First attempted back in 2016, the Shuttleworth Collection announced ambitious plans to hold a Hawker Hurricane gathering at Old Warden in the summer of 2019. In the past few years, notably since 2017, the previously underrepresented fighter has seen great resurgence. There was a time where multiple Hurricane sequences were a real rarity but since P3717 and R4118 (for the 2016 & 2017 seasons) have been based at Old Warden, a wonderful reputation for lyrical sequences with these machines has been established.
Initially announced to be a six-ship gathering, which would equal the previous record set at Duxford in 2017, the final list a week ahead of the event stood at an unheard of 8 examples (it was not that long ago that this was the total worldwide population). Sadly one of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight examples had to cancel on technical grounds, though that still left the impressive prospect of seven for the assembled crowds to enjoy.
More on the Hurricanes later on though, as once again the military pageant proved to be a remarkable event from start to finish. Even in the face of two notable cancellations in the form of the Historic Aircraft Collection’s DH9 and Henlow based Avro 504, this was a classic Shuttleworth line up. On the ground there was also an impressive gathering of unique vehicles.
The flying display got underway with a Shuttleworth regular in his favourite mount. Stu Goldspink arrived in style with an on-crowd loop in P-47D Thunderbolt “Nellie”. Though Stu has quite the association with the Thunderbolt, often citing the type as his favoruite to fly, this was, to my knowledge, the first time he had displayed it at Old Warden.
As such a heavy machine with high speed a necessity for aerobatics, this display did, at times feel perhaps more distant that other acts at Old Warden but that was well worth it to enjoy such an effortless account of the handling of this machine. The biggest milestone of this display was watching the Thunderbolt pull up into the circuit before touching down on the Old Warden runway, most certainly a first and an imposing sight on the flightline.
As you would expect the home team put on a great set of displays with the training sequence being delivered very well and the collection’s Gladiator delivering an extended solo performance in the absence of the Hawker Demon.
Another heavy american visitor came in the shape of B-17 Flying Fortress “Sally-B” which was flown in spectacular fashion giving the crowd a very close up look at this iconic bomber.
It is a rare day when Hurricanes outnumber Spitfires on a flying programme, in fact, the original only saw the collection’s Spitfire on static display. With the cancellation of the one of the Hurricanes, AR501 was drafted in (amusing to see the Spitfire as the understudy for once!) Willy Hackett flew a remarkable routine which broke up the typical warbird display expectations. A run in down the hill with a quarter vertical roll onto the A-axis certainly makes for a great statement on arrival. The rest of the routine also saw some great figures with quick rolls befitting of a clipped wing Spitfire.
Even without the DH9 and visiting 504 making their display debuts there was still room for a WW1 first. Resident at Old Warden for around 12 months now, Roy Palmers SE5a replica made its first airshow appearance. It is refreshing to see another full size SE5 on the airshow circuit, particularly with the collection’s example out of action.
It flew a great display as well and catches the eye with the splashes of colour in the paintscheme. The SE5 was followed by the Northern Aeroplane Workshop trio of Bristol M1c, Sopwith Triplane and Sopwith Camel, the latter of which was flown in fine style by Dodge Bailey with a memorable final pass.
As with last years military pageant, there were also some visiting WW1 types on show. The Stow Maries based Nieuport 17 replica displayed again as did the Sywell based 504 replica.
This example of the 504, powered by a Rotec radial has visited Old Warden a number of times for static display but never starred in a solo flying slot. Though the planned three ship wasn’t to be, the collection’s 504 did get into the air highlighting the stark difference in performance between the original engine and the modern replacement.
Returning to the Old Warden skies after a memorable first appearance at last years September show was the Breigton based FW44 Steiglitz. This pre-war biplane can certainly put on a show with surprisingly agile and advanced aerobatics being flown at high level before moving lower and arguably making the best use of the venue of the day. Countless passes round the bend and sweeping vertical figures made for a memorable slot.
All too soon it was time for the show to draw to a close, but what a way to close. On arrival those in attendance were greeted by two Hurricanes. As the afternoon’s show progressed visiting examples crept in, largely from Headcorn, though the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s example was inbound from Wales (the flight’s first landing at Old Warden). This meant that remarkably the full seven aircraft planned were lined up along the flightline when the time came. There was that rare mass sense of anticipation that can only be brought on by milestone displays such as this as each Merlin burst into life and taxied to the far end of the runway.
Once power checks were completed each fighter took to the air in turn for a wonderful streamed take-off before forming up into their respective sections as they went around the circuit. Fittingly Paul Stone, chief pilot for the collection, had the role of leading this historic flight in the collection’s Sea Hurricane. He was joined in the lead “vic” by Stu Goldspink in P2902 and Frank Chapman in P3717. Brian Smith led the second trio in R4118 (only making its second appearance since flying again late last year) with Dave Harvey in “P3700” and Martin Overall in V7497. Expected to be flying in trail behind the lead six, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane effortlessly slotted into the box slot as the formation lined up in what had to be the most surprising moment of the day. This meant that for one special pass all seven Hurricanes flew over in close formation.
Borrowing a Duxford tradition the BBMF Hurricane broke away and began a punchy solo routine while the remaining six Hurricanes flew another circuit. After one more pass as a six ship the rear trio, led by Brian Smith broke off into a gentle tail chase. This routine had much more impact than the gathering at Duxford a few years ago, which was a far tamer approach. History has often downplayed the Hurricanes performance and at times airshow appearances don’t help, but this tail chase cemented the Hurricanes reputation as a fighter worthy of recognition.
With the Duxford based trio either departed or back on the ground it was left to the home team to bring things to a close (with a Hurricane borrowed from Duxford/Sywell). This saw the traditional Shuttleworth Hurricane sequence with Paul Stone and Frank Chapman flying a lose pairs formation low and close to the crowd while Stu Goldspink began lyrical aerobatics overhead. At the end of this sequence we were treated to another extended solo from Stu Goldspink in P2902, a fitting end given Stu’s history in test flying Hurricanes and his reputation of delivering sublime displays in the type at this venue.
As if all of that weren’t enough, conditions allowed not only the Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite to fly, but also the Blackburn monoplane for only the second time this year. Strangley, for the first time in my memory, the wind actually got up during the Edwardian slot meaning that the Deperdussin and Bleriot had to settle for a tractor tow back down the airfield, rather than a hop under their own power.
Once again, the Shuttleworth Collection Military Pageant was an incredible account of all things military aviation and with sequences such as the half hour Hurricane performance, Old Warden continues its great reputation of airshow legend.