Shuttleworth Collection Flying Proms

Saturday 19th August 2023

The Shuttleworth Collection's airshows are renowned for their garden party atmospheres, and this is perhaps best exemplified by the Flying Proms. After such a wet summer, a short but high-class list of flyers was on the cards and coupled with a weather forecast that promised much, the stage was set (literally) for a memorable summer evening.

Andy Evans reports from his first ever visit to the Flying Proms.

A cursory look around the showground quickly confirmed that the Flying Proms isn’t your normal Shuttleworth airshow. There are relatively few people camped out on the crowd line whilst the grassed area in front of the hangars, usually used as a car park, is a sea of visitors facing the stage which is set up next to the control tower. This sea of people is a spectacle with chairs, tables, beds, blankets and even ornate candelabra on display all interspersed with an ample helping of Union Flags. As a first-time visitor to this event the atmosphere felt different, this wasn’t an airshow, it was a crowd who were here to have a party.

Opening at midday, the format of the Flying Proms includes a very lazy afternoon allowing visitors to view the gardens, house and collection plus enjoy a spot of lunch or even a game of bowls on the crowd line all while the National Symphony Orchestra performed a number of sound checks and the usual pleasure flights circled the airfield. The main show begins at around six in the evening where the Orchestra plays themed music to match the flying display which itself then ends at eight thirty. Following a short intermission, the Orchestra re-take their seats and the music continues into the night ending around ten. Whilst the planned flying display appeared rather short, the published list of based aircraft taking part was impressive and included all the favourites including the Comet, Mew Gull, Spitfire, Sea Hurricane and much to the delight of the few enthusiasts present, the Hawker Tomtit, recently airworthy again after a lengthy period of maintenance. The wind forecast did prevent the Edwardians from being towed out but they were as always available to view with the rest of the collection together with the visiting Fairey Swordfish and Westland Wasp from Navy Wings whilst there are works conducted to the runway at RNAS Yeovilton.

Following a performance of wartime and modern songs by the Spitfire Gals, the flying kicked off in complete silence with a typically graceful display from the Lunak Glider with Graham Saw at the controls. Once he and his support aircraft were on the ground, the Orchestra sprung in to life performing the Dambusters March. As the music began, lumbering into view was the BBMF’s Lancaster which proceeded to perform a full display choreographed perfectly to end at the same time as the music. This set the tone for the evening, each flying piece being set to a piece of music and a theme with both being choreographed almost to the second.

The music paired with each display fitted perfectly with the history or reputation of that aircraft. Stand out pairings included the Lysander displaying to the James Bond theme, the Spitfire and Sea Hurricane to the Battle of Britain theme music and the Mew Gull to Those Magnificent Men. However, the best display of the evening came from the collections Gloster Gladiator which performed a high energy routine to the theme music from the movie Gladiator. Things were not all plane sailing when the Comet was unable to fly however this was quickly substituted by the Percival Provost which then performed a rather high and somewhat distant display.

As the sun set below the horizon and the Orchestra retired for the interval, the sky lit up with a pair of pyrotechnic displays, firstly from a pair of Grob 109s flown by Airborne Pyrotechnics and then an aggressive display by Chris Burkett in his Extra 330. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem quite dark enough for the Grobs to show off their pyrotechnics to their full effect but the Extra really stood out in the darkness. The evening then evolved into a traditional Last Night of the Proms style event with rousing patriotic songs, a superb singer and lashings of audience participation. Even the collections Steam Traction Engine joined in blowing its whistle in time with the livelier musical numbers. As the Orchestra said their goodbyes to the crowd, the airfield erupted into a wonderful fireworks display which occurred on the runway and not behind the stage catching many by surprise.

The Flying Proms may not be your typical airshow but the pairing of live classical music to a flying display really works. The evening was tremendous fun, and the crowd were all smiling and laughing as they returned to their cars at the end of the evening. If you want to go to something different but aviation themed, this is the show for you. It does make you wonder, why aren’t other venues doing something similar?