When the Shuttleworth Fly Navy show was first announced, anticipation for what could form the display lineup was high. In fact, almost before the first display item was announced, some were pegging it as a potential season highlight. Adam Duffield was there for AeroResource to see if it could live up to the expectation.
Formed in 1909 as the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) before eventually becoming the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in 1924, naval aviation in the UK is something not normally celebrated at airshows. However, the team behind Shuttleworth decided to redress the balance with a Fly Navy show dedicated to the aerial accomplishments of the senior service.
On the ground, the naval theme was visible from first entry to the show with a Royal Navy AgustaWestland Merlin HM2 (ZH853) dominating what has traditionally been the shows car park. Alongside a Westland Lynx HMA8 (ZF557) which later joined it, these modern day representatives of Royal Navy aviation were a very welcome addition with the Merlin crew being more than happy to talk to the public about the aircraft and its role. In addition, Royal Navy Cadets were visible throughout the day, none more so than when the Sea Cadet Band led the traditional vehicle parade on to the flight line in advance of the main flying show. With many Royal Navy dignitaries, both past and present, in attendance the show had a tough crowd to please.
Opening the display was a wonderful flowing segment featuring one of the stars of the day – De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 XP924/G-CVIX. Now operated by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust (Ed note: more of which can be found here – https://www.aeroresource.co.uk/news/sea-vixen-homecoming/) it is a much sought after item for many enthusiasts and, to start the days flying proceedings, joined up with the Shuttleworth Collection’s Hawker Sea Hurricane MkIb Z7015/G-BKTH. The pair carried out a unique flypast in formation before the Sea Vixen carried out its solo display. Despite the restrictions in place for classic jet displays in this post Shoreham era, what followed was a beautiful presentation of the all-weather fighter complete with the odd ‘ribbon’ or two appearing from the wingtips as it squeezed the last ounce of the mornings moisture out of the air. Once complete, the Sea Hurricane made a return with a naval offering of its Second World War counterpart – Supermarine Seafire LFIII PP972/G-BUAR. In a similar fashion, the formation then split to allow the Sea Hurricane to perform its solo routine before the Seafire followed on. Both gave very contrasting displays with the Hurricane flying a relatively flat routine with plenty of use of the curved display line for sweeping passes while the Seafire performed a seemingly endless selection of loops and rolls in a very lengthy display. When it comes to opening segments of a show demonstrating the theme, and the potential, for the rest of the day, this really does stand out as one of the finest recent examples.
Later in the day, the more common land based variants of the two piston fighters were displayed by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as both Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc PZ865 and Supermarine Spitfire Mk LF XVIe TE311 performed individual flypasts at separate points in the display. The flypasts gave the crowd a good chance to get good look at both types and also rare topside shots as the pilots dipped the wings for the crowd.
Offering a more sedate change of pace, but a no less superb a display, was a quartet of trainer aircraft featuring three from the collection – de Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth K2585/G-ANKT, Miles Magister P6382/G-AJRS and their gorgeous Avro Tutor (K3215/GAHSA) – alongside the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s (RNHF) de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk,WK608. All four of these trainer aircraft played an important role in training FAA pilots before they made the move to more advanced types (some of which also took part during the day) and in fact the Chipmunk still does for both the RNHF and BBMF providing vital tailwheel conversion training for pilots both new and old. Starting with all four aircraft in formation the Chipmunk, piloted by Commanding Officer RNHF Lt Cdr Chris Götke, broke off allowing the three aircraft of the collection to continue providing a number of different formation passes. Once complete, the Chipmunk returned to provide one of the surprise display highlights with an exceptional display of aerobatics showing off the capability of the aircraft perfectly. With most Chipmunk displays normally starting significantly higher, Lt Cdr Götke’s routine really kept it within eyesight at all times.
Stepping up the pace, Lt Cdr Götke returned later in the afternoon in a somewhat more powerful trainer to form up alongside two very different bi-planes. With the RNHF Fairey Swordfish Mk I (W5856) leading North American AT-6D Texan 285068/G-KAMY and the Shuttleworth Collections Gloster Gladiator I (K7985/G-AMRK) in a ‘Vic’ formation, it was another example of a unique Shuttleworth formation – something that occurs frequently during their shows and always a talking point. The Swordfish was first up to provide a solo display and despite the least powerful of the trio, demonstrated some nimble handling especially given its deceptive size that is only really noticeable when up close to it on the ground. Operated in the torpedo bomber role by the Royal Navy, W5856 is the sole airworthy Mk I as well as the the oldest of its type in existence and, since returning to flight in 2015, has become a regular and welcome addition to the display circuit. Given the theme of the event and some of the visiting dignitaries, the salute pass with the Royal Navy Ensign flying proudly from the rear cockpit had even more relevance than usual. Departing to land, the remaining two machines were free to display as they returned as a pair at first before the Gladiator set about its solo routine. Representing the role that a small number (but mightily important one at the time!) of Sea Gladiators played especially in Malta as part of the Hal Far Fighter Flight. It is often pointed out that the Gladiators role during the Second World War was short lived with it being out powered and out gunned by more modern monoplane types however no one watching the display may have been convinced by that given the powerful and energetic routine that was flown. Coming in to compete the segment was Lt Cdr Götke in the Texan, an aircraft that has been seen more recently on the display circuit whilst repairs are completed on the RNHF’s Sea Fury. With a similar, but more powerful display, to the one he flew in the Chipmunk, those stood towards the hangars may have seen a ‘crewed up’ Bofors anti-aircraft gun tracking his every move with the two crew working furiously to keep up – an interesting sight indeed!
