Dramatic grey skies and the last rays of sunlight cover the airfield as a lone landing light turns on to final approach of a silent grass aerodrome before gently touching down.
It would be easy to take the above account as a report from those mysterious WW2 operations in occupied France, but it was in fact the sight of the de Havilland DH88 Comet coming back to Old Warden shortly after sunset last night. Of course the Comet very nearly had it’s own clandestine credentials, if this tale from AE Clouston’s book is to be believed.
The opening evening event of 2021 will certainly live long in the memory. The weather perfectly fit the theme, even if it did lead to an extended break in proceedings part way through the show. The Collection had put great efforts into building up a superb selection of aircraft that fit the theme. This ranged from observation aircraft such as the Cubs and Austers, right up to a welcome return of a Lysander pair (albeit for one pass thanks to the rain) to Old Warden skies.
Even the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were able to contribute to the theme, with one of the flight Chipmunks dropping in for a short stay on the flightline as static display. This example was one of the Chipmunks that undertook photo reconnoissance sorties over Berlin during the cold war. It is rare to see the BBMF trainers away from Coningsby and we were even able to enjoy the aircraft departing during the show, shortly after the BBMF Spitfire pair completed their slot.
The Auster trio, featuring an AOP6, Auster 4 and the former Duxford based JN1. The sequence started with the Auster 4 (itself a D-Day Veteran) flying a high level patrol before the other two machines flew through a wonderful low level tailchase. Later in the show, following the rain delay, we were able to enjoy the American equivalent with a well choreographed pairs routine from two L4 Cubs. A great combination of tailchase and “synchro pair” figures.
As with all Old Warden shows, great care and attention is taken to the theme but that doesn’t stop some of the other collection aircraft getting involved in the display as well. The high point of this being the wonderful trio of Rotary WW1 fighters taking to the sky in the best conditions of the day. A welcome return to public displays from the Sopwith Pup got things started, with a very high energy account of this famous fighter. This was followed by a brief Sopwith duo of Pup and Triplane, before the latter flew a graceful solo display. The WW1 sequence was closed with a display from the Avro 504.
We were also able to enjoy an extended routine from the Barnstormers, featuring both based Magisters, the Collection Chipmunk and Tiger Moth and the wonderful Southern Martlet. The Chipmunk closed the barnstormers routine with a lovely aerobatic routine as the rain came in yet again.
This year has seen a wonderful set of show posters put in place by the Collection, with this shows poster star being the Collection’s Lysander. This also saw the second opportunity to see the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Lysander at Old Warden. The Duxford based machine has not displayed since 2019 and this was it’s first appearance since the stub wings and bomb racks have ben fitted. It was wonderful to see both Lysander’s positioned in the paddock prior to the show and getting into the air together, alongside the Gladiator and Spitfire.
The stage was set for a wonderful WW2 sequence, though you couldn’t help but notice the ominous clouds on the horizon. Sure enough no sooner were the four ship airborne that they were having to plan to get back on the ground. The Lysander’s performed a single pairs flypast before a rain-curtailed solo display from John Romain in the Duxford machine. This really offers a wonderfully different appearance to the more familiar Collection example, with those stub wings looking great in the gloomy conditions. Though frustrating that this sequence was cut short, conditions certainly suited the types history. The Gladiator and Spitfire landed without displaying as the weather started to close in. The wonderful solo from the Spartan Executive that proceeded the weather break is well worthy of mention, always a spectacular performer.
One silver lining of the weather yesterday was that the wind conditions were consistently calm, which meant that if the rain would ease off sufficiently, it would be prime conditions for the collection’s star machines, the Edwardians.
Another rain break was followed by a typically spectaclar three ship display from the racers. This time the DH88 Comet led the Hawk Speed Six and Mew Gull through a flowing formation routine before splitting off into solo displays. A particular highlight was the extended Mew Gull solo in the fast fading light.
With the roar of the racers engines falling silent, the incredible sight of the Avro Triplane and Bristol Boxkite replicas taxiing to the end of the runway came into view. It’s now closing in on two years since I last saw any of the Edwardians take to the skies and it never fails to impress. The Triplane flew a short routine in the late evening light before the Boxkite flew an extended routine, seemingly not wanting to come back down. A wonderful finale to an great evening’s flying, perfectly fitting of the theme.
Two shows in and Old Warden has delivered two wonderful events. The drive in format once again worked perfectly and in fact provided easy cover when the heavy rain came in. The next event is the Festival of Britain event on the 6th June.