Shuttleworth Collection 'Festival of Flying'

Sunday 6th June 2021

After the initial 'drive-in' air display at the Shuttleworth Collection upon their resumption of events in July 2020, it has since become a familiar format at the venue owing to the measures necessitated by the continuing pandemic, with the third Old Warden show of 2021 being no different. Themed in celebration of the 1951 Festival of Britain, the vast majority of the afternoon's participants were of British design or heritage.

Joe Malkin reports for UK Airshow Review from a sunny Old Warden; something of a surprise given the almost unanimously dreadful weather forecasted prior to the event! Photography by Sam Wise.

One of the highlights of the afternoon's flying programme was Cranfield University's Jetstream 31, which opened the show with a dynamic display in the hands of Collection pilot 'Dodge' Bailey. This was regrettably the Jetstream's final public appearance as it is shortly to be replaced in its 'flying classroom' role by a SAAB 340, however the slightly surreal sight and sound of this light airliner being hauled around the hallowed Old Warden skies will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it at either this event or its debut display at the venue last August. Further classic British airliners featured at the show - as well as a rare static appearance by a Hebridean Air Services Islander which also departed during the afternoon, a pair of Dragon Rapides provided by Mark Miller and Philip Meeson gave a nostalgic look back to the early days of passenger travel with a tightly-flown routine which filled the viewfinder on virtually every pass.

As indicated by the official show poster, the star of the event on paper was undeniably the Collection's elegant DH88 Comet 'Grosvenor House' as, seventy years earlier, that airframe had graced the Festival of Britain shortly after its return to a presentable static display standard. After some welcome formation passes in the familiar company of Mew Gull and Hawk Speed Six, including a markedly different echelon right topside arrival, the grouping quickly split into an energetic tailchase by the two single-engine racers. Regrettably, the Comet solo display ended as quickly as it had begun with the aircraft entering the downwind after seemingly just a few passes. Given the relevance of the Comet to the theme of this particular event, an extended display would have surely been highly appropriate on this occasion and given the audience a little more time to appreciate this living, breathing piece of national history.

The 'festival' element of the display was somewhat buoyed by a single flypast by the Red Arrows through the overhead, en route back to RAF Scampton after their first UK public displays in almost two years. Despite the team being down to an 8-ship with a fuel leak grounding one of their Hawks, the appearance was no less striking and provided a reminder as to what a spectacle an appearance by the Reds is at this smallest of airshow venues. They were not the only aerobatic team to appear however, as the Global Stars provided a thrilling routine towards the end of the show. Their performance seems to evolve and improve continuously and the audience seemed enthralled by their mix of high energy unlimited aerobatics coupled with more graceful, classic formation manoeuvres. The lengthy round of applause the four pilots received upon shutting down gave some indication as to just how popular the display had been!

As usual, there were a number of welcome pairings throughout the programme - the Mercury engined formation of Gladiator and Lysander as well as a Merlin-powered duo of Spitfire and Hurricane. However one of the most imaginative pairings of the afternoon came in the form of two Pups - the Collection's Sopwith Pup formating with the privately owned Beagle Pup prototype, which was making its post restoration display debut and looked immaculate to boot. This pairing was highly relevant however, a fact which may have gone unnoticed to those less familiar with the type's history. These two airframes had in fact met before, as in 1967 the Collection's Pup was brought to Shoreham to be on display for the Beagle Pup's naming ceremony and so for the two to reunite over 50 years later (in the air at last!) was a welcome treat and presumably an interesting flying exercise given the performance disparity between the two types. It was fantastic to also see the Pup formate on its more familiar Bulldog development as part of an extended display.

One of the afternoon's highlights was the final slot of the programme, which saw a rare appearance by a number of the Collection's priceless Edwardian aircraft. Due to the understandably strict wind limits placed on their operation, appearances often only take place at evening shows due to the often stiller air, so to see the aircraft flying in better light conditions at an afternoon show was an added treat. It was excellent to see the Avro Triplane, Bristol Boxkite and Deperdussin all enthralling the crowds with their flights - the silence that envelops the aerodrome whilst these takes place has to be experienced in person to be truly understood! The Collection's Bleriot was also lined up for what would have been only its second public flight for many years - the engine was started and excitement built, however before chocks were pulled the aircraft was shut down and the attempt abandoned for the day. It was a cruel blow given how close the aircraft got to flying, however it goes to show the fickle nature of these early machines and gave a welcome incentive to return and see the aircraft fly another day!

The disappointment of this, however, was made up for somewhat by the English Electric Wren shortly after the formal display had ended. The aircraft, which earlier performed what could best be described as a taxi down the runway with a 'hop', managed to free itself from the confines of the runway and give an impressive showing in the early evening sunlight. After years of only managing bungee-launched runs down the runway, the aircraft gave a similarly surprising display two years ago following some maintenance work and this appearance arguably topped that! Lets hope a similarly sporting appearance will make it into a formal flying programme again some time soon.

In their present format, the ticket price for shows at Shuttleworth has had to be markedly increased owing to the reduced public and vehicle capacity on-site at this time. This makes airshow days at Shuttleworth significantly more expensive for attendees than they were previously, meaning many may not be in a position to attend as many shows in a season as they would have liked to. Hopefully this is something which begins to relax alongside restrictions, as whilst the drive in format has many advantages, not least more space and an opportunity to better hear the vast array of engines being displayed, it is a pricier undertaking at present. That said, the Collection consistently puts on high quality shows and the opportunity to see such rare aircraft demonstrated in what was fantastic weather conditions all afternoon is addictive, and raises a smile at the propsect of a return visit in the near future.