With the majority of today’s Royal Navy air presence made up of rotary types, a welcome addition to the day’s proceedings came from a former anti-submarine warfare aircraft – Westland Wasp XT787/G-KAXT. Flown by Dr Terry Martin, its arrival on the display scene in 2016 has been too much applause. Starting and finishing its display just feet away from the crowd line, the Wasp was once again well presented including some up close hover and transition moves set against the lovely tree lined background Shuttleworth has to offer. Whilst not an official part of the display, a chance to see Westland Lynx HMA8 ZF557 (the successor to the Wasp) depart was appreciated by many as the type enters the twilight of its service.
Whilst both aircraft are civilian examples, the pairing of Avro Nineteen G-AHKX and de Havilland Dragon Rapide G-AGSH represented the military variants of the Anson and Dominie – both aircraft having served with the FAA in the training and transport roles. With them starting the display side by side, it was a good example of the differences in design especially given the fact that they are of the same era. Flown by Mark Sharp and John Hurrell respectively, it was the Rapide to display solo first before the Nineteen danced through the skies.
Three Hawker biplanes represented the interwar development period of carrier bourne aircraft. A pair of Hawker Nimrods – Mk I S1581/G-GWWK and Mk II K3661/G-BURZ – gave people a chance to see the variations in design between the two models – including the introduction of a swept-wing and a tailwheel on the Mk II. The Nimrod was designed as fighter for the Navy, it served for the majority of the 1930s before being replaced by the newer Gloster Gladiator. With the Mk I flown by Stuart Goldspink and the Mk II by Peter Holloway, Rob Millinship joined them in Hawker Demon K8203/G-BTVE. Although not a naval aircraft itself, it was developed from the Hawker Hart as were a number of other types including the Hawker Osprey, which it represented in the show. In service at the same time as the Nimrod, it was initially used in the anti-submarine warfare role before later being used as a training aircraft. Representing French Naval aviation was a beautiful parasol winged Morane Saulnier MS.317 (G-MOSA) complete in a full Aéronavale scheme and joined in the air by de Havilland DH60 Cirrus Moth G-EBLV. With a large power difference between the two types, it was noticeable that the MS.317 was working hard to stay in formation with the more sedate Moth however this provided some wonderful angles of the MS.317 as it snaked its way behind the Moth to counteract the speed differential.
Quite often displays at Shuttleworth start with a formation of aircraft however the display by Westland Lysander V9367/G-AZWT was a rare ‘solo’ display. Only transferring to the Fleet Air Arm after the Royal Air Force had all but removed the type from frontline service, they spent a brief spell in the Liaison and Target Tug roles. Flown by Rob Millinship, the Lysander is always a lovely aircraft to see fly, especially in sun as this helps to brighten up the all black scheme.
Shuttleworth is well known for its collection of First World War machines and the Fly Navy show featured two of them alongside one of the newest, and most interesting to join the historical aircraft scene in the UK. As a type, the Bristol Scout become the first conventional land based aircraft to take-off from a moving ship and saw service with the RNAS in the very early, pioneering days of naval aviation warfare. It is however the history of this particular aircraft, 1264/G-FDHB, that is very interesting. Rebuilt to represent the aircraft of Flight Sub-Lieutenant ‘Bunnie’ Bremner, the restoration work was carried out by his grandsons and, further more, the display at the Fly Navy show was the very first public performance by David Bremner and it was executed perfectly. It’s worth reading more on this project which can be found at the following link – https://bristolscout.wordpress.com. Another Bristol type, and a regular at Shuttleworth shows, is the Bristol F.2 Fighter that followed – a perfect example of the rapid development by companies during the early war years as aerial combat gained strategic importance in the art of war. Last but by no means least, was the Sopwith Pup – a type that the Royal Naval Air Service were the first to operate in theatre with 8 Squadron seeing action over the Somme.
To close the show, the organisers elected to finish in the same way that they started with an amazing segment of displays. Rarely seen outside of their Duxford home, a trio of aircraft from The Fighter Collection (TFC) arrived in formation (and at speed!) for a flypast before each performed their own display. First up was Dave Southwood in the Grumman Wildcat FM2 JV579/G-RUMW. Whilst not an ex-FAA aircraft (who referred to it as the Martlet) itself, it represents an airframe operated 846 Naval Air Squadron from HMS Tracker. The display given was exceptional and certainly lived up to its Wildcat name whilst laying down the benchmark for the remaining TFC pilots. Following in close order and swooping in from the left was the distinctive ‘gull wing’ of the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair (KD345/G-FGID) flown by Pete Kynsey. Another aircraft adorned in a FAA scheme, the Corsair originally suffered from a number of issues when used for carrier operations leading to the US operating them solely from land until the British successfully overcame them. Finishing the three displays, and saving the best till last, was a somewhat aggressive display from Brian Smith in the Grumman F8F Bearcat (G-RUMM). Whilst never operated by the British, it became a vitally important naval type for the US in the latter stages of the war. The routine flown was an all-out display of raw power with fast passes combined with incredible climbs finishing with a beautiful topside pass to the crowd.
With the final TFC fighter disappearing behind the crowd, one final formation was to finish the day’s proceedings with the Wildcat, Corsair and Bearcat forming up in a mini balbo with the collections Sea Hurricane, Nimrod I and Nimrod II in a three-ship following behind – a perfect grouping to close the days naval based theme.
As the day ended and the crowds started to filter out, it’s fair to say that the Shuttleworth Fly Navy show more than lived up to its expectations. With perfect weather conditions, some excellently flown displays and a lineup that re-enforced the theme at every step, it really was an excellently thought out show. Looking back a few days after, the opening and closing segments, especially the beastly Bearcat, will live long in the memory of what already stands to be one of the shows of the season. Bravo Zulu, Old Warden!