Shuttleworth Collection 'Season Premiere' Airshow

Sunday 5th May 2019

Winter can be an excruciating time for most but for the aviation enthusiast it can be a painfully long time of year. After a closed season that seemed like an age, the 2019 season finally kicked off on the now traditional May bank holiday weekend at both RAF Abingdon and Old Warden, home of the Shuttleworth Collection.

After being spoilt by last summer's recurring themes of beautiful weather and celebrations for the RAF's centenary, Dominic Vickery attended the charismatic Bedfordshire aerodrome in the hope that this season carries on from the last. Sam Wise supplies additional imagery.

During the early months of the new year, signs that the airshow season is slowly waking from its winter hibernation begin as dates have been confirmed and early participation confirmations start to be announced. Most noteworthy amongst Shuttleworth’s first wave of aircraft lists released was the public debut of the recently restored Westland Lysander from the Duxford-based Aircraft Restoration Company, which was to be joined in the flying display by the Collection's own Lysander. The thought of these two machines in formation around Shuttleworth's famous dog-leg display line whetted many an appetite and set expectations (rightly so) high.

Unfortunately, despite regularly flying in the week leading up to the show, the Duxford-based machine had succumbed to mechanical gremlins and was forced to cancel on the morning of the show. However the organising team had lined up a display full of quality items, the biggest of which was the PBY-5a Catalina 'Miss Pick Up'. It was later confirmed that the aircraft will also be part of the static display, marking the first time a Catalina had landed at the airfield - driving onto the field to see such a large machine with the rear of its fuselage hanging over the crowdline was a hugely impressive sight. Not to be outdone, the recently repainted Aces High Dakota was also on the ground, and for a small fee both aircraft were opened up for public tours.

Opening the flying display programme was a mightily impressive series of flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flights Spitfire Mk.XVIe TE311, each of the three passes were wonderful topsides, showing that the flypasts from the BBMF are still usually better than their full displays.

The main theme for the 2019 show, if somewhat unadvertised as such, was the Vietnam War and headlining this theme, if not the day, was Tony de Bruyn and The Bronco Demo Team's OV-10. Showcasing its manoeuvrability with a punchy and dynamic display, this first-time visitor was one perfectly suited to Old Warden's display line. His final pass saw him snapping the Bronco 90° left to right into a Khe Sahn approach, before showing off the aircraft's short landing abilities. After parking in front of the crowd and setting up their merchandise stall and joining the spectators, seeing Tony walk around taking photos it seemed he enjoyed his Shuttleworth debut!

Keeping up with the Vietnam theme was a very nice pairs display by a Piper L-4 Grasshopper and Cessna O-1 Bird Dog and the North Weald based UH-1H 'Huey' which flew in to join the Catalina and Dakota on the static line and then flew its polished display in what was arguably the best light of the day.

The weather, whilst remaining dry, was overcast and chilly all day making photography very tricky, however it did make for a great opportunity to put the camera down and enjoy Old Warden for what it is, an intimate venue with a strong line up of visiting aircraft and superbly flown resident aircraft - is there a better way to spend an afternoon than seeing and hearing Spitfire AR501 flanked by a Hurricane and Sea Hurricane and WW1 era aircraft pootle around the sky?

Closing the show was left to the home team, a pairing that, again, wasn't on the original participation list; the DH.88 Comet and Mew Gull's racing heritage being shown off to great effect with their speed and power which never ceases to impress. It was hoped that the Avro Triplane would fly to bring an end to the proceedings as the weather was good enough for it to get aloft, but engine issues meant this was not to be.

A shame indeed, however with a line-up full of quality such as this, it was going to be hard for it to be a bad airshow. Early-season gremlins lurking from some aircrafts' hibernation meant some cancellations, but such is the strength in depth of Shuttleworth's collection that any replacements were of no detriment to the day. All in all it was a cracking start to the 2019 season.