Little Gransden Air & Car Show

Sunday 25th August 2019

After a washout show last year, a heatwave that promised to arrive just in time for the August bank holiday weekend was a much welcome forecast that had the potential to provide perfect sunny blue skies for the 2019 Little Gransden Air and Car show. As it turned out, it was the hottest late August bank holiday ever recorded but with some distant flying, it nonetheless proved to be a frustrating show for enthusiasts.

Jakub Zurek spent a scorching Sunday at the scenic Cambridgeshire airfield for UK Airshow Review. Additonal photos from Dan Butcher.

Little Gransden has always had its own identity, standing out from the countless other events in August and the rest of the airshow calendar. A mix of home-based aerobatic acts with a selection of warbirds, vintage aircraft and classic barnstorming displays, the event is a friendly, small-scale affair at this picturesque little grass airfield. The compactness of the venue puts it in the same category as the like of airshows at Old Warden or Cosby, and certainly pre-Shoreham, the venue saw some fantastic displays. Over recent years, the show risked becoming stale with a similar line-up year upon year. Luckily, this year saw a fantastic variety of warbirds booked to appear. A P-47, P-51, Hurricane, Yak-3, Buchon, B-17, Dakota, Beech C45, Sea Fury, Spitfire XIX, Yale, Harvard and others such as the DH88 Comet and Pitts Model 12 were all worth buying a ticket for, at a reasonably priced £20 per adult in advance or £25 on the gate.

Even with the news of the B-17 and Spitfire cancelling before the show, on paper, the airshow still looked fantastic. Those who arrived early enough were treated to the Mustang and Hurricane arriving together in formation before breaking into land and taxying towards their parking spots, so close that you could almost touch them. This was an excellent start to the day. As the D-Day Darlings performed and the sun shone, the atmosphere at the show could certainly be felt. Surrounded by vintage aircraft, music and classic cars all on this small grass airfield, expectations ran high for the flying display.

Sadly, as the flying programme got underway, it became apparent at just how far some of the displays were. It is understandable that all pilots must start somewhere, displaying further and higher away than seasoned professionals who have been on the circuit for a countless number of years. As the day progressed though, it was a case of crossing your fingers and hoping that the aircraft you wanted to see was going to fly a little bit closer and have some sort of impact. Yet, most acts never really made the most of the small airfield as one would expect. The Turbulent team were also relegated to performing their entertaining barnstorming routine behind a hedge, obstructing the view for most of the crowd. A very odd moment, and proof that with each display visitors never knew what to expect, such was the variety of display lines and distances used.

The Bell 47 registered G-MASH which many were glad to see attend as a static exhibit during Shuttleworth's season opener was also due to take part in the flying display. However, during the Comet display in the capable hands of Dodge Bailey, the helicopter took off and hovered, before slowly edging towards the runway in what looked like the beginning of its display. A few chaotic moments passed with no one aware of what was going on, before the chopper quickly landed with no further mention. A disappointment indeed, as the Bell 47 would have certainly changed the pace of the day.

The unique shape of the crowdline at Little Gransden could be a massive selling point for the show, and certainly in the past has been used to good effect. The potential for aircraft flying a curved display line around the bend of the crowdline along the lines of the dogleg at Old Warden is mouth-watering, especially with the exceptional line-up on offer this year. Those positioned towards the east side of the airfield however were left feeling disappointed and detached from the displays when most failed to come past the bend at all, instead turning away. Other aircraft were mere specks in the sky, failing to engage enthusiasts or the public, too far away for the longest of lenses and even the Mark I eyeball. With the relentless heat, this proved frustrating for punters who made long journeys for what could have been a brilliant afternoon of flying.

A handful of displays including Nick Houghton in the Beech C45 Expeditor though were truly excellent. Using the full length of the crowdline multiple times, it was a spirited display in the twin engine aircraft. John Dodd in the Mustang and Pete Kynsey in the Sea Fury also kept punters happy with passes alongside the bend, letting spectators enjoy the sight and sound of these warbirds and a reminder of what the venue could look like at its best. If only all the displays were flown in a similar fashion, the show would have been one not to miss. Unfortunately, it is clear the exemption present at the Shuttleworth Collection, enabling displays to take place closer to the crowd, leaves Old Warden as the sole place to truly witness flying machines in their element.

Overall, the show had potential for an amazing few hours of flying. And though not all displays were up close and personal as one may expect at such a compact venue, for those lucky enough not to have their view obstructed by the emergency vehicles or one of the countless official photographers, there were still decent opportunities to see aircraft starting up, taxying and displaying against the bright blue sky. There is no denying that the airfield can provide a beautiful backdrop for photographs, and aircraft operating from the grass airfield is a true highlight by itself, worth buying a ticket for.

Regrettably, the failure to make the most of the curved crowdline means it would be hard to justify going back. With a premier line-up, sunny skies and a gentle breeze, it was a chance for Little Gransden to really stand out this year and after a washout year, cement itself back as a highlight in the calendar. Sadly, display regulations won on this day, though the hard work of the organisers to raise money for a charitable cause is what the show will rightly be remembered for.