The Shuttleworth Collection opened their flying season on the 8th May with the “Season Premiere Airshow.” The line-up of airshows at Old Warden has gone through some major changes recently and 2016 sees new and exciting plans for the season ahead. The changes were reflected in this opening show which attracted the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team ‘The Red Arrows’ back to the Bedfordshire aerodrome after a 30 year gap! There were also plenty of other gems amongst the visiting and home-based displays to open the season in style.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
There is nowhere else quite Old Warden, particularly on a beautiful clear summer’s day. It is one of the most picturesque venues on the circuit, and spring time enhances that with the colourful patchwork of fields surrounding the pristine grass aerodrome.
2016 sees many major changes for airshows and the way they are run with more emphasis on mitigating risk, particularly to those outside the airfield. Like many venues, Old Warden shows of the past have seen large congregations of spectators outside the airfield during airshows. Old Warden have done a great deal of work in this regard. The fields either side of the road leading from the A1 all had brand new gates and fences to close off potential gathering areas for “secondary crowds.” Signs were also put in place warning the public of the risk of standing under the display areas.
Of course, the CAA has imposed new stricter rules on display line distances and it has to be said the changes is this regard were very noticeable, perhaps more so than the Abingdon air display the week before. While it may have reduced one of the attractions of the Old Warden in being close to the action and made photography a little more challenging, the special atmosphere and spirit of the Shuttleworth Collection lives on and there was still some very special flying too.
The situation was not helped at the Season Premiere by a persistent brisk wing from the east which is a unusual direction blowing on crowd which meant pilots had to be even more careful with their positioning. The wind and the rotor turbulence from the trees certainly caused a few problems for visiting pilots in the morning and forced many of the lighter display aircraft to take-off onto the shorter cross runway which meant some on the main crowdline probably felt more detached from the action than usual.
The winds defined the display line-up from the home team, but there was still plenty they could display. Clare Tector opened the home team displays with the Polikarpov Po-2 ‘Night Witch’ which was just one of a collection of training aircraft taking part in the afternoon display. Later, a fourship of the collection’s de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, Miles Magister, BAE System’s Heritage Flight’s Blackburn B2 and Peter Holloway’s stunningly beautiful Ryan STA put on a formation and tailchase routine in the clear blue skies. Adding to the training flavour was a late addition to the flying, Kennet Aviation’s North American AT-6 Texan flown by John Beattie.
Another formation was put together from some more potent home-based flying machines. Demon Display’s Hawker Demon was joined by the Shuttleworth Collection’s Gloster Gladiator and Hurricane Heritage’s Hawker Hurricane I R4118 for some formation passes ahead of solo routines.
Making one of its final Old Warden appearances was Peter Holloway’s Fiesler Fi156 Storch. It has long been a popular performer at Old Warden and other airshows around the UK but it has been sold to new owners in Norway. While the brisk wind may have been a hindrance to the other displays, it meant the Storch was able to really show off its slow speed and short take-off/landing capabilities for full effect nearly hovering on occasions. Complementing the Storch was the Shuttleworth Collection’s Westland Lysander, a much more powerful and potent machine than the Storch but ended up performing similar roles during the Second World War.
Providing some welcome contrast was the Fauvel AW36 vintage glider, displayed in spirited fashion by Chris Heames. Despite its strange ungainly appearance, the Fauvel is a great aerobatic performer and makes for an eye-catching sight in the sky.
Further vintage gliding action came from Graham Saw in a visiting Letov Lunak glider. Designed in part to train pilots for jet fighter, the Lunak is a very capable aerobatic machine and is still used for competition flying to this day. Graham put on a superb demonstration of aerobatics leaving delicate orange smoke trails from the Lunak’s wingtips.
Amongst the visiting acts was the Global Stars Aerobatic Team. Formed by Mark Jefferies, the team have performed at a number of far flung airshows and events in Bahrain, India and China though not often in the UK. The other team members, like Mark, are all champion aerobatic pilots and consist of Tom Cassells, Chris Burkett and Michael Pickin. Compared to other formation teams, their display is quite different and marked out by synchronised “dotty” smoke trails. Unlike other teams they also fly a mix of machinery and at Old Warden has two Mudry CAP232s, an Extra 330LT and an Extra 330SC.
Providing something totally different was Peter Davies in his Calidus Autogyro. Peter’s display is always exceptional showing off the incredible agility and versatility of the autogyro complete with display smoke.
The flying display was bookended by two visiting warbirds. Opening the show was Old Warden regular Peter Teichman in his Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk. Closing the flying was the Bristol Blenheim 1F from the Aircraft Restoration Company and flown by John Romain. It looked sublime in the late afternoon golden light and was joined by BAE Systems’ Avro C19 Anson for a rare formation pass ahead of its solo routine before heading home to Duxford.
However, the main attraction of the day and perhaps the biggest reason this show sold out was a full display from the Royal Air Force’s Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows. It was the first such display by the team at Old Warden in over thirty years and therefore something very special for the organising team and crowds alike. It was also unusual to see the team so early on in the display season as they do not usually appear until late May or even June after their “SPRINGHAWK” detachment. This year however, the team is expected to go out on an overseas tour at the end of the season. 2016 sees some quite significant changes to the team’s display with a new crowd rear arrival, a two-versus-seven goose and a formation called Tornado amongst their repertoire. Sadly their display at Old Warden was interrupted by an intruding helicopter which led to a disjointed finale to their display – pilots remember to read NOTAMS before you fly!
It may have been a day of challenges and frustrations thanks to weather and airshow regulation. The revised regulations surrounding airshows were very apparent and have upset many photographers who hold Old Warden in affection for the opportunities the intimate grass aerodrome and museum provide. However it much more important that airshows at Old Warden continue and it must be noted the huge efforts the Shuttleworth Collection has put in to comply with the regulation and enhance the safety of their air displays. The same should be said of all participating pilots who are having to adapt routines to new rules so admirably. Old Warden is still a very special place on airshow day even when it has a bumper crowd. There really is nowhere else quite like it with a wonderful unique atmosphere and some truly great aircraft and flying.