Shuttleworth Collection 'Race Day' Airshow

Sunday 7th October 2018

The final UK airshow of the season was once again Shuttleworth's Race Day, which fell on the first weekend in October. With criticisms of the Bedfordshire historic collection resting on laurels with a niche theme at best, held at a much more risky time of year weather-wise, eyes turned to Old Warden to see if the magic remained at the third iteration in a row of this quite unique airshow.

Tom Jones travelled to the Shuttleworth Collection 'Race Day' Airshow to report for UKAR. Photography by the UKAR Staff Team.

One of the big interest-piquing events to airshow regulars in 2018 other than the obvious fanfare was the news that the legendary display pilot and Hangar 11 Collection owner and operator Peter Teichman was hanging up his display-flying spurs at the end of this year. Whilst the Southport Airshow broke the news, it was quickly clarified that it was to be Old Warden's Race Day that was to be the final display of the man and his flying machine.

It's probably fair to say that the announcement probably drove an early ticket rush for the Race Day, which for an October airshow still managed a full crowd, and therefore it was of considerable disappointment that Teichman and his Mustang "Tall In The Saddle" vanished from the list a month or two prior. Albeit replaced by the TF-51 formerly known as "Miss Velma", now wearing the beautiful checkerboard-scheme of "Contrary Mary", the loss of Teichman was a significant early blow to an airshow that desperately needed more of a USP. However, it was Teichman's cancellation that proved to be the worst news of this year's airshow, and the remainder of it was remarkably positive.

The Race Day itself is an interesting formula, if a bit marmite. To some the high-octane (where applicable) thrill of air-racing sets it apart from all other airshows on the calendar, including other Old Warden displays, but to others, the thought of otherwise interesting and seldom seen Collection aircraft flying unremarkable circuits over the Bedfordshire aerodrome leaves them as cold as the clear October morning.

The Race Day is certainly something that everyone should try at least once. One of the most interesting elements seemed, on paper, one of the most unremarkable, yet ended up being thoroughly enjoyable. Six Pitts Specials of various configurations took part in an actual air race, something that was both unique, and entertaining, and credit to Shuttleworth for bringing shades of Reno to sleepy middle-England. The Race Day had some other significant draws, too. The gorgeous Comet was, of course, pencilled, and that, along with the Mew Gull and Mew Gull replica were very literally in their element. In formation with the unique and gorgeous Travel Air Type R "Mystery Ship", the quartet of classic air racers looked wonderful in the changeable October light.

Other unique items included the pride of the Collection, recently-restored Spitfire AR501 in formation with a pair of float-planes to commemorate the Schneider Air Race trophy. The out of the box thinking, and genuinely interesting over the run-of-the-mill display from the Spitfire were engaging and great to watch. That's not to say that solo Spitfire displays at Shuttleworth aren't wanted; the other Spitfire on the list, ARCo's L-for-Lettice was flown by John Romain in one of the best Spitfire routines ever witnessed by the crowd. The variety, the proximity, the noise, and the grace of the display was tremendous. This isn't said lightly, but John Romain in one of his mounts at Shuttleworth is, for warbird displays, about as good as it gets. It's perhaps a bit fawning, but no-less true to say that he is a latter-day Hanna. The Romain/Lettice combination in soft (but hazy) October lighting was unbeatable, and was enough to make the case for more airshows and venues to be bold enough to commit to an event later in the year.

On the topic of display pilots, it was announced - almost abruptly - that as Roger Bailey landed the Blackburn Monoplane Type 'D', described as "the Chief Pilot's aeroplane" that, whilst he will still fly the venerable machines in the future, the Race Day was his final Shuttleworth show as Chief Pilot of the Collection. "Dodge", as he is known, has captained the Collection's fleet of remarkable machines through some of the most evocative, outstanding, and some near-enough perfect airshow moments at the Bedfordshire aerodrome in modern times, and can hang up his spurs leaving an impressive legacy behind him.

Away from the pilots, and back to the machines themselves, unique acts such as the three Comper Swifts participating should not be overlooked, either. Though the three did not quite make it into the air at once during the show, they did manage it earlier in the day. There is, truly, nowhere else in the world today that such an event would take place. In some respects, Race Day was very much a Shuttleworth by the numbers affair. Some decent flying (though lacking the number of topside passes we are used to), with a healthy dose of quirky or sought-after guests from other airfields, including Duxford, yet somehow it was one of the most unique Shuttleworth events of the year. Race Day is indeed marmite, and the Collection need to be careful not to over-egg the pudding. Huge credit goes to the guts to put on an event with a very niche and unique focus, but with the paucity of racing aircraft in the UK, making it a permanent fixture in the calendar would quickly become stale. Much like the excellent Fly Navy shows, it's good to know when to give a certain theme a rest.

However, insofar as the day went, it was once again a magical Shuttleworth show, and as the last of the Edwardians purred back onto the dewy grass as the sun set, there are few finer ways to end an airshow season.