While the off season, in terms of flying seems to be shrinking each year, the first proper day of every airshow season is always a welcome time, even more so if the weather plays ball.
While it may not have been up to the standards of the previous bank holiday weekend, but the weather stayed dry and more importantly calm for the whole day. Once wrapped up warm it was a good day for the first Shuttleworth show of the year.
There were plenty of star attractions to look forward to, not to mention the sheer novelty of the first show of the year that even makes the old favourites very welcome sights. Approaching the airfield the main attractions could be clearly seen even from the road. This show saw three firsts in terms of landings at Old Warden. The Bronco Demo Team’s OV10 Bronco flew in on the previous day to take part in its first show at the venue and would ordinarily be a large presence on the airfield. The Bronco would soon be drawfed by not only Aces High’s C-47 but Plane Sailing’s PBY Catalina. The sight of such heavies operating out of Old Warden really added another dimension to the flying and the landings and departures were very impressive from the far end of the display line.
The morning featured the usual Old Warden atmosphere and entertainment with the by now obligatory cooked breakfast interrupted by a stylish Hurricane practice display, prior to a wander around the stalls and static. The theme for this years show was Vietman (more on that later) with the static park featuring a Bell 47 helicopter and Cessna Bird Dog (another featured in the display alongside a lovely L4).
After the vehicle parade had concluded and visiting aircraft were all in place, flying kicked off with an impressive series of flypasts from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Mk XVI Spitfire. The Collection’s Spitfire AR501 would later continue the clipped wing Spitfire theme flying alongside the Sea Hurricane and Hurricane P3717, the latter of which delivered a graceful aerobatic performance, prior to the Spitfire doing the same.
The Vietnam theme was spaced well throughout the afternoon, rather than as art of a multi aircraft sequence. While many may have been expecting the latter, the even spacing of acts gave each machine a chance to shine.
The Bronco delivered a punchy routine keeping within the confines of the airfield and the rarely seen North Weald based Huey never fails to make an impression.
Both the Catalina and C-47 flew as part of the Vietnam theme and were flown with great style. Both flew straight into their displays off departure and the C-47 in particular was really thrown around the Old Warden sky, making great use of the trademark bend. As mentioned earlier, the added bonus of these great displays was the thrill of watching both aircraft arrive and depart Old Warden.
The chance to see these machines up close was really unique and hopefully this paves the way for repeat appearances and perhaps other larger acts basing out of the airfield.
Conditions allowed for many of the collection’s more weather dependent airframes to fly, with the DH51 putting in one of the longer appearances I can recall and a great cross section of the WW1 fleet (Sopwith Triplane and Camel, Bristol M1c and Avro 504k). With both the “heavier” WW1 machines (Bristol Fighter and SE5a) down for maintenance, it was great to get a chance to see the rotary types in operation so early on in the year.
The trainers segment was a real highlight as well with both the Chipmunk and Provost delivering tight aerobatics and seamlessly moving into lower level tail chase sequences before swapping over.
A highly anticipated highlight of this show was expected to be a pairs display from two Westland Lysanders. The recently completed Aircraft Restoration Company example was expected to make its debut airshow appearance as part of this show but sadly was unable to attend on the day. The familiar sound of the Bristol Mercury was still well represented however with the Collection’s example displaying as well as the Gloster Gladiator.
Any show at Old Warden is always enjoyed with one eye on the windsock in between acts as the classic “will they won’t they” regarding the Edwardian aircraft begins. In recent years this has become less of a concern as the backup plan has recently become a chance to see one of the Collection’s gems – the DH88 Comet – being put through its paces (sometimes for the second time in the day, if already programmed). This effectively represents a win-win for many enthusiasts. With the classic racing trio of DH88, Mew Gull and Hawk Speed Six positioned out by the runway, I must admit I was hoping conditions would edge towards seeing these racers in action. In the end a balance was struck, with the plan being the Mew Gull and Comet displaying, followed by the Avro Triplane, which is the more controllable of the Edwardian machines.
The Comet and Mew Gull delivered their typical display of aerial poetry. Now a staple Old Warden act, I am convinced it will never get old. There is something incomparable to the sight and roaring sound of these two icons and record setters wheeling gracefully around the evening sky before cutting loose in their respective solo routines. The fact we get to see these aircraft in action so often across a season is a real treat.
The Season Premiere continued to maintain the already high bar that Old Warden has set itself over the past few years. A great mix of high energy warbird displays, heavy aircraft operating from the airfield and plenty of collection favourites performing in calm, if cold conditions. The next Old Warden show is the first of the evening displays on the 18th May which among other things will see a Spitfire three ship, which should be a great sight in the evening light.