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Things happen at a quieter pace at Shuttleworth. Now I don't mean there's a long wait between items in the flying programme, because there wasn't, but compared to most shows where planes taxi to the take-off point it makes for a refreshing change of pace for a number of them to be walked there! Not sure I envy the poor guy who gets given the job of pushing the B-52 bomber to the take-off point at RIAT!

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

Robert Bowles gets to grips with learning how to use a digital SLR camera at Shuttleworth at its first display of the year on 7 May

Having been to many airshows for the last couple of years with a Minolta Z1 and having been frustrated by the slow reaction time and relatively low level of magnification, I took the plunge in March and bought my first digital SLR. With a limited budget I decided on the Canon 350D and a Sigma 70-300mm APO lens and prepared to look forward to the summer ahead. Not being content to wait for the big shows in July, or even Duxford on 21 May, I started the season off with a trip to Shuttleworth for their first show of 2006.

The day didn't start well. The rain was tipping down when I got up. Did I risk it and go for it, or go back to bed? Well I risked it, after all I had a new toy to play with, and within half hour of leaving Cambridge, the rain had stopped. It boded well for a successful day.

I think I went to Shuttleworth as a kid, I know my dad took me to RIAT and Farnborough, and I'm fairly sure he took me to Shuttleworth too. I was unimpressed with the idea of biplanes compared to the fast jets at Farnborough. But my tastes have mellowed as I've got older and I'm looking for different things from an airshow visit now, compared to when I was twelve.

The first thing to say about Shuttleworth show is you can drive right on to the front of the crowd line. Granted, I got there soon after the gates opened at 09:00, but it was still great to drive right to the front of the crowd fence, and know you weren't going to have a long walk back to the car at the end of the day.

We kicked off with Golden Apple's F-86 Sabre - it gave a great opportunity to compare compact digital photography, even with a x10 zoom like the Z1, with SLR photography and gave me a taster of what was to come for the afternoon. I'd seen the Sabre at Duxford in October and photographed it with limited success, due to its size and speed. Now I was getting a second chance.

This is a picture of the F-86 taken with my Minolta Z1 last year - compare it with the one from my new SLR!

The first thing I noticed with the Canon was I could now fill the viewfinder with the plane and the faster reaction times meant fewer pictures of aircraft chopped in half as I miss them when they leave the viewfinder. Multiple shots taken when holding the shutter down were all instantaneous. The experienced SLR users of you out there will be saying "So what?" but believe me, to a SLR newbie, the difference in camera performance is huge.

One of my favourite items was the Shuttleworth Collection's Bristol Fighter. It's making an appearance at Duxford in May and I'm now looking forward to seeing it again. It's beautifully maintained and you just can't get over the size of the thing - it's huge for a biplane, and given its slow speed, an excellent subject for photography.

The Hawker Hind is the last airworthy example anywhere, one of several aeroplane types owned by the Shuttleworth collection that you're not going to see flying anywhere else. It's a stunning craft, the metalwork polished until you could see your face in it, and the replica bombs under the wings adding an extra level of detail to the plane.

The Sea Hurricane was another highlight. Something of a rarity, this is the last seaworthy Sea Hurricane in the world and was scheduled to close the show. It was a stunning finale. By the time she took off the sun was starting to put in an appearance and led to some lovely lighting. The pilot even got to fly with the canopy pushed back.

But we weren't done yet. The weather had improved sufficiently to allow for some of Shuttleworth's collection of Edwardian machines to be given a bit of an airing. The programme hinted we might get some short hops, instead we were treated to several broad circuits of the Avro Triplane and the Blackburn Monoplane, dating from 1912, the world's oldest airworthy British aeroplane. If I thought the Bristol had been slow, these fascinating machines forced me to re-evaluate that assumption.

These provided an excellent finale to a great afternoon's flying. Shuttleworth offered a great start to the season, a more sedate display than many, but no denying the quality of the planes or the flying. The Spring Air Display offers a great chance to see many planes you just can't see anywhere else, and offers a brief glimpse of a world of aviation when things were so much simpler. As for me, well I'm well chuffed with my new toy, and looking forward to many more shows this summer. Now, if I can just learn the manual settings before Duxford...


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