Shuttleworth Collection 'At The Movies' Drive-In Airshow

Sunday 2nd August 2020

Still only the second airshow to take place in Europe in 2020, Old Warden's first full-day show of the year came hot on the heels of July's drive-in evening show. As with the first it took place under social-distancing measures with limited crowd numbers dictated by the drive-in format but featured an otherwise full flying display, successfully themed around "At the Movies", that would not have been out of place in any normal year.

Sam Wise parked in his box at Old Warden and reports for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the author & Scott Perry.

God damn it feels good to be back at an airshow! Okay, let's take some perspective - we're only a few months later than the normal start to an airshow season, so it isn't like we've gone years without them. But with next to nothing else going on over the summer, live sport only just getting back on TV and set against the background of the global situation it is so good to be back to something that you perhaps had never really noticed was such an integral part of your annual calendar (even when you write for a website called UK Airshow Review).

As with the first one of the year the format was drive-in. Taking advantage of the airfield's large open spaces before the crowdline the same arrangement with cars parked in 5x5m boxes worked well and allowed a perfectly good view of the flying display. Commentary was provided over FM radio. There did appear to be some organisational degradation compared with the previous show - cars arriving first were being parked further back at the far left of the field while later arrivals were parked by row at the front which rankled somewhat, and there were definitely more attempts to wander to the crowdline away from the parked cars for instance. Overall, though, the system continued to work.

In this year of all years the organisers could be forgiven for playing it safe and sticking with the home-based Collection aircraft, assured of a sellout crowd thirsty for aeroplanes and perfect justification for keeping running costs as low as possible. What was put on, however, was as strong a lineup as you'd ever expect of a Shuttleworth show with some genuinely stand-out enthusiast's items to boot. Opening the show and probably the headline act on the billing was the National Flying Laboratory Centre's Jetstream 31.

The last time an "active" British-made airliner was displayed in civilian hands at a British airshow was over 11 years ago and certainly a Jetstream has not been seen since the Royal Navy retired theirs in 2011 so this was absolutely a treat to see what is now very much a rarity in the skies over Old Warden in a sweeping and elegant Shuttleworth routine. Flown by Dodge Bailey and Cranfield University's senior management pilot Joe Brown, the display was formulated to recognise the fact that the Jetstream was due to be retired this summer, for a Saab 340B, and was worked up before lockdown took effect. While that retirement has now been pushed back to next year it was decided to continue the work up for this show and hopefully this delay will allow for displays at a few more shows before the airframe is replaced.

For pure entertainment value two pieces stood out on the flying programme. The first was the Collection's barnstorming segment involving the Magister, Martlet, Chipmunk, Tiger Moth and Super Cub which featured variety acts like flour bombing, limbo flying, ribbon cutting and streamer collection. These kind of performances really are unlike most stuff you get on a display circuit these days, with flying as low as 1m off the ground between volunteer-held poles - whether the pilots or the people on the ground are the braver is debatable!

Little and Large remain one of the country's most entertaining and best executed acts. It can't be overstated how enjoyable the sight of the "full-size" piloted Extra with its remote-controlled counterpart alongside it is knowing the supreme level of planning and coordination that has gone into it. It is a booking that never fails to put a grin on your face and it works especially well at a venue like Old Warden. Actually, Little and Large were the second Extra display of the day as James Hepnar made his public display debut at the show with a perfectly well-rehearsed and competent performance.

Where the flying programme really sold itself, however, was around its central theme of At the Movies. We say it so often in our reviews but shows with strong, tangible themes always seem to have the most successful lineups and this one was no exception. In fact, it was surprising just how many of the aircraft could be connected to the world of film in some way or another. Items such as the Bell 47 and Huey were obvious, with their connection's respective film scores accompanying their displays, but some were a bit more obscure.

For example, the DH51 'Miss Kenya' will be familiar in the 2011 British Airways advert "To Fly, To Serve", while the BE2c replica was originally built for an unmade Biggles movie, but has since featured in TV shows and documentaries as well. The Collection's Spitfire Vc and Sea Hurricane both featured in the films 'Battle of Britain' and, perhaps unfortunately, Michael Bay's 'Pearl Harbour'. Probably the most brilliant themed act was the DH.88 Comet Racer and PA-25 Pawnee combo - both types are depicted as characters in Disney's 'Planes' and is, one would assume, the only time the two radically dissimilar types have ever flown in formation in real life. Certainly the opportunity to see a PA-25 displayed was worth it.

But you know what was the nicest thing about getting back to an airshow? It was bumping into (not literally, of course - one metre distancing was maintained at all times) familiar faces every time you left your parking box, be it to use the (well placed) portaloos or food stalls. Catching up with friends you've not seen in over a year, comparing lockdown notes and experiences, agreeing how good it was to be seeing flying again or just carrying on conversations left off sometime in 2019. For many of us the airshow circuit and hobby is as much part of our social lives as anything outside it and it was very comforting to return to a taste of normality once again.

Old Warden have quite literally led the way in bringing airshows back in this most extraordinary of years. Not everywhere could have done so simply due to the requirements the format has of venue and layout, but it's really no surprise that an organisation like the Shuttleworth Collection has been able to hit the ground running so well. In any other year this would've been easily remembered as a strong airshow; to achieve it in the face of so much adversity is to be all the more commended.