Once again in these uncertain times, it was down to Old Warden to provide the first show of the season. The big difference this year was that the season got underway on the traditional first weekend of the season, rather than mid July as in 2020.
Shuttleworth made the call early in winter to leave the first half of their show season in the tried and tested drive-in format from 2020. This has proven prudent as restrictions are still in place that would prevent any traditional format event until at least later on in May. Thankfully restrictions were such that not only could the show take place but a few more signs of normality were also possible. Wandering around the site before the flying started, with the opportunity to view the aircraft on the flightline, visit stalls and even a welcome return from the museum cafe on takeaway service.
The museum hangars and house themselves are not open until 17th May inline with the government guidance but there was still an opportunity to peer through the open doors at the (frankly few) aircraft not participating in the days flying. It was notable that the majority of the currently airworthy Collection machines were at the very least out on the airfield throughout the day (including some of the Edwardians late on).
Much was made online of the holding/waiting area and system for filling the field up. I personally enjoy the holding area as it adds to the anticipation, particularly when there are arriving aircraft or collection machines up on a local flight. The sight of John Romain running low across the airfield in behind the parkland trees and house looked incredible, for example.
Now a familiar sight at Old Warden shows the airfield echoed with that familiar rasp of a T-6 Harvard getting airborne as Duxford based “Wacky Wabbit” was kept busy on pleasure flight duties. A welcome buzz of activity to pass the morning waiting for the flying display.
Flying got underway with a frankly superb routine from the Catalina. Old Warden regulars will remember a show stopping appearance in 2017’s Fly Navy show from the wonderful amphibian with a couple of low passes. This year’s routine was like that the whole way through. Wonderful low level sweeping passes giving a fine account of this glorious machine.
The flying display had the familiar format of a bulk of Collection and based machines complimented by well chosen visiting machines. Many will be aware that the star act on the poster for this show was the P-47 Thunderbolt operated by Ultimate Warbird Flights. Sadly this machine wasn’t ready in time for the show but was replaced by an equally rare fighter in the form of John Romain’s Hispano Buchon (more on that later).
A theme running through the afternoon’s display was training aircraft, with 2021 marking the 85th anniversary of training command in the Royal Air Force. Early on we saw the photogenic pairing of DH82 Tiger Moth and Avro Tutor, both respondent in bright red/white aerobatic schemes. The Tutor is one of those collection machines often easily overlooked but really is a gem of a machine. The Collection Chipmunk and Provost put on a great multi-axis performance with a low and close Chipmunk solo and graceful high level aerobatics from the Provost above. Both based Miles Magisters also flew a close in tailchase and formation routine to great effect.
One of the highlights of the afternoon that perfectly fitted the training theme was the debut display from James Brown in his Harvard. James has been working up his experience initially in the Harvard and more recently in his Hurricane R4118 (which saw plenty of flight time last year around the country). This debut display offered all you could ask for from a Harvard routine and indeed an Old Warden routine. Mid level aerobatics with plenty of Harvard noise followed by some close in passes around the bend. A fine debut and I look forward to enjoying this routine again in the future and perhaps seeing the same in the Hurricane in due course.
It was very much a day of all seasons in terms of the weather, with sunny intervals often replaced by short sharp showers and changeable wind throughout the day. Whilst always light throughout the day the direction was inconsistent with aircraft operating in both directions on the main runway and landing “up the hill” towards the control tower. Though the wind and winds at height did eventually increase too much for the Edwardian machines and the Wren to fly, we were treated to a great turnout of WW1 machines in the air.
The three Northern Aeroplane Workshop fighters flew across two display slots, with Stu Goldpink’s account of the Sopwith Triplane a real standout. Tight, fighting turns combined with graceful passes and a wonderful whistle from the wires when flying away, all concluded with a dramatic sideslip approach over the hedge on to the short runway. Dodge Bailey also flew a graceful up close routine in the Sopwith Camel.
The headline WW1 aircraft had to be the Bristol F2b Fighter, resplendent in its new colour scheme following an overhaul that has seen it out of action since 2018. The Bristol started up just after the worst of the days weather had been through, leaving it to display in wonderful golden light, together with dramatic skies as a backdrop. It has been too long since we’ve heard that wonderful sound of the Rolls Royce Falcon as the Bristol wheels around the airfield.
Seemingly no Old Warden show is complete without the resident racers taking to the skies. This show was no different with an early showing from the Comper Swift before the Comet and Hawk Speed Six put on a typically impressive display late in the day.
Bringing things to a close in fine style, John Romain got airborne in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano Buchon. The Buchon has just finished playing a role in an upcoming BBC drama series which saw it wear two different North African schemes. The second of which has been maintained, though was showing clear signs of wear at Old Warden (since noted as having been touched up at Duxford, hopefully a sign the scheme is here a while longer). This offers yet another great chapter to the story of the wonderful Buchon.
I recently featured the film/temporary scheme history of this airframe on this sight and it’s great to see another two schemes added to that list. Last year at Old Warden was all about John Romain in the NHS Spitfire and I am sure we will see that wonderful tribute in the air again. For me though, I always associate John Romain with the Buchon, perhaps only second to the Blenheim it seems to be where he shines the most. This routine was absolutely impeccable as we have come to expect. That wonderful Buchon whistle as the routine flowed through vertical aerobatics and flowing topsides. The show was brought to a close with a simple smoke on pass and departure back to Duxford. For a type that seems to spend it’s life being shot down by some allied fighter, it made a great change to see a Buchon not only display in its own right, but also in the “headline” slot.
All in all it once again felt like we had never been away. I don’t think there is any greater compliment that can be given to an airshow in 2021. It immediately felt like home. Familiar faces, aeroplanes, sights and sounds and everything seemed to slip back int place. Long may it continue!