The early autumn sun casts an atmospheric glow across the English countryside as the 50hp Gnome rotary engine gently encourages the Blackburn Type D monoplane in elegant turns around the airfield. Time seems to stand still whenever this beautiful piece of history takes to the skies and the October 2015 show at Old Warden was no exception. The crowd stood in near silence as this edwardian classic wheeled its way around the sky, before chief pilot Dodge Bailey turned in for a graceful landing on the turf. Once the applause for a job well done had calmed there was no sound but the “blipping” of the Blackburn’s engine as it returned to the flightline.
Watching one of the rarest and oldest airworthy aeroplanes in the world patrol the British countryside was a superb way to bring an, at times difficult, 2015 airshow season to a close. This idyllic final act of the year was proceeded by another superb day organised by the Shuttleworth Collection.
Over the past few years the collection has gained a great reputation for the “uncovered” show. The format is simple but effective, rather than the traditional flightline arrangement, the show aircraft are all on display, without barriers, for close inspection by the public. When the time comes for the aircrafts slot it is pulled out of the paddock and another aircraft takes its place.
The above scenario is how this show has played out for the past few years, however this time there was considerable added interest thanks to the collection securing the final airshow appearance of the Vulcan. The format had some slight changes, the top end of the short runway was used as the main paddock during the morning, rather than the main car park earlier at earlier shows.
Arriving early on Sunday morning I was greeted by the wonderful sight of two Bleriot XIs outside the hangars. The collection’s original joined a visiting example over from France. Seeing two Bleriots outside on a crisp, foggy October morning was magical.
The rest of the static park was filled with a number of gems. One of Ken Wallis’ Auto-gyros “Little Nellie” of James Bond fame was a late addition to the line up adding some great variety. Another regular visitor to Old Warden, the Spartan Executive, was also on display. A fantastically unique pairing made up the rest of the infield line up. Pete Kynsey had brought his Cosmic Wind for static display and Anna Walker was displaying a Husky float plane.
At this point I really feel the need to once again praise the collection for going the extra mile with some of these bookings. With the Vulcan secured they could have easily settled for the home based machines but they made the decision to collect some wonderfully rare visitors.
The static park on the airfield was filled with plenty of rare machines, highlights were the three classic racers; the DH88 and both Mew Gulls along with the extensive WW1 collection from Old Warden.
There were two new flying aircraft to Old Warden on display, the Bristol scout project has been keenly followed by many for years now and the October show saw a wonderful debut display being excellently flown by Dodge Bailey in the late afternoon sun.
Emerging from the blister hangar earlier on in the day was the surprising sight of R4118, Peter Vacher’s old Hurricane. The sale had only been announced days before and there was plenty of talk as the Battle of Britain veteran rolled out on to the airfield. The Shuttleworth Collection later released details that Entrepreneur James Brown bought the Hurricane and decided to base the aircraft at Old Warden. This was a wonderful high note to end the season on, after fears of the Hurricane leaving the country, the fact that this Hurricane will be based at Old Warden is the best possible outcome.
The afternoon’s flying was started in a very different way for Old Warden, with the Red Devils parachute display team. Seeing a skydive team displaying so close really made me appreciate the skill involved and it made for a refreshing change for the venue.
The main flying display got underway with a series of flypasts from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Dakota. The first hour of the flying display saw some incredible flying. With the WW2 trio of Sea Hurricane, Seafire and Hurricane I providing a highlight of the year. The three aircraft performed a series of formation passes before the Hurricanes broke off into a short tailchase. The newly arrived Mk.I Hurricane was put through gentle display before breaking to land. We were then treated by a fast pass from the naval pair.
Chris Götke has to take the prize for the display of the day, in fact it may well be the best adaption to the Old Warden display line I have seen from a warbird. His routine in the Seafire XVII was everything a big piston display should be. Big, graceful aerobatics combined with low sweeping passes made for a really impressive show.
In hot pursuit of the Seafire came the Hawker Demon and Gloster Gladiator which both put in a great performance, the Gladiator was thrown around in a very energetic fashion by Frank Chapman.
As if the early show hadn’t been star packed enough, the collection’s DH88 Comet and Mew Gull got airborne for a pairs display. There is nothing quite like the classic lines of the de Havilland racer curving around the Old Warden bend.
The next segment for another return to the 1920s Lympne Light aircraft trials, with the Anec II making long sweeping low level passes as the Hawker Cygnet pair gently circled above. Watching these machines perform like “real” aeroplanes always makes me wonder how the English Electric Wren managed to come out on top at this event!
