On summer wings
Shuttleworth's Second Military Air Pageant, 3 August - Andrew Bates feels the heat
Shuttleworth's second Military Air Pageant of the year, held on the Sunday of the first weekend in August, was heralded by the start of the heatwave that was to become such a topic of conversation during the days that followed. Consequently, the combination of beautiful blue sky, glorious sunshine, and the almost unique garden party atmosphere that can only be Old Warden, ensured that the majority of the audience arrived fully 'tooled up' with an impressive collection of cool boxes and picnic baskets. As people settled down in anticipation of the flying, little wonder that glasses of wine and buttered scones were as commonplace as cameras and film down on the crowdline. Truly a most pleasant and civilised way to enjoy a flying display, with perhaps the only complaint from some of the lesser mortals (notably the missus) being the necessity to slap on liberal amounts of factor 40 suncream every thirty minutes or so - cor blimey, it was HOT!!
As with previous shows, the majority of participating airframes were to be found parked right in front of the crowd, enabling some nice static shots prior to the flying. Such pairings as the Spitfire and Hurricane, or Pup and SE5a, would prove to be as popular as ever with the general public, but naturally it was the latest Shuttleworth acquisition that was to become the biggest draw amongst the enthusiasts; a rare example of the Polikarpov Po-2. The aircraft has been acquired on long term loan from its New Zealand owner following recent restoration and only made its first post-restoration flight as recently as mid May - after allocation of appropriate NZ registration (ZK-POZ), it was dismantled and shipped over to the UK. It was not destined to fly during the Military Air Pageant, but it was good to see it basking in the sunshine following its recent re-assembly. No doubt this rare biplane is set to become a familiar sight over deepest Bedfordshire, once it resumes its flying career.
As would be expected, the flying programme was primarily a showcase for some of Shuttleworth's varied fleet of veteran airframes, interspersed with a few imported acts. Also, as implied by the event, the common theme was machines of military origin or use, so some of the Old Warden favourites, such as the DH60 Moth, were given a well-earned rest for the day. Adding further flavour to the military nature of the show, there were various 'live' ground displays set up near the flightline, complete with period uniforms and equipment.
The show was kicked off in fine style by Red Gnat Ltd.'s Gnat T1, resplendent in Red Arrows livery, which was to be the only jet display of the afternoon. With the commencement of this particular airshow act, it was pretty much action all the way for the remainder of the day. The choreography of the show was near perfect, with almost always something either displaying in front of the crowd, or just taking off. Gaps were to prove very few and far between.
As the Gnat disappeared on the horizon, the audience were taken back in time for a Great War set piece, as an impressive collection of WW1 era aircraft took their turn in the skies over Old Warden. Up first was the Sopwith Triplane, with the distinctive sound of its rotary engine, followed closely by the SE5a. Then, shortly afterwards, representing the 'dreaded Hun', was the LVG C.VI, currently a unique sight in the sky, being the world's oldest airworthy German military aircraft, but sadly soon to be retired to Hendon. Air supremacy was soon restored once the trusty old Bristol Fighter got airborne, despite the rear gunner being conspicuous by his absence!
World War One was then temporarily put on hold for the BBMF Lancaster. The bomber was transiting through for its next display commitment but was scheduled for two passes at Old Warden, which it conducted accompanied by the BBMF Spitfire LFIX. With this complete, it was then possible to resume and conclude the Great War element of the programme, with displays by the Avro 504K and Sopwith Pup.
Training was the next theme, which firstly featured another 'guest' item in the shape of a Bulldog T1, performing a display routine that was quite familiar at many airshows just a few years ago, until replaced in RAF service by the Grob Tutor. This then lead to training aircraft from a different era from the Shuttleworth stable, the Hornet Moth, and then the almost obligatory Tiger Moth.
Next, a complete change of pace, and another Old Warden visitor, it was Tony Haig-Thomas thundering around the airfield in that big and beautiful beast of his, the TBM-3R Avenger. Quite an impressive sight to say the least. This was followed by the only rotary winged display of the day, an immaculately turned out Scout AH1, once again courtesy of Kennet Aviation.
The training theme was then resumed, starting with another classic and unique sight, the Hawker Tomtit. This was to be followed by a colourful three-ship of RCAF liveried Chipmunk, flanked by the Miles Magister and Hawk Trainer. After a couple of flypasts, this trio split up to conduct individual displays, which for the Chipmunk included a full aerobatic routine. Finally, the training theme concluded with a DH82 Queen Bee, close derivative of the Tiger Moth.
The stage was then set for the Shuttleworth 'heavy metal' to come out to play. First up was the Gloster Gladiator, looking refreshingly different in its now familiar Norwegian markings, when compared to all the RAF roundels in evidence that afternoon. Then, another Bristol Mercury powered beast, the Westland Lysander. Next up, displaying remarkable agility for the design, was the Avro Anson (or more accurately Avro XIX). Finally, for the climax of the show, the Spitfire and Sea Hurricane took to the skies together before the two split up for their individual displays. It was at this point that the airshow commentator purposely chose to remain quiet, so that the audience could savour the sound of those Merlins reverberating around the airfield - magic!
These final displays brought the flying programme to its predicted conclusion, but as late afternoon turned to early evening, there was an added bonus in prospect. As the weather conditions were so idyllic, the decision was made to allow some of the more frail craft to take to the skies. So, as everyone continued tucking into their strawberries and cream, three additional airframes were wheeled out of the hangars and onto the Old Warden turf. First into the evening sky was the Avro Triplane replica, closely followed by the Bristol Boxkite replica. The Avro machine was forced to make a precautionary landing with a minor, unspecified fault, but after a quick check with the ground crew, was soon back in the air, flying not too far behind the Boxkite. After an initial reluctance for the engine to start, the third aircraft to fly was the Blackburn Monoplane. These three old timers were greatly appreciated by the audience, and in this centenary year of flight, were most appropriate in demonstrating just how far powered flight has progressed in 100 short years.
Compared to the hustle and bustle of many major airshows, this event proved to be such a welcome change of pace, with its relaxed garden fete atmosphere. If you like aeroplanes and fancy chilling out one afternoon, get yourself over to Old Warden for one of their flying days, you surely will not be disappointed. Just don't forget the picnic hamper!