Shuttleworth First Flying Evening, 18 May
Damien Burke soaks up some evening sunshine
Old Warden is the busiest airshow venue in the UK, with no less than 10 events this year. However it's also the quietest venue, with next to no traffic problems, small crowds and an old fashioned atmosphere of good old English civility.
So what better way to kick off an air show season than with an evening picnic while watching some flying? 18 May was Old Warden's first Evening Air Display of the year (there are four more evening events to come), and the day unfortunately dawned with low cloud and rain. As the rain continued throughout the day my plans to go were firmly scratched out until with just an hour to go the skies had suddenly cleared and brilliant sunshine made it clear it was time to drive like a madman to get to Old Warden in time for the show. Arriving with a few minutes to spare, there was no problem getting in at all, and no problems finding a spot on the crowdline either. Obviously the weather earlier had put off a lot of people - their loss!
Beginning the show was the Lysander, in a tableaux revolving around telling the tale of how these aircraft dropped agents into occupied France (complete with machine-gun toting Frenchies), and paying tribute to Hugh Verity who died last year with a minute's silence.
The Bristol M.1C replica took to the air next, with some graceful flying belying its somewhat porky looks. That big spinner, actually designed to improve its aerodynamic qualities by covering the rotary engine, really does give it a bit of a bulldog look. Wearing 72 Squadron markings, it was a reminder of another squadron lost to ever-ongoing defence cuts. The contrast could not be greater when it was followed by Denny Dobson's Extra 300, powering into another faultless display of the sort of aerobatics that really shouldn't be quite possible. Sadly he was unable to carry out the limbo and ribbon-cutting portion of the display because of a rather too brisk cross wind.
Up next were a trio of aircraft to make up the ever-changing formations they like to put up at Old Warden - a Chipmunk along with two Miles Magisters. After several passes in varying formations the Chipmunk displayed on its own, followed by the Magisters. Not bad going to get two-thirds of the world's airworthy examples up at once!
A return to WWI territory was made with the LVG C.VI carrying out a leisurely dogfight sequence with the diminutive SE5a. On the basis that the Boche recon kite landed first I think we can assume we won the encounter, as is only right and proper. Another shift in time and we found the Hawker Cygnet replica practically leaping into the air for a bit of bumbling around, with the low sun shining right through the fuselage's fabric covering.
The dulcet tones of a Tiger Moth were next, with the Avro Tutor joining it in the air to display shortly afterwards. The Tiger Moth was clearly in an advanced state of CAA-itis, bearing the marks of many inspection panels in its fabric wing covering. These bear witness to stricter inspection standards introduced in recent years. The Tutor has no such problem and despite is age is no mean performer - they certainly throw it around the sky with some gusto. As ever, the curved display line at Old Warden means lots of excellent photo opportunities can be had as aircraft curve around the spectators keeping their topsides visible on most passes.
more distant and making rather more noise were a Yak 50 and Yak 52 pair
from the appropriately-named 'Yakovlevs' team, with their silver craft
cutting through the gorgeous blue sky in a most photogenic
The newly-acquired Piston Provost along with Shuttleworth's Spitfire and Sea Hurricane had also taken off at this point and disappeared into the distance. Soon the Gladiator went off to catch them up, returning in formation for several varied passes giving us all a good chance to capture this unique formation on film. Once those were done, it was time for individual displays from each, and with the sun sinking towards the horizon and dark storm clouds passing by in the distance it was simply photographic heaven. Mirroring the recently-released film of the same name, the sky was indeed a Dark Blue World, and the setting sun cast a beautiful golden light on proceedings.
You really cannot beat these sort of surroundings for a Spitfire or Hurricane display (or indeed any flying display) - blue skies, golden sunlight, trees in every direction and the most relaxed atmosphere you'll find at any 'regular' airshow. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the Merlins! I've said it before and I'll say it again - if you haven't been to Old Warden yet, you really need to give it a go. Nowhere else will you get the aircraft displaying this close to you, and nowhere else offers that perfect curved crowdline. Even if you're a jet man, give it a whirl - they may convert you!
Sadly the de Havilland Comet racer didn't fly despite the pre-show publicity intimating that it would, and no reason was given as to why it stayed hangar-bound. Hopefully one of the upcoming shows this year will see its long-awaited return to the air.