Shuttleworth Collection Magnificent Musical Flying Display

Saturday 15th August 2020

The Shuttleworth drive-in airshow format now feels like a well-trodden and established path, with great success on its first two outings. The biggest test to date for the restrictive format was the replacement for the Shuttleworth Collection's Flying Proms, a more diverse event than a normal airshow. This would be different challenge and with a premium price tag of £120 per car, expectations were high.

Scott Perry reports on the Shuttleworth Collection's latest drive-in adventure for UK Airshow Review.

There's a certain kind of show that anyone who regularly attends UK airshows will be familiar with. The rain lashing the car on the drive to the show, the wondering whether the show will be cancelled entirely, the faint and deluded hope that suddenly the weather will clear in time for the display in a Mr. Blue Sky moment, à la King Air at RIAT 2009. Alas, on this occasion the weather failed to break for the better, at least to the extent required. Whilst the rain ceased for the most part, the low cloud base and poor visibility prohibited all of the planned flying displays.

Shuttleworth have done many great things this year, and many are very grateful for their efforts to restart the UK airshow season under difficult circumstances. Their organisation of the entry and car parking was once again second to none; filling each row of cars, from the front, before moving to the next. A much more orderly system than encountered at their At the Movies Drive-In Airshow, as discussed in our review.

However, one thing that cannot be overlooked is the second-rate communication to the paying public at this event. The published time of the flypast by the Red Arrows came and went. There was no announcement of its cancellation via the PA system or FM radio station being used for the event; only a social media post around half an hour after the flypast time gave confirmation of this. Likewise, the BBMF's Lancaster took off and had to turn back to RAF Coningsby due to the poor weather. Those following the bomber's progress via online tracking sites were aware of this, whilst the Shuttleworth FM station continued to introduce the display as if it was going ahead, even playing the accompanying music. Some delay in getting information of the cancellation of an aircraft's participation is understandable in such fluid circumstances. To not mention it at all is a disservice to the customers. Just prior to the advertised start of the display those present were promised an evening of ‘flying sorcery’, when the reality of the situation was clear for all to see. Be honest and realistic with your audience, do not antagonise them with claims of things that are clearly not going to unfold.

Following the Lancaster's missed slot, a J3 Cub completed a weather check and the report of an unsuitable cloud base was passed onto the audience, with the promise that the situation would be further monitored. As the only three Collection participants to be brought out, the Lysander, Spitfire Vc and Sea Hurricane were one by one towed back towards the hangars while the musical half of the evening continued undeterred by the lack of accompanying aircraft – in the form of the tracks due to accompany the displays and performances by the Spitfire Sisters. The English Electric Wren eventually emerged as the only performer suited to the limitations of the conditions, to perform a series of hops down the runway, to provide some aerial (even if only just) entertainment.

The £120 price tag for a standard car pass to the event was already a bone of contention for many, with this being the first Shuttleworth air display of 2020 to not sell out. Its value highly dependent on the number of people within your vehicle and how much advantage you took of the full facilities on offer. As well as the flying display and music, the charming Shuttleworth House was open for tours throughout the day, as were the Swiss Gardens and vintage bus rides were on offer. All being made available for the first time at a flying display this year. When you consider all of the facilities, the potential of the flying display (rather than the weather dampened reality), and the possibility to fill up a car load, the price is not as outrageous as some social media commenters may have you believe; especially when drive-in concerts without the additional facilities of Shuttleworth are being offered for similar amounts. Ultimately, the value will be highly personal to each individual and the way they choose to use the ticket.

No one could have justly criticised Shuttleworth for cancelling the event in the days prior with such an inclement forecast, especially with hindsight of its impact on the flying display. With no orchestra, as per the usual Flying Proms, the flying element of the evening took much greater prominence in delivering the entertainment, and with such a hampered affair it would be unfair to truly judge this event's performance as a replacement for the traditional proms event. The can-do positive spirit must be saluted though, with every effort made to put on a successful event. From the Collection’s vintage cars driving up and down each row of their modern counterparts to entertain visitors during the afternoon; the determination to display the Wren and at least offer some form of flying in challenging conditions; Guy Westgate parading his illuminated Swift S-1 glider up and down the crowd line; the innovative pairing of the Panic Team with their light adorned remote control aircraft flying in front of the firework finale, while many of which erupted within the low layer of cloud.

With the combined limitations of Covid-19 and the weather both the musical and aviation elements of the usual Flying Proms were severely diminished. The poor communication with the crowd certainly left a lot to be desired and was the only place in which greater effort could be reasonably expected. With the other constraints totally understandable, considerable effort was evidently made to make the most of the situation confronting the organisers. Due to the effects of the poor weather Shuttleworth have offered all those who suffered the weather a voucher for tickets to an airshow there in 2021. A generous offer, for which they should be commended. The weather may have tried its best, but the good spirit of Shuttleworth and its audience were not deterred.