The Shuttleworth Collection hosts several airshows throughout the year, but August’s Flying Proms delivers an altogether different experience, combining a traditional open air concert courtesy of the National Symphony Orchestra with flying displays from based and visiting aeroplanes. Kieran Lear was there for GAR.
The British are notorious for downplaying their history and generally adopting a somewhat hostile approach to national pride. That’s not to say we haven’t seen examples of people letting themselves go a little in recent years – 2011’s Royal Wedding being perhaps the most prominent of the last decade and, from an aeronautical perspective at least, the two Avro Lancasters that graced British airshows in 2014 certainly got people waving their flags – but it’s fair to say that as a nation, we’re rather stoic in our patriotism.
It’s all the more pleasing, then, that the Shuttleworth Flying Proms is conducted annually with a healthy dose of patriotism, and it positively shone on Saturday, 15 August 2015. The Flying Proms concept is very straightforward; for two hours, aircraft from Old Warden and beyond are displayed to appropriate music provided by the National Symphony Orchestra then, as twilight falls, the musicians take centre stage and the night is rounded off by rousing songs and fireworks.
The Shuttleworth Collection likes to deliver something special for the opening act of the Flying Proms (last year being the turn of the aforementioned Lancasters), and this year the marquee act was a Supermarine Spitfire trio. Spitfires to Britain are like fish to chips, or Yorkshire pudding to roast beef; one of those classic combinations that were made for one another. The Spitfire three-ship was first announced as far back as January 2015, with marks I, V and IX represented, set to the sounds of William Walton’s legendary Spitfire Prelude. How apt it was too to see these wonderful machines flying under a golden evening sky 75 years on from the Battle of Britain; how privileged we are too to see so many of these aeroplanes flying nearly 80 years since the type’s maiden flight.
The weather was everything you could have hoped for; calm, gentle winds with a Nicholas Trudgian-style dramatic sky providing a magnificent vista against which Stuart Goldspink, Charlie Brown and Dave Ratcliffe displayed against. After several formation passes, Spitfire Mk.IX MH434 (Stu Goldspink) and Mk.V BM597 (Charlie Brown) soared skywards, breaking away from the Mk.I (Dave Ratcliffe). The pair then carried out a series of formation aerobatic manoeuvres whilst the Mk.I made several solo passes, its distinct, somewhat melancholic whistle ringing out over Old Warden; magic! The trio united for a couple of low, close passes to round off the sequence.
With the three visiting Spitfires returning to their Duxford base, the rest of the evening’s aerial entertainment came courtesy of the Shuttleworth Collection and Rich Goodwin, the latter flying as an aperitif to the Spitfire’s opening slot. Rich, much like the likes of Will Curtis, Brian Lecomber and Richard Goode before him, sets the bar rather high and it’s fair to say that his vigorous aerobatic display is one of the finest you’ll see this year.
The Avro Tutor and Blackburn B2 began the Collection’s involvement, with Jim Schofield and John Hurrell putting these two exquisite machines through their paces with a surprisingly energetic and impactful duo routine. The World War One contingent of Avro 504K and SE5a followed, with the former gently romping around Old Warden at high level whilst the latter positively ploughed the aerodrome beneath, showing the crowds how nimble this pugnacious beast is.
Paul Stone flew the Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk.Ib in a very pleasing routine, whilst Rob Millinship displayed the Gloster Gladiator (supported by a rendition of Hans Zimmer’s rousing Battle from the film Gladiator) in one of the finest outings I’ve seen from the Shuttleworth Glad. ‘Dodge’ Bailey took the sublime de Havilland Comet aloft, with the gorgeous red racing colours catching the last dying embers of the setting sun perfectly with effective musical accompaniment courtesy of Jupiter from the Planets Suite. If you’ve yet to see this beauty perform, you really must try to get to Old Warden soon; it is a tremendous aeroplane that is demonstrated perfectly by the Shuttleworth pilots, all the more impressive given that the Comet was designed for high-speed racing rather than airshow flying!
As the sun set, the lack of wind allowed Shuttleworth’s Edwardian aeroplanes to take to the skies, with the Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite replicas getting airborne to the strains of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. It’s always a pleasure to see any of these astounding aircraft take to the skies, considering how weather dependant they are. Spare a thought for the pilots too, who don’t so much strap themselves into these aircraft than strap them on! I have great respect for anyone willing and able to fly these lovely machines – a reminder of a bygone era of aviation.
So, the flying drew to a close, though the night was far from over. The whole focus was now placed on the orchestra and the vocal accompaniment, with some fine classical music played to the delight of the assembled crowds. Some sang, some danced, some – in the case of a group of inebriated university students – both sang and danced!
With popular big hitters like Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory bringing the curtain down, a terrific firework display lit up the Bedfordshire sky, and two hot air balloons illuminated in the darkness. Driving home, it was hard not to smile – the Flying Proms offered one of those rare moments where you’ve shared something in common with absolute strangers: a love for all that is great about Great Britain.
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