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2011 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Shuttleworth Collection Spring Air Display

There was a distinct eastern chill at Old Warden on the 1st May. Not only did the show take on Russian theme to celebrate the public display debut of the collection's new Polikarpov Po-2, but a brisk and cool easterly wind threaten to ruin what was otherwise a perfect day for an airshow. With Abingdon Air & Country Show moving a week later in the calendar, the opening event of the Shuttleworth Collection's flying display season was the only airshow in the UK and drew a large and enthusiastic the Bedfordshire aerodrome.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

Old Warden is perhaps one of the best venues in the UK for an air display. The curved dog-leg display line and the backdrop of rural Bedfordshire, resplendent in the vivid greens and yellows of spring provide the perfect recipe for the first airshow of Shuttleworth's season. The winter has seen plenty of work for Shuttleworth's dedicated group of engineers and volunteers. The Sea Hurricane has been overhauled with a new engine amongst many other projects. But perhaps the most significant has been the completion of the Polikarpov Po-2 restoration. It has been a mammoth job to get the aircraft airworthy after initial surveys of the airframe when it arrived at Old Warden showed the aircraft to be in a poor state.

The aircraft first flew again in January with new Chief Pilot, Roger Bailey, at the controls. The Collection's aircraft is a trainer variant and has served with the Yugoslav Air Force during its varied career which included other roles such as a glider tug. It has been restored as a Light Bomber variant complete with the rear mounted machine gun and striking Soviet camouflage. The aircraft is a significant addition not only to the Collection, but also to the UK's diverse selection of historic aircraft.

The weather for show day was looking exception. Gin clear blue skies lit up the rapeseed and fresh grassy meadows around Old Warden beautifully, but it was far from warm. A biting and strong easterly wind plagued the weekend, and proved too much for some aircraft. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Douglas Dakota was a notable victim of the winds grounded at its base at RAF Coningsby. Easterly winds are the worst possible winds at Old Warden too blowing the aircraft towards to crowdline and creating a strong cross winds element on all of the aerodromes grass runways. Full credit to all the display pilots that made an air display happen despite the hostile conditions with the aircraft that could cope with the breeze!

The flying got underway at 2pm with Old Warden's Barnstorming display featuring the De Havilland Tiger Moth, De Havilland Canada Chipmunk, Peter Holloway's Miles Hawk Trainer and the Miles Magister. The Chipmunk also reappeared later in the flying display flying a solo aerobatics act in one of the gaps caused by the winds.

Other Shuttleworth regulars in the display in the flying included the beautiful Avro Tutor, the DH60 Hermes Moth the Desoutter making a welcome return to flying after being rested. Sadly the winds were too much for aircraft such as the Comper Swift and the World War One Rotaries such as the Sopwith Pup and Triplane. The latter pair though were started and run on the ground for the crowds to sample the unique characteristics of these wonderful aircraft along with expert narration from some of the collection's pilots. One World War one type, the RAF SE5a did get into the air briefly with Keith Dennison at the control, but suffered from overheating problems leading to a quick return to runway to investigate what was wrong!

However, the show took on a Russian theme to celebrate the display debut of the Polikarpov. First to display was James Black in the Antonov An-2 from Popham. This for your author was one of the real highlights of the afternoon as the aircraft was able to take full advantage of the winds performing a very impressive performance climb and flat turn into a near hover in front of the crowd. Following on were the pair of Yakovlev Yak-52 and Yak-50 of the Yakovlevs Display Team flown by Jez Hopkinson and Nick Barnard. As always they provided a very polished routine despite the winds.

Closing the Russian theme was left to the Polikarpov Po-2 and it's rather distinctive engine note that led to the Germans nicknaming the aircraft the "Nahmaschine" (Sewing Machine!) Watching on was the Russian Air Attaché and a number of other Russian guests invited by the Collection to celebrate the display debut.

Following on from the "Poli" was Golden Apple's F-86A Sabre, the only jet in the flying display. The aircraft has planned to perform some "cat and mouse" flying with the Polikarpov to celebrate the exploits of the latter during the Korean War, but alas the strong winds led to what would have been a very interesting spectacle being put on hold for another time. Mark Linney however did a superb job showing off the Sabre in the deep blue skies.

The flying display was closed by some of the collection's more potent types. The Hawker Sea Hurricane Ib and Westland Lysander both put on great routines in the World War Two segment of the flying displays, first as a formation pair before solo displays. The flying was closed by the collection's Percival Provost which provided an aerobatic finale to a shortened, but nevertheless an excellent flying display considering the difficulties caused by strong on-crowd winds. It was a good start to another busy season at Old Warden and we hope to back again later in the season.

For more information about the Shuttleworth Collection's season of air displays, visit their website - http://www.shuttleworth.org

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