Shuttleworth Collection Season Premiere

Sunday 1st May 2022

After a tough couple of years dealing with the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 airshow season at the moment promises to be the first since 2019 to be free from restrictions. The honour of formally beginning this vitally important season fell to the Shuttleworth Collection with their Season Premiere airshow. Boasting a number of debutants, it would be interesting to witness if the wonderful Shuttleworth atmosphere would return.

Andy Evans reports from the 2022 Season Premiere. Additional photography by Sam Wise.

The British weather is a fickle beast. In the days running up to the Shuttleworth Collection's Season Premiere airshow the forecast seemed to get progressively worse, at one stage predicting rain all day. While nobody expected wall-to-wall sunshine, those who decided to brave the now rather high entry fees at Old Warden were in the end treated to a dry, if a little chilly at times, days entertainment under overcast skies. A day that was rounded off with the wind dropping low enough allowing for some of the collection's Edwardian aircraft to take to the skies including a wonderfully sedate display from the English Electric Wren.

If there was a perfect venue for airshow enthusiasts to attempt to get back to normal in a post-pandemic world, then Shuttleworth would have been it. Old friends gathered, many of whom having not seen each other since 2019, and enjoyed each others' company in a relaxed environment surrounded by the wonderful atmosphere that Old Warden evokes. There were of course teething problems with a team that were clearly a little rusty at running a full-scale airshow, with the entrance gates opening late, reports of issues getting in to the venue and long slow queues at the catering outlets. However, in the grand scheme of things, these appeared isolated and minor.

The line-up for the show was Shuttleworth’s typical mix of resident stalwarts interspersed with a smattering of visiting displays. It was therefore perhaps fitting that a number of the displays scheduled for the Season Premiere were also either UK or Shuttleworth display debutants. Topping the bill was ex-Kennet Aviation Supermarine Seafire Mk.XVII which is now owned by Navy Wings and performing its first display since 2015. Kennet Aviation themselves also provided their recently acquired Boeing Stearman Kaydet, resplendent in its US Navy colour scheme. Also making its debut display was Arnoldo Leon’s Ryan STM which carries the unusual markings from when the airframe flew in the Netherland East Indies. Noteworthy too was Shuttleworth’s own Spitfire Mk.V AR501 displaying for the first time since having the wingtips re-fitted over the winter and the Collection's recently acquired Avro 19, performing its first display since being transferred from the ownership of BAE Systems.

In the most part the gathered display aircraft and their pilots made full use of the wonderful flight line at Shuttleworth, which included the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster treating the crowd to three lovely topside passes before departing. Similarly Plane Sailing's Catalina provided a spirited display, however, it was unable to land due to undercarriage issues and diverted back to Duxford where it made a safe recovery. The undoubted display star of the day was the Navy Wings Seafire which was put through a wonderfully aggressive, fast, yet elegant display in the hands of Chris Gotke. The Ryan STM and Gloster Gladiator were also standout displays, showing off the silver schemes of their aircraft to good effect in the dull grey skies over Bedfordshire.

If there was an ugly duckling in the flying display, it was unfortunately Kennet Aviation’s Stearman Kaydet. Paired in its slot with a Spartan Executive and in the hands of John Beattie, the Stearman spent the display slot away from the crowd flying a sedate display in the distance, giving centre stage to the Spartan. This was a missed opportunity to show off a new aircraft and its vibrant paint scheme instead of displaying the Spartan, which we have seen all before. Visitors were also denied displays from Spitfire MH434, a Tiger Moth and the Sopwith Camel – all of which suffered technical difficulties on the day, but, their absence wasn't as keenly felt as it might otherwise have been had the remainder of the programme not been so enjoyable.

Taking the grey overcast skies as a given, it was wonderful to once again attend a 'normal' airshow. It is a sign that bodes well for the rest of the season, if Shuttleworth can put on a safe and successful event without COVID restrictions, then any venue should be able to do so too with the right planning. After today's experience it does therefore seem illogical for the upcoming Evening of Espionage show to return to the drive-in format of the last two seasons, especially for the over-the-top price being charged. We can only hope that the organisers will reflect on the success of the Season Premiere and change tack for future events.