piece displays and the return of "round the bend" flying the show really proved everything that sets Old Warden apart.
reports from the Collection for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the author and the UKAR staff team.
The Shuttleworth Collection rarely needs visitors to make a show. The quality and rarity of their own machines, many of which are totally unique in the world, in the hands of their own pilots who repeatedly produce some of the finest flying in the country are enough to make a show at Old Warden world class - the Collection's evening shows are proof enough of this. The Military Pageant's strength was undoubtedly in its home team performances this year, with such a strong collection of genuine original and "late-production" based at the airfield fitting the theme so perfectly. In fact, several of the Shuttleworth aircraft and others based at the airfield taking part in the show got a couple of cracks at the whip throughout the day - Sea Hurricane I Z7015 (which gave a superbly low and close flying demonstration) and the utterly gorgeous Hurricane I P3717 both took part in formations closer to the start of the flying programme and went on to perform solo routines later in the afternoon, while a great deal of the WWI contingent went up at the end of the show for a second time as a replacement for the Edwardians, for which the winds were just too strong. Although it initially seemed like there would be a formation of the aircraft at this point, instead they simply went up one by one and performed for the visitors - to total silence from Tim Calloway on the commentary who allowed the noise of the aircraft to wash over the crowd. Eventually, The Last Post played through the tannoys while the Bristol F2b dropped poppies over the runway with a totally silent, reverent crowd paying their respects to close the show. As a finale, you couldn't have asked for a more apt tribute to the theme. Perhaps the smartest display in this section was the Aviation Heritage Trust's Royal Aircraft Factory BE2e, which gave a lovely, low showcase of the aircraft from all angles, quite a spritely routine from an ungainly-looking and famously docile aircraft.
Running further with the First World War theme was the ever-entertaining organised chaos of the Great War Display Team, whose display really is perfectly suited to a venue like Old Warden. The GWDT have certainly cemented their place as one of the UK's star acts over the last few years, fittingly given the centenary commemorations of that war. Yet more WWI flying action came in the form of visiting AHT Nieuport 17 and Fokker DR1, the latter flying in from the Real Aeroplane Company at Breighton. Not such a photogenic display but both aircraft ran up and down the airfield quite entertainly and enhanced the theme rather nicely, the Nieuport in particular serving as a tribute to the French contribution - and losses - in the Great War.
Returning to the venue for the fourth (!) time already this season, the BBMF Lancaster PA474 continued its own trend of sweeping round the bend and delivering some fantastic topsides. It's a well-established fact now that the BBMF flypasts are much better "displays" than their actual show routine, and the bomber's appearances at Old Warden this year are all the proof you could ever need of that. Not exactly aggressively flown, but quite "positive" in its movements, clearly the crew were enjoying their flying as much as those on the ground were, and it's perfectly pleasing to see the bomber so highly lauded by "Winkle" Brown himself given a bit more of a shakeabout than previously seen. For those who once took the Lancaster's presence on the circuit for granted until its fire incident in 2015, the sight of the aircraft banking round the bend could swell the heart even more than Eric Dier in an England penalty shootout.
Possibly - probably - the most anticipated act on the schedule was one of the newest and most exciting warbirds in the UK, the P-47D Thunderbolt 'Nellie' based out of Sywell Aerodrome. The thought that it might swing round Old Warden's famous bend proved very enticing, but a somewhat lacklustre display at its Duxford outing in May gave us some fear that the appearance wouldn't honour the venue's unique opportunities. However, Pete Kinsey at the controls did not disappoint one bit. A real mix of boom-and-zoom power passes and heaving topsides around the corner produced a quality display of one of the country's warbird gems, the roar of the Double Wasp uninterrupted by any commentary. A hell of an item to open the show it must be said, but this double edged sword sadly meant that it was in the worst light of the day for photography, as every opener at a Shuttleworth show is. Whenever the Thunderbolt returns to Old Warden, as it no doubt will, we can only hope it is booked for the very end of the flying programme - doing so would result in one of the most memorable displays to be had.
It's been mentioned above already, but credit really must go to the airfield's veteran commentator Tim Calloway who very much took a back seat for the flying programme on several occasions, out of respect or simply just to allow the noise of the aircraft to tell the story and it suited the day so well. With a fairly small crowd and a classic Shuttleworth atmosphere it genuinely added to the day to have that element of silence at some points, allowing us to just...soak it all up, let the weather and the intimacy of the show take us in on a beautiful, sun-drenched but not overly hot July day. Definitely a rare element at other shows and a move that really showed a confidence and awareness of the show's feel on Tim's part.
How do you conclude this review? It wasn't exactly a stand out Old Warden show, but that's a benchmark already so high. It was everything Old Warden should be - a small, appreciative crowd, perfect weather with the smell of sausages and burgers from the collection's vans wafting down, picnic blankets laid out on the ground and some top quality flying in the most intimate setting, well suited to the central theme. The place has had its ups and downs over the last few years, God knows that much, but when shows like this come along it's very, very easy to forget one's troubles and just go with the flow.