Shuttleworth Collection Military Airshow

Sunday 7th July 2019

When it comes to warbirds, it is fair to say that we are living in plentiful times. More and more are regularly appearing not only on the British airshow circuit but also the circuits of Europe and the USA. Not only are we witnessing types that hold a special place in people’s hearts such as the Spitfire and Hurricane effectively re-entering production but also rarer types such as the Sea Hornet on their way toward joining the fold at some point in the future, all being well. Even with a growing fleet, when an event announces that it will be assembling almost every UK airworthy example of a specific type of warbird in one place at one time, it gains attention. When the Shuttleworth Collection announced that eight Hurricanes would be appearing at the Military Airshow, excitement grew among Old Warden regulars and newcomers alike.

Andy Evans reports from Old Warden for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the Staff Team.

As the show drew close news broke that one of the eight, LF363 from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, was suffering technical issues and unfortunately would not be attending, however, seven Hurricanes would still be the largest gathering of the type since 1946. Of course, this is a Shuttleworth airshow and therefore this was not the only interesting participant that weekend. Making its airshow debut was the newly restored S.E.5a (C1096/G-ERFC) which was scheduled to display alongside other World War One stalwarts including the recently restored Sopwith Camel.

Playing second fiddle to the Hurricane formation but also welcome was the return of the Royal Jordanian Falcons who operated from the grass airstrip, their first display here since 1997. Often seen at larger airshows throughout the summer where they are often lost on a long crowd line, this more intimate venue represented an opportunity for the Falcons to build their reputation in the UK. Their display certainly felt more involving and some of their dynamic manoeuvres occurred much closer to the crowd than at larger venues backed up by the over-the-top commentary that even made a comical jab at Brexit. All in all, their display was certainly well received judging by the loud round of applause and the number of visitors that went to the fence to greet the pilots upon landing.

The show began in earnest with a display from the imposing P-47D “Nellie B” which ended in the aircraft landing at Shuttleworth, breaking the record for the heaviest single engine warbird to land on the grass strip. Any display by the P-47 is welcome, however, the sheer size and power of this aircraft was lost on the crowd as Nellie B began its routine what felt like miles from the airfield. Disappointingly this was a trend throughout its display, only coming close to the crowd on its final passes before landing. Similarly, this unusually was also the case with the display by Old Warden based Spitfire AR501 whose routine was also quite a distance from the crowd. A number of other visiting aircraft displayed, however, of note and perhaps providing one of the most spirited displays of the weekend was the Stieglitz D-EMNN which is now owned and based in the UK. Its display was tight and graceful showing precisely why the Stieglitz won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1936 Olympic Games.

In prelude to the main event the crowd were treated to an interview with a very special guest of the Shuttleworth Collection, one soon to celebrate his 100th birthday, Archie McInnes recounted his many experiences during his career particularly flying the Hurricane. Archie, a surviving member of “the Few” flew Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain out of Exeter (601sqn) and Chilbolton (238sqn). His combat flying career was then cut short in 1941 after losing his arm in an encounter with a Bf 109 over North Africa. This did not stop McInnes, however, who, using a specially designed prosthetic arm, flew Hurricanes with the Royal Navy to familiarise Fleet Air Arm pilots, even operating from carriers. Following the interview, Archie was shown the assembled fleet of Hurricanes in one of the collection's Jeeps, a visit to the crowd line that witnessed a wave of loud applause follow the Jeep up and down the crowd line as he passed by, something he clearly enjoyed.

The spectacle of seven Hurricanes in formation was to be short lived as the commentator announced that the formation would make a single pass before beginning to split for individual displays. The assembled crowd went silent as the drone from seven Merlin engines flew overhead in tight formation led by the collection's Sea Hurricane in two three-ships with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Hurricane unsurprisingly bringing up the rear alone.

While the remaining six Hurricanes re-positioned, the BBMF Hurricane with unit commander Sqn Ldr Mark Discombe at the controls proceeded to perform a typically sedate and under-side-to-the-crowd-only display that the RAF have become known for in recent years. Why they cannot dynamically display their aircraft in a manner similar to their flypast appearances escapes us, especially as the 2018 season did see some punchier displays that sadly have not transferred to the 2019 routines.

Upon completion of its display and departure, the remaining six once again made a formation pass before splitting into a pair of trios which each performed a different routine before landing or departing, the finale being reserved for the based Sea Hurricane and Hurricane I R4118 to entertain the crowd whilst those staying at the airfield were recovered.

Weather conditions throughout the day had been calm, dry but suffering at times with some rather large clouds blocking the beautiful sunshine. It was particularly frustrating that on many occasions the sun would be obscured as aircraft made close passes to the crowd. The one benefit of this weather was very little wind, perfect for the Edwardians to make an appearance and appear they did. Managing to get three airborne at the end of the event bathed in glorious evening sunshine with dark background clouds, their short display threatened to eclipse that of the Hurricanes as the highlight of the day.

The 2019 Shuttleworth Military Airshow was, as you can expect, a resounding success. Nowhere else can you get such a variety of aircraft up close and in such intimate surroundings. Old Warden is now the beating heart of the UK airshow scene, and long may it continue.