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2012 Airshows : REVIEW

Shuttleworth Autumn Air Display

Old Warden closed its 2012 season with a very special Autumn Air Display. 2012 sees the collection’s Aviation Trustee Tony Haig-Thomas retire from his role at the Shuttleworth Collection. ‘THT’ enjoyed an eventful career in the Royal Air Force flying a variety of cold war jets and so the final air display saluted that period of RAF flying with a number of classic jets in the flying which also featured a number of Old Warden favourites.

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

The 2012 season has seen many highs and very sombre lows at Old Warden. The Shuttleworth Collection endured a very difficult start to the display season with the wild mid-summer weather playing havoc leading to the cancellation of air displays in May and June. Then there was the tragic loss of Trevor Roche during an early morning practice ahead of the July Military Pageant Air Display. The loss of Trevor was keenly felt throughout the wider aviation community as well as the Shuttleworth Collection.

However, the latter half of the year brought some outstanding highlights, not least the arrival from New Zealand of the quite exceptional replicas of the Albatros DVa, RAF RE8 and Sopwith Snipe. The latter featured many original parts and as such was not airworthy, but both the Albatros DVa and RE8 were made airworthy and appeared at two Old Warden displays as well as the Duxford Airshow. The replicas will soon leave Old Warden to take up residence at their new permanent home at the RAF Museum.

For the final air display of the year the weather gods were extremely kind with some wonderful autumnal sunshine and high clouds throughout the day. That brought in the crowds and I can honestly say in all the years I’ve visited Old Warden that I’ve never seen the car parks so full so early in the day. I really hope it went some way to reduce the pain the collection endured earlier in the year.

A really nice surprise for the afternoon was to hear Roger Heofling providing the commentary for the flying display. Roger’s commentary was a wonderful mix of fact, stories and wit that complemented the flying superbly. The afternoon got underway with a very special (and rare) banner tow from the Shuttleworth Collection’s Piper Super Cub with a thank you message to Tony Haig-Thomas.

The flying was opened by the first of the jet displays, the Folland Gnat pair from the Gnat Display Team at North Weald. The small display line is a challenge for many visiting items, but the Gnat pair did a superb job of showing off their aircraft.

As always, it was Shuttleworth Collection and Old Warden based types that took centre stage. Some of the aircraft are or represent types owned by Richard Shuttleworth and one of the opening items was pairing of the Comper Swift racing aircraft and the De Havilland DH60X Hermes Moth. The Hermes Moth demonstration started on the ground with the aircraft emerging from the small shed like hangar on the far side of the airfield with its wings folded. The pilot and engineer ran through all the preparations in front of the crowd for the display flight before joining up with the Comper Swift. The Shuttleworth DH60X is significant as it has been based at the same aerodrome for longer than any other British aircraft.

Other home based items to display including the wonderful pair of Hawker biplanes; the collection’s own Hawker Hind and Demon Displays Hawker Demon. Illuminated by the autumn sunshine, the pair looked absolutely stunning in their pre-war silver dope illuminated by the autumn sunshine. Another potent shape is that of the Shuttleworth Westland Lysander which charged around for the crowds.

One of the unique sights at Old Warden is the collection of World War One aircraft, both original and ‘late production’ examples. There are precious few opportunities these days to hear and smell rotary engines, and Old Warden is one of the best places to do so. Taking to the air for the final display of the year were the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Triplane, RAF SE5a and Bristol F2b Fighter.

As well as the jets, there were some further visiting displays. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Douglas Dakota III opened a sequence of displays from twin engine aircraft. Also participating was Sir John Allison’s Miles Gemini, the Avro XIX Anson and the Classic Aircraft Trust’s de Havilland Dragon Rapide.

Vintage glider displays were also in the programme. The collection’s EON Primary Glider is a fairly regular sight at Old Warden flying displays, but Slingsby Petrel was a very interesting and beautiful visiting aircraft. The Petrel, like many gliders of the time, was a development of a German design, the DFS Rhonadler. The high cantilever gull wings gove the glider a very distictive look, particularly when compared to modern day sailplanes. Graham Saw displayed the aircraft wonderfully showing some of the types fine lines and agility.

Something of an imposter in the line-up of historic types was Zivko Edge 540. Pilot Kester Scrope put the Edge though an awesome sequence of unlimited aerobatics that showed the full potential of the Edge with some dazzling gyroscopic figures and tumbles.

However it was the jets that were the stars of the show. The Classic Aircraft Trust took a leading role in these displays. John Dodd gave a superb solo display in the de Havilland Vampire T55 which has been a fairly rare visitor to recent airshows. TCAT also sent their BAC Jet Provost T3 which has just been repainted in early RAF Training Command silver and yellow colours. It looks absolutely fantastic and will hopefully be an airshow regular next season. Jon Corley flying the JP also formed up with the Collection’s own Percival Provost for a nice formation of the two different ‘flavours’ of Provost before the Piston Provost climbed for height for its own aerobatic demonstration.

Providing the finale to the main flying display was Chris Heames flying the all black Hawker Hunter T7 WV318. The Hunter has always been a great airshow aircraft and Chris gave a superb aerobatic account of the Hunter pulling long wingtip vortices out of the cool air which looked superb against the slightly golden clouds.

With such good weather however, it was good to see flying continue after the main flying display with the appearance of the ‘Edwardians’ It was great to all five put in an appearance with the Avro Triplane, Bristol Boxkite, Deperdussin and Bleriot XI flying or hop for the crowd. However, the star of the ‘Eds’ for the day was the Blackburn Type D Monoplane which was celebrating its own 100th Anniversary. The aircraft was the seventh constructed by the company and first flew in December 1912. It is the oldest British aeroplane flying anywhere in the world today and is capable of performing a full display in the right conditions.

The Autumn Air Display was a superb way to round off the year at the Shuttleworth Collection, and going by the crowd a very popular one too! Old Warden truely is one of the best airshow venues in the country with an unspolit backdrop and dog-legged crowd line which allows wonderful sweeping curved passes for the watching crowds. We do hope that 2013 will carry on in a similar vein and hopefully the weather will be much kinder as well!

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