2012 UK Airshows

AUG 09 2012
Airshows >> UK: Shuttleworth Military Pageant - Review

It’s fair to say that the Shuttleworth Collection has had a horrible year so far. Indeed, as many will be aware, persistently dire weather during May and June resulted in the cancellation of several events, and the May Evening Air Display suffered from some very dull and cold conditions. Worse was waiting around the corner with the tragic death of former Chief Pilot Trevor Roche in July – a truly gifted aviator whose loss has been, and will continue to be, deeply felt – and, more recently, the sad passing of Collection pilot John Morris, who was honoured with a minute’s silence prior to the Military Pageant

Life does, however, go on. Those who have been lost will be remembered by us all in our own ways, be it on a personal level or, for those of us who were merely spectators to the demonstration of the craft which defined them, in the memories of the moments they have given us. I don’t think I will ever forget Trevor Roche’s Sopwith Triplane display at the May Evening Air Display 2010; man and machine in complete harmony. To my mind, there can be no better memorial to the impact they had on the Old Warden community than seeing the Shuttleworth Collection’s aircraft continuing to grace the skies over Bedfordshire.

The August 5th Military Pageant was, hopefully, a turning point. The airshow’s line-up was certainly strong, with several visiting aircraft – including Lancaster, Dakota, Anson, Spitfire, Catalina and Vampire – scheduled to appear. The weather certainly had a bit of a wobble in the morning (my 30mph drive up the M11 in torrential rain was one of those “Should I really be doing this?!” moments) and a really quite violent heavy shower half an hour before the flying display commenced had me wondering whether we’d get any flying at all!

Thankfully, the rain receded and Old Warden enjoyed some long overdue sunshine; okay, so it didn’t last for the entire display and incoming heavy rainfall curtailed the flying programme shortly before 5pm, meaning that the World War One aircraft (some of which were taxying out to take-off at the time) and the Edwardian flying machines had to scrub their display slots. As ever, by about 7pm the weather was quite glorious… Still, it’s hard to complain when we remained dry for the majority of the flying display!

The overall depth and quality of the Military Pageant was excellent – I’d certainly place it up there with the most enjoyable Old Warden shows of recent years. Many of the displays felt longer than usual and, as we have come to expect from the Shuttleworth Collection, the home team performed superbly with plenty of close and low passes that place the aircraft in front of the crowd in a dynamic fashion you seldom see elsewhere.

The training quartet of Avro Tutor, de Havilland Tiger Moth, de Havilland Chipmunk and Blackburn B2 would lack impact at a larger venue, likely restricted to flying a figure of eight tail-chase. Here, their box-four formation passes and lengthy tail-chase brought them close to the crowd with a host of “photo” passes, using the Old Warden dogleg crowdline to good effect.

Likewise, the ‘foreign trainer’ segment of Bücker Jungmeister, Ryan PT-22 Recruit and Polikarpov Po-2 saw the latter flying some very low passes down the runway while the Ryan flew in opposition at higher level, before making way for Jez Cooke’s tremendous aerobatic display in the Jungmeister, an aircraft which very appropriately holds strong ties with the Olympics – a theme continued with a graceful Olympia glider display by Willy Hackett, continuing the trend of interesting visiting glider displays at Old Warden.

Elsewhere, the Westland Lysander vs. Fieseler Storch ‘dogfight’ continues to be a fun novelty, and the Storch’s remarkable slow-speed handling – particularly its ability to turn covers using the rudder alone, without a hint of bank – always impresses.

The visiting contingent provided a host of stirring sights, none more so than the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster, flown in quite stunning fashion by Flt Lt Roger Nichols. Seeing the Lancaster at Old Warden is, to my mind anyway, worth the entrance fee alone; you really feel the power of those four Merlin engines, and with two lovely banking passes around the bend, the large crowd got to see the Lancaster up close and personal in a fashion unlike any other venue in the UK.

Unfortunately, the BBMF’s Dakota was unable to attend due to technical problems and the Hurricane returned to RAF Coningsby due to inclement weather en route, but I doubt many were in the mood to complain following the Lancaster’s tremendous display.

Plane Sailing’s Catalina put on another spirited display for a heavy aircraft, again utilising the natural amphitheatre of Old Warden to excellent effect. Perhaps the solo highlight of the day was Peter Teichman flying his Spitfire PR.XI PL965 in a scorching barn-burner of a routine; possibly his finest Old Warden outing to date. Combining dramatic low and fast passes with graceful aerobatic figures – loops, half cubans, quarter clovers and rolls – Peter’s display was a joy to behold and the rapturous applause that greeted him as he taxied in, and again on shutdown, was a testament to that.

The Spitfire had been scheduled to formate with Mark Hooton in the Vampire Preservation Group’s de Havilland Vampire T11, however a radio problem forced Mark to return to North Weald; maybe one for later in the year?

Arguably tied with the Spitfire for gold medal honours (sorry…) was the Hawker biplane pairing of Hind and Demon, the latter making its first display appearance of 2012. Messrs Hackett and Goldspink (now a full-time Shuttleworth Collection pilot) flew several formation passes before breaking into a rather sublime tail-chase, with the Demon breaking off to fly solo at the end of the slot.

Positively awesome stuff from two of the finest looking machines in the UK.

Further credit must go to the splendid Avro Anson duo, with the resident BAe Systems example joined by the Air Atlantique Classic Flight’s RAF-schemed aircraft for a surprisingly spritely sequence of fast passes and tight turns (well, as tight as you can expect from an Anson!).

The sight of both the UK’s airworthy Ansons in formation has been long overdue, but it was certainly well worth the wait!

In all then, the Military Pageant was nothing if not a triumph. A sizeable crowd, fair weather and a terrific flying programme that was strong enough to not suffer from the numerous weather and serviceability-related cancellations made it a thoroughly enjoyable and wonderfully relaxed afternoon of vintage aviation magic. The Magners flowed freely, many laughs were had along the way and, having been away from Old Warden for what feels like an awfully long time, it was damn good to be back!

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