Stow Maries 'Wings & Wheels' Airshow

Sunday 19th May 2019

As a Royal Flying Corps airfield during the First World War housing the response to Zeppelins and Gotha bombers targeting London, Stow Maries Aerodrome has a great deal of history and charm with a great number of original buildings Grade II listed still in use today. The airfield is home to the World War One Aviation Heritage Trust and other replica aircraft from the First World War period, regularly hosting special events featuring aircraft based at the airfield and visitors to compliment them – in its third year, this edition of their Wings and Wheels event was a sell out.

Scott Perry visited the historic Essex airfield and reports for UK Airshow Review.

For most of the reviews that we publish a large number of readers will be familiar with the airshow venue and know what to expect, however, the small venue of Stow Maries may be unknown to many. The crowd line is one of the shortest of any venue in the country, almost half of the area has three rows of chairs laid out for the public to use to watch the display with the rest of the space left open for people to use as they wish. To give a bit of geography of the site, a number of buildings from the period of when the airfield was in Royal Flying Corps hands which house the museum, shop, café and toilets sit behind the crowd, a large newer white hangar - that resembles a large marque in structure is to the left-hand end of the crowd. Unusually the crowd are not parallel to the runway, but the runway is at a diagonal to the crowd line with the right-hand end closest to the crowd and it disappearing into the distance towards the left.

Throughout the morning aircraft were brought out of the large hangar, with the BE2, Sopwith Pup, SE5 and Fokker Eindecker all placed in front of the crowd either in readiness for the either the flying display or on static display. Other visiting aircraft also arrived throughout the morning – with a substantial contribution coming from Old Warden. The taxiway heads directly towards the crowd giving a great view of the aircraft as they park up… until one parks in front of you. For those who desire a good view of the runway and aircraft taxiing they may struggle with Stow Maries as the short crowd line means that no matter where you are positioned there will be something in front of you; however, unless it is the large BE2, your view of the flying display will not be affected and the proximity to such aircraft parked up is something that should be embraced.

The flying display itself was a short affair, lasting around an hour and a half. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and with drizzly rain throughout the show, however, that didn’t affect the displays with a full flying programme and spirited routines throughout the afternoon. When visiting a new venue there is always an element of the unknown, the obvious comparison with Stow Maries is Old Warden due to the types of aircraft the venues are known for, therefore the bar was set high in terms of expectation – perhaps unfairly so. With such high standards in mind, there was a slight fear that the reality would not live up to it.

Opening the show was the World War One Aviation Heritage Trust’s Nieuport 17. The opening pass looked good on the approach, coming in for an ever-popular topside pass to introduce itself to the crowd –although it looked quite high and wide, especially on the Old Warden comparison. This was a premature judgement, however, as from here on the display got better and better. The Nieuport was displayed superbly, showing the aircraft off well to the crowd in close to the crowd with a well-balanced display with topsides, undersides and passes on 45-degree diagonals into the crowd. The BE2 followed on from the Nieuport, again, to an extremely high standard. Low topside passes mixed in throughout the display – turning behind the crowd at either end and then arching in front to show off the aircraft superbly. The spirited display demonstrated impressive agility and manoeuvrability, turning quickly above the parked aircraft and the rare chance to see these aircraft was thrilling to watch. Likewise, the 7/8th scale replica SE5, not part of the WW1AHT collection but owned by a private owner and kept at Stow Maries, was equally displayed with similar gusto.

The visiting aircraft were displayed to an equally high standard as one would expect with all three coming from Old Warden, including the BAE Systems heritage duo of the DH60 Cirrus Moth and Blackburn B2. The Cirrus Moth began its display with the same style as the previous aircraft, low and close to the crowd with the B2 performing aerobatics high above before descending to join the Cirrus Moth for a series of flypasts together, enabling a close-up view of both aircraft. The Miles Magister was up there with the BE2 as one of the best displays of the day, such an engaging display close into the crowd, always kept in front of the crowd to entertain those gathered.

The Tiger Club’s Turbulent Team were left to close the show, putting on their entertaining barnstorming performance – with the team performing particularly well at the balloon popping at the show with 100% record in the first two passes from the team with an overall record of 10 out of 12 from the three runs. However, it must be said that the team suffered most with the venue with the aircraft parked in front of the crowd blocking the view of their limbo flying which is usually such an engaging piece of the display, which detracted from their routine with such a major part unable to be seen properly. Although, as with the other aircraft, the Turbulent Team fitted in well into the display programme to add a bit of lighthearted fun into the afternoon, and perfectly suited to a small venue.

With no participation list published in advance the show had a rare surprise factor to it, in the social media age, the SE5, B2 and Cirrus Moth all being unexpected surprises along with the visiting aircraft, which added a great freshness and excitement to the day. In addition all of the static display and visiting aircraft such as the Piper L4 Grasshopper, Focke-Wulf Fw 44J Stieglitz and de Havilland DH87B Hornet Moth on display added to the quality of participants on offer. Overall, it was a great afternoon with some brilliant display flying and such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere throughout the venue. With the WW1AHT’s Albatross DVa due to return to Stow Maries at some point from Old Warden the venue looks like it will have more to offer in the future. The short nature of the show will probably put some off from attending these shows, for the photographers the sun is to the right of the crowd and slightly behind by the time that the afternoon flying display begins (when there is a gap in the cloud anyway), so it might not be to the rear of the crowd enough to satisfy everyone. But the shows are a real treat in what they offer, with a unique character on the UK airshow scene, featuring some aircraft that you won't or will rarely see elsewhere.

The next event with a flying display at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome is Stow Maries at War on July 27th/28th.