2012 UK Airshows

SEP 04 2012
Airshows >> UK: The Shuttleworth Pageant - Review

Every once in a while, vintage aviation enthusiasts in the UK and Europe are given cause for excitement when a new restoration project or acquisition makes its first flight and, subsequently, its first public airshow appearance. Already this year we’ve seen The Fighter Collection’s P-47G Thunderbolt gracing the skies over Duxford after a lengthy restoration, while elsewhere significant long-term projects have finally drawn to a positive conclusion with the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Fury and Tom Friedkin’s Spitfire Mk1 X4650 both finding air beneath their wheels for the first time.

Visitors to the Shuttleworth Pageant on Sunday 2 September 2012 were given two such aircraft to fawn over, with the first UK public outings of TVAL’s glorious RE.8 and Albatros DVa reproductions, shipped to Old Warden all the way from New Zealand alongside the company’s Sopwith Snipe static reproduction, with their ultimate resting place being the RAF Museum Hendon.

The three airframes were reassembled in the weeks prior to the show, making their first flights in the hands of legitimate aviation legends Gene De Marco and Kermit Weeks only days before the Pageant. Kermit seems to be having the time of his life in the UK, spending a lot of his time on Sunday speaking to enthusiasts who were keen to meet one of the biggest names in aviation, and, by all accounts, he was nothing but a true gent, posing for photographs and engaging the public at every opportunity; it was great to see, in all honesty!

There was, then, a true sense of anticipation for the début of these lovely flying machines, particularly given that they are destined to be museum-bound once their short flying careers are over. Exactly when that will be remains something of a grey area, but it’s worth noting that both the RE.8 and Albatros are scheduled to fly together at the Duxford Air Show on 8/9 September 2012. Whether they will fly at the remaining two Old Warden airshows this year is another question.

The craftsmanship on all three aircraft is, and I make no exaggeration, sensational, with terrific attention to detail. Present day reproductions they may be, but as far as I’m concerned, they are the real deal. All eyes were on the TVAL trio throughout the day and it is certainly fair to say that they were the main attraction for many in attendance – myself included.

Indeed, I wouldn’t have bailed on the sodden Shoreham Airshow at almost midday on Sunday, driving north at a vast rate of knots (well, as fast as one can drive on the eternally damned M25), had it not been for the promise of seeing these two aircraft in the air.

While the majority of the Shuttleworth Pageant saw the sun planted firmly behind the clag, the TVAL duo enjoyed some of the only good light of the day – one can only assume that Kermit and company were performing some kind of sun dance in the lead up to their slot! Both aircraft were flown very gently, with sedate turns and some loose formation and opposition passes, but that’s really how it should be and machines like this don’t need to be wrung out.

Their lengthy slot was pure nirvana for vintage aviation enthusiasts. Two beautiful machines, so different in appearance yet equally wonderful, being demonstrated with such tenderness and care. To pick a favourite is impossible, they are both works of art! While the Albatros, flown by Kermit Weeks, was a little more distant than perhaps we’d have liked, it’s a minor gripe when looking at the overall picture. If you have the opportunity to visit Duxford or Old Warden to see these aircraft, I implore you to do so and guarantee you shan’t be disappointed!

The visitors from New Zealand were joined by the Shuttleworth Collection’s home fleet of WWI types, with the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Triplane, Bristol F2b and SE5a’s presence in the flying programme ensuring that Great War aviation and aviators were well represented by the aircraft that really epitomise the conflict.

The TVAL duo were unquestionable the highlight of the afternoon, but, as ever, the Shuttleworth Collection delivered an excellent flying programme with plenty of memorable displays. First and foremost in my mind was the irrepressible Stuart Goldspink’s storming routine in the Hawker Demon, putting plenty of welly into what was possible the type’s finest outing to date. Alongside the Demon was its bomber stable mate, the Hind, flown in a brief solo by Keith Dennison following a number of formation passes.

Second World War military aviation was further represented by the STOL pairing of Westland Lysander and Fieseler Storch, with the latter outmanoeuvring the Lizzie with its amazing slow speed and turning capabilities that contrast nicely with the power of the Lysander.

Elsewhere in the programme, spectators enjoyed the traditional barnstorming sequence, provided on this occasion by the de Havilland Tiger Moth, de Havilland Chipmunk, Miles Magister and Piper Super Cub flying balloon bursting, flour bombing and limbo passes. It’s certainly a hit with the public, but running the barnstorming act on a regular basis runs the risk of it losing its charm.

The Shuttleworth Collection’s Percival Piston Provost also put on a punchy routine of aerobatics and lower tight turns and photogenic top-side passes to open the show, demonstrating the development of training aircraft over the course of only a decade or so, where the Provost bridged the gap between the likes of the Tiger Moth and Magister, and the progression to the more modern designs such as the Jet Provost and, further down the line, the Tucano and Hawk.

There were some glorious 1930s' aircraft on display at the Shuttleworth Pageant to whet the appetite of those whose heart lies in simpler, more innocent times; none were more prevalent at Old Warden than the four machines put up as part of a four-ship tribute to Miles aircraft. The Magister, Whitney Straight (one of the purest and loveliest aeroplanes out there, for my money), Falcon and Gemini brought a touch of gentlemanly class to the afternoon’s proceedings, a fine expression of the inter-war golden age of aviation. Equally delightful was the tail chase provided by the Comper Swift and Chilton DW1 aircraft, the latter of which look ridiculously underpowered (particularly on take-off!) but pack a waspy punch in the air.

The Shuttleworth Pageant also featured a brief celebration of Avro aircraft, with the Anson and Tutor flying their respective solo displays; unfortunately, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster was weathered in at Bournemouth and was unable to make it to Old Warden. Disappointing, but understandable – it isn’t worth risking these old flying machines.

A diminishing early evening wind meant that the Avro Triplane, Bristol Boxkite and Blackburn Monoplane (the oldest flying British aeroplane in the world, 100 years old in 2012) were perfectly placed to bring the curtain down on the Shuttleworth Pageant for another year. It’s impossible to not be carried away by the spirit of aviation these aircraft embody; powered flight at its most primitive and pure, you could argue. Kermit Weeks certainly seemed to be enjoying the Edwardians – he could be seen recording their displays on his camcorder!

There was also a nice moment shortly after the Boxkite shut down, with Paul Stone giving the assist to Keith Dennison (who was stranded in the “cockpit”, if it could be described as such, without a ladder) by offering himself as something of a human ladder! A personal moment so often missed at the bigger shows – it’s all part of the charm of Old Warden.

In perhaps the starkest contrast to the Edwardians was Mark Jefferies’ Extra 330SC display. A pounding, headache-inducing exhibition of gyroscopic stomach-churning manoeuvres, Mark’s routine was something akin to aerial ballet on speed, with some of the most ludicrous flicks and spins I’ve seen in a long time, all the while utilising the Old Warden dog-leg crowdline to present the much-coveted top-side views of the aircraft wherever possible.

The airshow saw one of those all too rare occasions where the conditions were just right for the Shuttleworth Collection’s eldest aircraft to be flown; or, in the case of the 3hp English Electric Wren (it’s amazing to think this is a relative of the EE Lightning!), bungee launched to a lofty altitude of about three feet!

Joining the Wren, albeit with more air beneath their wheels, were the ANEC II and Hawker Cygnet, two of the lesser seen Old Warden residents whose appearance was one to savour. The Piper Super Cub also made a second appearance, this time acting as a tug for the SCUD and Eon Primary gliders; always a popular and unique act at Shuttleworth airshows.

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