15 June saw Old Warden aerodrome in deepest Bedfordshire stage the Light Aircraft Association (LAA) Day, bringing together a number of interesting visitors and Shuttleworth Collection stalwarts over the famous greenery of what was once the late Richard Shuttleworth’s playground. Kieran Lear writes for GAR.
It feels odd writing about Old Warden for the first time in June. Unfortunately, the beautiful English springtime weather caused the cancellation of the season premiere show back in May and the show after that, shamefully, clashed with IWM Duxford’s D-Day commemoration airshow on the Saturday of the May Bank Holiday weekend. Thankfully, the next Shuttleworth flying display would be on 15 June and avoided clashing with any other major aviation events in the UK.
The participation list for the LAA Day looked very strong with a number of rarely seen visitors, none more so mouth-watering than the airshow debut of the Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship replica G-TATR and the Old Warden debut of Mark One Partners’ utterly beautiful Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I P9374. After a very samey and mundane year of visiting aircraft at Old Warden back in 2013, it was excellent to see these wonderful rarely seen aeroplanes get a chance to show off in the surrounds of some of England’s most pleasing and picturesque countryside. With the week before the LAA Day bathed in hot, sunny weather, it seemed even Mother Nature would throw a smile in Old Warden’s direction.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case. As is the norm with weather in the UK, when you really want the weather to play ball, it doesn’t. Dark, low clouds formed the bulk of the day’s weather, defying weather forecaster’s predictions of what was meant to be a pleasant weekend. Still, that didn’t deter us and we stormed up the A1 in preparation for what was sure to be a great afternoon. One welcome change greeting us on arrival was the appointment of Stephen Slater as commentator for the day; in the past, Old Warden shows have suffered through some very sub-par commentators but to Stephen’s credit, he pitched his commentary perfectly for the core Shuttleworth audience. It’s amazing how big a difference a knowledgeable, engaging commentator can make to a venue’s credibility.
Arriving 15 minutes before the flying display commenced (when you’re with Elliott, when else would you arrive?), we set up camp just to the right of the control tower, and just in time to see the show opener, Spitfire Mk.I P9374, spring to life.
Dave Ratcliffe was in charge of the Baby Spit for her debut performance at Old Warden and he did a superb job of showing the nimble capabilities of P9′, including a number of barrel rolls and gentle arcing topside passes showing off the lines of the Mk.I Spitfire perfectly. The moment P9′ kissed the ground on landing with her thin undercarriage, the appreciative crowds greeted her with a great round of applause, something which would continue throughout the afternoon.
The other headlining act for the afternoon was the aforementioned Mystery Ship, with Jez Cooke at the controls. Racing aircraft never allowed a perfect view for the pilot, so to see the Mystery Ship formate with another racer, the Collection’s Mew Gull, was an absolutely superb showing of pilot skill and technique from Cooke and Roger Bailey, Shuttleworth’s Chief Pilot, in the Mew.
After a formation pass, the Mew then held behind the crowds whilst the Mystery Ship performed a rather vigorous routine, including some lovely 90 degree wingovers – XH558, eat your heart out. The Lycoming radial engine sounded impeccable, almost like a T-6 Texan on steroids.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) was also on hand to support Shuttleworth’s LAA Day, bringing with them two Spitfires and the DC-3 Dakota. The former performed some rather distant and high formation passes that didn’t do the photographers many favours, but it was still nice to see a pair of striped up Spits fly in the same piece of sky together. The Dak, however, continued to provide evidence for myself that flypasts from the BBMF are almost better than their solo displays. ZA947 stormed in from crowd centre before banking right and returning for some wonderful, arcing turns around Old Warden’s famous dogleg crowd line.
The unusual shape of the Edgley Optica also performed a spirited display with Francis Donaldson, LAA’s Chief Engineer, at the controls, and the Andreasson BA-4B also gave a rare solo display. With the aid of a smoke system, the diminutive biplane performed a very punchy routine; something I certainly didn’t expect.
Sticking with the biplanes, Richard Grace and Dave Puleston also brought their two Pitts Specials of the TRIG Team for a superlative display of close formation flying and general aerobatic mayhem. Dave, in particular, on his final pass, executed a beautiful snap roll at low level – wonderful stuff.
As always with Old Warden events, the Collection’s own aircraft performed formation and solo displays. The Gladiator, Lysander and Sea Hurricane performed a few passes in loose formation before splitting for individual solo displays, with the Sea Hurricane standing out for one of the best displays of the afternoon. Chris Huckstep is known for his charismatic display flying in the Hawker Hind and WW1 aircraft, but this was the first time I had seen him in the ‘Shurri’ and when you see Chris enter his display, camouflaged by the trees on the Southern end of the field, you know you’re in for a good routine.
It was good to see a full line-up of WW1 aircraft take to the air, progressing through the Avro 504k, Bristol M.1C, Sopwith Triplane, SE5a and Bristol Fighter. It’s always a privilege to see these aircraft take to the air; these, as well as the Collection’s Edwardian fleet, are one of the many jewels in the crown of the UK aviation circuit. It’s important, this year and for the next four years in particular, that these aircraft are shown to the public as 2014 sees the WW1 centenary; do keep your eyes on the August commemoration show at Old Warden. It promises to be a fantastic spectacle!
Aircraft which we hope will headline that show, and those almost responsible for stealing the show at the LAA Day despite never leaving the ground, were the pair of B.E.2 aircraft which arrived from New Zealand in the days leading up to the weekend. One of the B.E.2s was to be found fully assembled out on the paddock and it looked absolutely delightful.
Back to the day’s flying programme, and the Miles formation, which included the gorgeous Whitney Straight, and the usual Barnstormers routine added to what was a very strong flying programme. The Barnstormers, whilst a questionable ‘act’ if you’re a seasoned Old Warden enthusiast, always brings fun for families and is a necessary addition to the Old Warden flying displays to cater for all needs.
Due to the inclement weather, the Edwardian fleet were deprived of taking to the skies, so it was left to Keith Dennison to close the show in interesting style by displaying one of the more modern aircraft you’ll see at any airshow this year; the E-go. Keith is the test pilot behind the project and he performed a spirited display in the machine, despite probably having very little room to breathe in it! A fabulous way to round off one of the best Old Warden air displays in recent memory.
The next Old Warden air display is the Military Pageant scheduled for Sunday 29 June and the line-up is looking superb, with a Spitfire Mk.I from the Aircraft Restoration Company and Gladiator and Nimrod from The Fighter Collection set to display. Please do visit www.shuttleworth.org for more news and updates.
no images were found