Shuttleworth set for best ever year?
With the cutback in military airshows due to a number of factors, events at Duxford and Old Warden take on a greater significance to the aviation enthusiast. As the latter celebrates its 75th anniversary, Damien Burke looks back at the last event of 2002 for a taste of what the Shuttleworth Collection can deliver at its numerous events throughout the year. All pictures by the author unless stated otherwise.
With several visits to Old Warden already under my belt during 2002, all of them hugely enjoyable, it was a no-brainer as to what to do on 6 October, particularly on waking up to blue skies. This, the Autumn Air Display, was to have as its theme 100 years of aviation history (stealing the march on this year's shows, most of which seem to be pouncing on the 100 years of powered flight anniversary), with a bias towards RAF training aircraft.
While the line-up didn't really come close to spanning the full ten decades, it was a valiant attempt for such a small venue, with the most modern training type being the Jet Provost - second appearance of the type at Old Warden (of which more later). Pity a Gnat or Hawk couldn't have been convinced to attend but that's life, and perhaps too many jets would spoil the character of the display.
Kicking off with a new addition to Old Warden's fleet, we were treated to the sight of an Avro Anson taking to the air. With only one other airworthy example in the UK (Air Atlantique's one), this is a pretty rare type and she was displayed superbly in the usual Shuttleworth fashion - top sides shown off regularly and nice close passes. Restored over many years by a team of Avro and ex-Avro workers up at BAe's (now BAE Systems) Woodford plant, it was with some surprise I found out she was being based at Old Warden - but considerable happiness. She makes a great addition to a display with a bright colour scheme and the sort of happy growling noise that only radials can manage.
Clearly no attempt was being made to mark man's progress through powered flight's history in any sort of order, but instead a delightful mix of types were being hurled into the air - literally in the case of the English Electric Wren, launched by bungee as its engine isn't up to actually getting it off the ground unassisted. With the Yakovlevs pair getting airborne before the Hawker Cygnet displayed, and the Wren being 'wound up', it was all go! The Cygnet looks like a model airplane - all fragile looking sticks and nearly translucent fabric covering.
With the Wren having managed one of the highest passes along the runway I've ever seen it manage, and the Cygnet coming in to land, it was time for the Yak pair to do their stuff, roaring through the air with smoke trails and an impressive routine that showed off the Yak's aerobatic capabilities well.
Quieter displays from the Avro Triplane and Avro 504K followed, with the Avro Tutor then sneaking into the air to complete the trio though sadly not all in formation at once. However the Southern Martlet and Parnell Elf did go up together and made a smart pairing, both aircraft gleaming in the sort of sunshine you don't expect to get in October.
A further trio followed, with three Moths (one a Tiger) carrying out a nice sharp bit of formation keeping throughout their display, with smooth formation changes as well - quite a feat in windy conditions with this type. More feats were to be had from regular Old Warden visitor Denny Dobson and his Extra 300, an excellent display as ever culminating in the dramatic 'limbo' and ribbon-cutting finale - part of the ribbon ending up wrapped around one of his undercarriage legs for several minutes!
As with the previous show it was Miles time next, with the two Magisters flying in formation then singly, followed by the Falcon - on its own this time. A welcome feature of the Magister formation was that they broke away from each other in front of the crowd instead of at a distance, giving superb photo opportunities.
A pair of silver biplanes from different years followed - the sprightly little Tomtit being overshadowed somewhat by the far more macho Gladiator. Rather less macho was the 'young man' - a CASA-built Jungmann, thrown around the sky as if it were a Pitts Special. Hard to believe these Buckers are of 1930s vintage.
Next up was another rarity - a Chilton DW.1 monoplane - in fact the very first one ever built, on only its second public appearance after an extensive restoration that saw the aircraft fly again in late 2001 after 48 years of being ground-bound by damage caused during a forced landing in 1953. With pilot Rob Millinship peeking over the cockpit coaming, it looked very much at home displaying here and we'll hopefully see a lot more of it in future shows.
The next formation was one I'd been hoping for since first hearing of a Jet Provost being pencilled in for an Old Warden display - Jet Provost with... piston Provost! With the JP flown by Mark Grimshaw, this was his first display season but you'd never have been able to tell without the commentary mentioning it. A crisp formation routine showed off the similarities between the two aircraft (the JP of course being descended directly from its piston-powered counterpart), and then they both performed on their own with the JP making great use of the dog-leg display line and keeping it just as tight as slower types. With Mark finishing off his display it was getting rather noisy on the ground too - the Lysander, Hurricane and Spitfire all starting up and getting ready for the finale. Of particular note was the Hurricane carrying out is power checks complete with obliging ground crew member hanging on to the tailplane to keep it firmly on the ground! The Lysander was first up, sweeping into its majestic display routine while the Spitfire and Hurricane departed to hold in the distance. I have to admit to being a little distracted by the antics of the Spitfire while it was in the hold - gently rolling from time to time, which I read as a simple joyful expression of delight from the pilot (but which no doubt had a serious purpose - don't shatter my illusions though!).
Both the Spit and the Hurri now joined the Lizzie for several formation passes before the Lysander landed and left the sky to the quintessentially English pair of fighters who remained in formation with each other briefly, breaking away (once again, in front of the crowd) to perform their solo routines. Much as I love Hurricanes, it was the Spitfire that was truly the one to watch this time though - with the most beautifully flown display I've seen since the late great Mark Hanna's superb routines. The Spitfire display was sheer artistry, and worth the admission price on its own. Actually, so was the Anson... and the JP & Provost duo. So all in all it was quite a bargain show!
Sadly the Boxkite and Humming Bird didn't get to fly - wind putting paid to the Boxkite's chances, and an argument with a fence keeping the Humming Bird on the ground. Hopefully the damage to its starboard wing tip was minor and it'll be back in the air for this year's season. The Chipmunk expected to display also didn't make it, reason unknown.
And that was it for the year at Old Warden...the Shuttleworth Collection, in my opinion, offered the most consistent entertainment value on the calendar in 2002 and long may they keep it up - see you there in 2003!