Shuttleworth Collection May Evening Airshow

Saturday 18th May 2019

Having failed to make its public airshow debut at the Shuttleworth Collection's Season Premiere Airshow, the Aircraft Restoration Company's Westland Lysander was back on the list for the May Evening Airshow. The show had to compete with both the FA Cup Final and the Eurovision Song Contest for its audience, although the Shuttleworth Collection's first Evening airshow of the year was almost certain to fare better than the United Kingdom in Tel Aviv or Watford at Wembley, despite an overcast weather forecast that put some off of attending.

Scott Perry attended his first Evening Airshow at Old Warden to report for UK Airshow Review.

There is something mystical about the Lysander, the unique shape, their clandestine wartime role, just something rare. We are used to seeing Spitfires, Hurricanes and Buchons in increasing numbers on the airshow circuit; the ARC's Lysander restoration offers something different. With the Lysander making its debut alongside the Shuttleworth Collection's example it was the first time that two 'Lizzies' have been displayed together at a UK airshow in 20 years.

The ARC Lysander arrived mid-afternoon to join the display aircraft on the ground at Old Warden; arriving in style for its airshow debut, with an escort from the Imperial War Museum's Spitfire Mk Ia. An alternation in the wind resulted in the Lysander arriving on runway 03 rather than 21, which had been used until that point - cue a gaggle of camera carrying enthusiasts making a dash from one end of Old Warden's crowd line to the other, and an even larger number of confused looking people watching the mad dash. The new addition to the airshow scene taxied to join the rest of the aircraft in the paddock, greeted by a crowd awaiting its appearance alongside the Shuttleworth Collection's Lysander on the ground. As a first time visitor to an evening airshow at Old Warden the access to aircraft pre-show was a delightful treat, from being able to watch the aircraft being towed and pushed out of hangars onto the airfield and then walk around the display aircraft on the airfield was a joyous and relaxed way to build up to the show.

Following the show's opening flypasts from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Spitfire Mk XVI, the Lysanders took to the air to hold while the Polikarpov Po-2 and Auster AOP.6 displayed, before running in together in close formation. A superbly choreographed routine ensued with close formation passes followed by a break towards the crowd, with each Lysander completing a 360 degree turn to opposing sides before meeting back on the B-axis before a tail chase sequence in a looser formation. The routine was superb, allowing the audience to see the historic moment of the two aircraft side by side, whilst also giving the opportunity to see the 'new' Lysander in its own right and in its own space, while maintaining the spectacle of the pair displaying together. The displays narrated to perfection by the Shuttleworth commentary team, with the history of the two aircraft and the significance of the occasion described before the display commenced, while the audience left in silence to consume the sound of the pair of Bristol Mercury engines.

The Lysanders were the headline act, but they were certainly not the only stars on the programme. A trio of Spitfires, the IWM's Mk Ia, the Shuttleworth Collection's Mk Vc and the Old Flying Machine Company's Mk IX joined the Collection's Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk Ib in the air for a flypast to open the Second World War fighter segment. The Sea Hurricane took the first solo spot with the Mk I performing aerobatics in the air above, with a gentle whistle as it danced through the air - in completing its display with a pass around the bend in the crowd line before heading back to Duxford. The evolution of the Spitfire demonstrated within seconds as the Mk Ia was swiftly followed by MH434, the gentle whistle of the early Spitfire replaced by the power of the Mk IX. Each of the Spitfire trio displayed to show off the character of the individual aircraft.

The hosts were not outshone by the visiting aircraft, with the English Electric Wren completing one of the best flying performances in recent times - no longer hopping along the runway but sustained flight with a full eight-minute display routine. Although the sun stayed covered for most of the evening, the Fauvel glider was blessed with the few fleeting moments of evening sun that were present - special moment of the evening sun and graceful routine of the historic glider. There were contrasts throughout the programme, with the pace of the display changing constantly, exemplified by the sequence that followed the glider routine. With a trio of racers, the De Havilland DH.88 Comet joined by the Percival Mew Gull and Miles Hawk Speed Six for their segment with the formation then breaking into short individual routines. The classic racers gave way to Chris Burkett in the Extra 300, aerobatic displays can sometimes lose the attention of the crowd when the aircraft remains high away from the audience; this was the opposite. Using the B-axis to great effect coming straight towards and away from the crowd, dipping low before pulling up. Coming in close to the crowd line like any of the other performers at this intimate venue, the routine was one of the most engaging routines by an Extra 300 seen for a long time.

Shuttleworth offers sights that can't be seen elsewhere, a rare engagement and interaction with the aircraft up close. Perhaps nothing typifies the unique spirit of Old Warden more than displays by the Edwardians. The Bleriot XI, Bristol Boxkite, Blackburn Monoplane and the Deperdussin all flew in the still evening, going right up to a minute or so before day turned into night. The late finish and low light levels not to the favour of those attending the show as photographers - however, in the moment of seeing these special machines flying above the Bedfordshire airfield, did the quality of the images really matter? Not at all. The Deperdussin needed a few runs along the runway before finally getting a substantial amount of air under its wings, which was a delightful way to end the show, despite seemingly unwilling to take to the air it finally got there. The Edwardians segment made even more atmospheric in the diminishing light by the residual smoke from the Extra 300 remaining to give the effect of a mist across the airfield.

There were so many highlights scattered throughout the show, each of the displays a real treat in their own right. The show will be remembered for Lysander pair, but there was a great deal more substance within the display worthy of recognition. The atmosphere of Shuttleworth itself is a highlight in its own right, the access to the aircraft, the relaxed feel of the venue, the flying programme written on the blackboard by the control tower, each of these are unique quirks of Shuttleworth and it wouldn't be the same package without each of these aspects. Only the overcast skies could be considered a slight negative, but with a show of such a high standard that didn't impact on the enjoyment of the show at all. The Shuttleworth Collection have set the bar very high for 2019, it would be hard to argue against douze points being awarded.