It was then time for an extended trainer segment, this featured the Polikarpov Po-2 as well as the Collection’s Provost and the Kennet Aviation T6. The latter two machines performed solo aerobatics in turn before joining up into as far as I can remember a very unique formation and tailchase. Certainly something different from the norm.
Then something completely different as Mark Jeffries got airborne in his Extra 300s, rolling inverted almost immediately after take off certainly showed intent! Mark has built a great reputation for his aerobatic displays over the years and this show was no different. There was a nice touch of some wingtip pyrotechnics towards the end of the display. It would be great to see them return at an evening show next year.
Then came the eccentric Fauvel AV.36 glider which performed its haul breathtaking aerobatics display with plenty of low level loops and stall turns.
It was then time for the first of the World War 1 segments in the show. The WW1 aircraft are always special performers at Old Warden but this show was special as it saw the debut appearance from the Bristol Scout replica. There couldn’t have been better conditions for this wonderful aeroplane’s first appearance and it was flown expertly throughout the slot by Dodge Bailey.
The Scout was joined in close formation by its younger brother (by design at least) the Bristol F2B. Watching these two classic Bristol designs orbit in the overhead together was certainly a surreal. Shortly before the scout landed, a third WW1 era Bristol took to the skies in the shape of the M1C monoplane. The M1C always impresses with its impressive speed compared to the types we are used to seeing when we think of WW1.
I highly doubt anyone can say they weren’t a little bit distracted during the latter half of the M1’s display however, as a familiar shape had appeared to the west of the field. Avro Vulcan XH558 could clearly be seen circling behind the college with another Avro, BAE System’s XIX/Anson in the now glowing autumn sun. There was a clear sense of anticipation and near silence in the sell out crowd.
Martin Withers, one of the Vulcan’s regular pilots and the man who was in charge of the famous Black Buck raid on the Falklands, took over the commentary position as the pair of Avro designs ran in for a brief but perfect formation pass. The two aircraft passed close into the crowd and with the Vulcan throttled back the Anson’s Cheetah engines could clearly be heard. Not for long however as once the formation split the crew opened up the Vulcan’s throttles and climbed away to position for their display.
After a quick orbit it was time for a final display from a much loved aircraft. Running in from the south with a classic howl and gentle bank around the field. Martin Withers told us that post shoreham the Vulcan had to be flown more sedately in terms of bank angle. This was made up for with plenty of power however, with a number of howls heard as the display carried on. One of those truly special moments happened as XH558 climbed out of a public airshow for the last time and we caught a small glimpse of Kev Rumens’ legendary pre-Shoreham displays. The spirited wingover was a fitting farewell and brought about a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd. XH558s final display would have been perfect if it was even just this pass, superb.
As we all watched the Vulcan clear away over the horizon, John Hurrell brought the Avro XIX back in over the airfield for an energetic display over the airfield.
Climbing up into the clear blue skies to follow the Avro XIX was another Avro project in the shape of the 504. This marked the start of another First World War segment which also saw the Sopwith Pup and SE5a performing displays as well. Whilst on the subject of WW1 machines, this show must have marked some kind of record in terms of the number of rotary powered types on show, 5 by my count. It is great to see early and First World War aviation going through a mini revival in this country over the past couple of years.
The final act of the main flying display was a breathtaking Yak-52 display, courtesy of Guy Westgate. Guy is well known on the circuit for his aerobatic glider displays but he certainly showed he’s no slouch in powered aircraft too! A quick turn around off take-off into a sweeping barrel role set the tone for the rest of his display. The Yak barely left the airfield boundary throughout the routine with plenty of low loops and rolls to keep the crowd more than entertained.
With that we come full circle for this account, the Edwardians were pulled out onto the airfield and everybody got to take a 100 year trip back in time. Extended routines from the Boxkite and Avro Triplane replica started this segment before the Depredussin made a couple of impressive hops.
I’ve waxed lyrical about the shows perfect finale, the Blackburn monoplane, already but its worth noting again as an excellent closing note for the airshow season.
As I said above, with the Vulcan booked it would have been so easy for Shuttleworth to take it easy with the rest of the line-up and still guarantee a sell out. In my opinion, even without the Vulcan this show was easily one of the most impressive line-ups for an Old Warden show.
Any show that can go from a Skydive team to warbird tail-chases and then the Vulcan, only to close with an original 1912 rotary powered aircraft has to be a truly special day. One things for certain, this show will stay in my memory for years.