Of all the shows at Old Warden, the Shuttleworth Collections Military Pageant is amongst the busiest it holds throughout the year and often features an interesting array of visiting display aircraft. Harry Measures provides this guest report for AeroResource from the world-renowned aircraft collection.
The Military Pageant at the Shuttleworth Collection was looking like a good show early on, especially when the initial list of displays and attendees was announced on their website. The reason for this – the Vulcan! Although XH558 was booked for this same event last year, the aircraft was unable to make it and now, with the jet in its final season, the show would be the first, and sadly last (unless the Collection book it for another show this season!) time to see such a sight at Shuttleworth. As things were added in the lead up to the show, the visiting aircraft list featured another two gems currently on the circuit – the freshly restored Bristol Blenheim MkI operated by the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford and Peter Teichman’s MkXI Supermarine Spitfire. Given the very strong looking participation, it was no surprise that advance sales were high meaning the show in some ways was sold out to non- Shuttleworth Veteran Aeroplane Society (SVAS) members on the Friday before. With a capacity crowd on the cards, it would be interesting to see how the Old Warden coped and whether the normal relaxed ambiance associated with the Collection would remain.
For those that know the picturesque airfield at Old Warden, the roads surrounding the airfield aren’t suitable for huge amounts of traffic. I elected to leave early, fearing the worse due to the capacity crowd and on the road leading the airfield, there were several clear and prominent signs stating the show was a sellout. The road used to get the show traffic on site is little more than a single lane track that runs through the park surrounding the grass strip, but upon arriving at around 07:45, I found the organiser’s had made the decision to spit it into four lanes for both ticket checking and for SVAS members purchasing them. It seemed many people had elected to arrive early and as the queue to get onto the site reached back to the point where tickets were being checked! With the gates opening 30 minutes early at 08:30, it was clear while heading for the parking that the decision had made (a wise decision at that!) of hiring some extra toilets for the day.
At this point, it has to be said that the weather looked slightly dubious, with the early morning sun and blue skies being quickly replaced with a thick blanket of cloud. Still, being on site early allowed you to watch the preparations for the show unfold, including both general handling and practice displays from no less than three aircraft and the Blenheim arriving from Duxford. As well as the flying display, the Shuttleworth Collection had also organised a gathering of a large number of original Great War vehicles which was very much in keeping with their theme. Prior to the flying display starting, most of the gathered vehicles participated in a parade which a unique element of the show!
Although not down to display, many could not have noticed that the Kennet Aviation Seafire MkXVII (SX336) had been pushed out onto the airfield – the aircraft having arrived on the Friday before the show. Despite many wondering whether it might fly in the display (if so this would be its first public appearance since flying again last year) it was still a nice touch seeing both the Shuttleworth’s Sea Hurricane and the Seafire together on the flight line.
As the time edged closer to 2pm, a palpable air of anticipation fell across the airfield and, with the help of some Old Warden magic, the grey skies had soon been by fluffy white clouds and blue skies. Once the Vulcan was spotted holding to the south west of the airfield, the excitement really began to build. The opening pass was very impressive, even attempting to follow the dogleg display line before repositioning for an on crowd break. On a later pass, Martin Withers did follow the crowd line very closely, an impressive sight to see. It was all over very quickly and the aircraft soon left with a steep power climb and wingover. Such a sight at Old Warden is something to be savored, and I certainly hope they continue to book such prominent items such as the Vulcan in the future.
In stark contrast, the next display items were the Avro Anson and Dragon Rapide, both making a number of formation passes before breaking into solo routines. Once their displays had concluded, it was the turn of the Eon Primary glider. With the Glider safely on the ground, it was time for the Spitfire contingent. First up was Peter Teichman arriving in his MkXI with a run and break performed with plenty of his usual flair and gusto before the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s (BBMF) MkVb AB910 gave us three rip roaring flypasts – Shuttleworth really is the place to see the BBMF!
Following this was a fairly familiar (to those who have visited before) set piece involving Peter Holloway’s Fieseler Fi156 Storch and Shuttleworth’s Glostor Gladiator, wherein the Storch evades the Gladiators line of fire by simply using both its lack of speed and its high maneuverability. It is always impressive to watch the Storch dip and weave about the airfield in a fashion unique to itself, whilst the Gladiator maneuvers about trying to get a shot on it. Eventually of course, the Gladiator comes out victorious, and celebrates with a small display of its own.
There was then a segment for the RAF training aircraft, which comprised of a formation of the Miles Magister, De Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth and the Avro Tutor while Chris Heames performed a very energetic display above in the Piston Provost. A pair of Yak 50s soon followed with an excellent aerobatic display and although it had clouded over by this point, it gave a good backdrop for their smoke trails. A brief rain shower showed up during the display, which was over before it had begun, but still created scenes from a disaster movie in the crowd with people running for cover!
The wind had picked up by this point so there was slim chance that both the Edwardian and WWI aircraft would fly, however looking at the flight list there was still some excellent displays to come. The Hawker Hind and Demon, piloted by Peter Holloway and Stuart Goldspink respectively, were next. The dark sky contrasted well with the formation of the two but, as they started their individual displays the blues skies had returned!
It was then the turn of Peter Teichman in his MkXI Spitfire wearing an all over photo-reconnaissance blue scheme, and as per usual he put on a polished display. During his display, there was a different sound in the background breaking up the growl of the Spit’s Merlin – the rough snarl of a Rolls Royce Griffon VI. Belonging to the Seafire, the snarl was soon joined by the growl of a Merlin, however this one belonging the Sea Hurricanes’ Merlin III. What followed was the Seafire’s first public display since its accident in 2011 which started with a formation pass (albeit loose!) with the Sea Hurricane. The Hurricane then performed its solo, before leaving the stage for John Beattie in SX336. Although the display was fairly high and didn’t use the dogleg as such, it was still lovely to see the Seafire make its debut. Here is hoping we see other late war fighters at Old Warden in the future to help show the stark contrast and also highlight the speed of development in aviation – especially when compared to the earlier types operated by Shuttleworth.
With confirmation of the cancellation of the WWI and Edwardian Aircraft, it fell to John Romain in the Blenheim to close the display – what followed was without the best display of the day. John closely followed the arcing crowd line thrice in his fantastic routine, showing off the graceful lines of the MkI in excellent light before departing back to its Cambridgeshire home of Duxford. The end of the day was marked with a two minutes silence and a poppy drop from the Piston Provost – a moment that cannot be overlooked.
Shows like this are what make the Shuttleworth Collection one of the best airshow venues in the UK. In this one show there were Old Warden debuts from both the Vulcan and Blenheim, as well as a welcome return for Peter Teichman. The strong support from the home crowd was still high, despite the fact that the wind had written off some of the key elements of the planned display. Testament to this was the fact the crowd did not noticeably thin out after the Vulcan, as some had predicted (myself included) but instead most stayed until the end of the flying.
The organisation of the day, given the capacity crowd, was excellent with no reports of massive delays to enter, or exit the venue. That said, there is never a rush to leave an Old Warden airshow and I stayed until about 18:30, having watched the Seafire & Spitfire depart while the engineers played about with Penny Farthings and other Victorian contraptions – where else in the UK can you see that? I am pleased to say, the Old Warden ambiance was still in abundance!
With great thanks to everyone at the Shuttleworth Collection who work tirelessly to keep these wonderful aircraft flying at “The Big Green Time Machine” and ensuring these events run smoothly. The show was an excellent tribute to the Great War, with the original vehicles and poppy drop, and so it seems fitting to end this article in the same way the show was closed;
For their tomorrow, we gave our today.”