Shuttleworth Collection Flying Proms

Sunday 25th August 2019

The Shuttleworth Flying Proms are an event like no other on the airshow circuit. The Shuttleworth Collection's fine array of historic aircraft are a natural fit with the pomp of the proms; certainly a more natural fit than some attempts to combine airshows and music at other venues…remember Alexandra Burke? The relaxed Old Warden atmosphere perfectly suited to such an evening of flying, music by the National Symphony Orchestra and firework finale.

Scott Perry reports from the Shuttleworth Collection for UK Airshow Review.

Old Warden, the home of a plethora of vintage vehicles and aircraft. The great green airfield in the middle of the English countryside. The collection is famous for its relaxed nature and the gentle way that its historic aircraft are displayed. The Proms event was no exception; indeed, it was the epitome of all things Old Warden. As the afternoon progressed, more people arrived and set out chairs, wicker picnic baskets, blankets and flags, all the while the National Symphony Orchestra rehearsed on the stage, pilots practised their displays in the air above, a prelude for the main event in the evening.

The evening's flying entertainment was initiated by a Pilatus before glider, following on from the opening musical performance by Perfect Vintage. The aerobatic glider, something of a rare sight on the UK airshow circuit with GliderFX becoming less prevalent in recent years, was a delight to see dance around the blue skies above Old Warden; once it had been released from the tow rope of the collection's Piper Super Cub.

Then, the main event. Opened by the roar of the Merlin engine of the Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vc, the music of the Spitfire joined by the NSO's rendition of the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue. A superb display of gentle aerobatics, combined with the signature low passes around the dog leg display line that one associates with Old Warden, all performed in the beautiful evening sunlight. The routine balanced these two varying elements perfectly, rolling the aircraft, then coming down low to give the audience a greater view of the clipped winged aircraft. All while the NSO performed the evocative tune that is associated so often with R.J. Mitchell's masterpiece. The Spitfire was not done there, staying airborne to join the Hawker Sea Hurricane Ib on the opening pass of its own display, to Aces High/The Battle of Britain. The bar was set high for the rest of the evening.

The rest of the displays continued to an equally high standard. The Dragon Rapide in particular with some delicious close passes around the'Shuttleworth bend' during its routine, set to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Using both the conventional display axis and disappearing behind the trees on the far side of the airfield and running in towards the crowd on numerous occasions to great effect, it was a superb display from Jean-Michel Munn.

Likewise, the collection's Westland Lysander and the BAE Systems owned Avro Anson displayed in typically brilliant Old Warden style to their respective tunes of Where Eagles Dare and Magnificent Men. The Anson acting as a replacement for the Bristol Boxkite and Avro Triplane - their appearance cancelled due to high winds - for whom the song would have been a more pertinent choice. On the subject of weather replacements, the collection's De Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth and Percival Piston Provost appeared to the tune of Monte Carlo or Bust, in place of the Southern Martlet, DH60 and DH60X Moths. The Tiger Moth performing a series of close passes, while the Provost performed aerobatics above, before coming lower to give the audience a closer view of the aircraft. The Gloster Gladiator managed to perform in its own slot, to the aptly chosen'Gladiator Suites', perhaps other than the Spitfire, the only aircraft that a suitable replacement aircraft could not be found for. The Gladiator display, whilst always a delightful sight, could have perhaps been improved with a couple of lower passes within its display which were sadly lacking.

Following the main flying display there was meant to be a series of pyrotechnic displays during the interval in the NSO's performance, to conclude the flying display. These were due to include a Hot Air Balloon Glow, Mark Jefferies' Extra 330SC and GliderFX. Unfortunately, it was only the Extra 330SC that materialised out of the advertised programme. If there was one gripe with this event it would be that there was no communication to the audience about the missing acts. Cancellations happen, that is perfectly acceptable, but they should be announced rather than leaving the audience wondering why nothing was in front of them during a hiatus in proceedings. As it was, Jefferies' display was rightly greeted with warm applause when he landed. His fast-paced aerobatic routines, especially at a small venue like Old Warden, are always so engaging. But the pure spectacle of the pyrotechnics on either wing marking the trace of his rolling Extra through the sky was brilliant, and it was a shame that this was the full extent of the pyrotechnic routines on the night.

As a first-time visitor to the Flying Proms, the price hike from a normal Old Warden show (tickets, which sold out in advance, priced at £36 compared to £20 in advance or £25 on the day for other evening airshows at the venue this year) obviously set the bar high. There was less flying on offer, but the atmosphere and experience of the event more than made up for that. Following the flying display, the second half of the concert ensued with a firework finale. The combination of aircraft and appropriate musical accompaniment a welcome change from the usual commentary. The whole day was magnificent. The relaxed build up to the show with rehearsals from musicians and aircraft; the stunning displays in the evening sunlight (while it lasted) set to the wonderful music of the NSO; the flag waving and firework finale. The spirit of the event firmly summed up by the whistle of the collection's own steam engine'Dorothy' joining in with the NSO's rendition of the Hornpipe. A jovial evening where aircraft, vehicles and music combine in fine style.