After the last two airshow seasons at least in part being affected by COVID related restrictions, it was wonderful to drive into Old Warden, park up in the usual way (via the new access road) and be able to wander around the site, in many ways like nothing had changed. The collection’s Super Cub got airborne early in the morning for a test flight and practice display. This was one of two collection air tests that took place before the show, both from machines that sat out 2021. The Cub was followed later on by a welcome return from the collection’s Sea Hurricane rounding off the pre-show flying in great style.
It’s worth noting that this report is without pictures of the day (my first show with my 7 month old son meant that I was otherwise engaged for much of the flying, rest assured that photography will return throughout the year). I have included images from previous Shuttleworth shows were relevant.
A full range of stalls and ground attractions were in place alongside the usual wonderful vehicle parade. The pilots chat was conducted at the fence again for the first time since COVID (where it had been broadcast over the radio.
Flying got underway with the welcome return of a now Old Warden regular, Plane Sailing’s Catalina. The imposing flying boat flew the high energy low level routine that we have come to expect from the type at this venue. It is a shame that it’s planned landing following the display slot was called off due to an undercarriage issue (resolved on the way back to Duxford with no issues thankfully). Another multiengine visitor was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster. Though only a flypast slot (which consists of three passes) the Avro bomber made a lasting impression in the memories of the day and notably made its first early season appearance since 2018. Hopefully this means we can enjoy a full season of the Memorial Flights flagship aircraft this year.
The line up was typically varied for a Shuttleworth show, with star visitors such as those above thrown in amongst the Old Warden and collection based types. Collection displays included a wonderful training pair of Percivial Provost and Avro Tutor flying a great dual level routine and another training pair flew in the form of a pair of Miles Magisters. Five of the collections first world war machines took to the air with the Bristol F2b and SE5a flying solo displays, while the Sopwith Pup and Avro 504 flew together. The Sopwith Triplane also put on a great routine.
Kennet Aviation is a name well known in UK airshow history having operated a wide variety of historic aircraft over the years. This show saw three types either operated of associated with Kennet (now Old Warden based) displaying, two of which making either debuts or welcome returns. Their T-6 Texan is a familiar sight at Old Warden shows as well as having played camera ship for many famous air to air photography sorties over the years. John Beatie flew a graceful aerobatic performance in the Harvard as well as flying alongside the Old Warden based Ryan STM, making it’s debut airshow appearance. Kennet also provided the debut performance from their newly imported (in 2021) Stearman. This example is in a wonderful US Navy scheme and looked great paired with Little Grandsden based Spartan Executive for a US Radial pair.
Arguably the star visiting display of the day was another Kennet linked airframe. The Seafire XVII was originally restored by Kennet back in 2006 (making it’s airshow debt at Old Warden that year) and was operated for a number of years on and off. In 2015 the airframe was taken in for a major overhaul which was concluded in November 2021. Not long after the aircraft’s return to flight at Old Warden it was announced that it would be joining Navy Wings. This provided a welcome fighter to the Navy Wings fleet alongside the Swordfish approaching flying condition again. As with the Seafire’s final performance back in 2015, it was back at Old Warden for it’s first appearance under new ownership. Chris Gotke was at the controls on both occasions. I remember fondly the breathtaking solo flown by this machine back in 2015 and though the cloud base limited things on this occasion, it was a wonderful account of this unique airframe. The combination of bubble canopy and the early “short” Griffon makes for an impressive display aircraft and something suitably different to being “just another Spitfire” as some might say. The Seafire flew alongside the collection’s Sea Hurricane, which was making its own return to displays having sat out the 2021 season.
Rounding off the collection second world war aircraft in the line up were the Spitfire and Gladiator. The former was displaying with wingtips for the first time since it’s return to flight in 2018. AR501 flew in both configurations both in original service (though never flew as a clipped wing example operationally) and through it’s original time on the airshow circuit. The Spitfire flew a graceful routine, highlighting the contrast between the Merlin powered “baby” Spitfire and the early Griffon example flown earlier in the show. The Gladiator also flew a particularly energetic solo.
Yet another machine making a welcome return to display flying and under new ownership was the Avro XIX/Anson. Having been part of the BAE Systems Heritage flight until 2022 the Anson, along with the DH60 Moth and Blackburn B2 have now joined the Shuttleowrth collection. It is great to see the collection grow and to have these machines active again. The Anson had the honours of closing out the main flying display with a typically energetic performance. It was a joy to enjoy this charismatic twin in the air again.
It wouldn’t be a UK airshow without some mention of the weather. Forecasts looked very negative right up until the day with suggestion of heavy rain depending on which forecast you read. The day was almost entirely dry, with no rain during the show itself. However, the forecast light winds didn’t seem to be on the way, with relatively gusty conditions throughout the morning and afternoon. It was touch and go as to whether the Edwardians and English Electric Wren might get an early season outing.
Thankfully conditions did ease off to an extend that the Avro Triplane (completing an impressive line up of Avro machines on show), Bristol Boxkite and Wren were moved out onto the airfield.It is always a treat to get the more delicate collection types in the air, but to see them at the first show of the season is a real rarity.The Boxkite and Triplane flew spirited displays by their own standards, but the highlight of this slot and arguably the whole day, was the Wren. Since a very major overhaul (in which all three of the Wren’s horses were brought into full working order) completing in 2019 the Wren, perviously capable of hops of a few feet (if that) is now, under the right conditions capable of full flight. Opportunities for this to happen have been few and far between over the years however with 2021 seeing the Wren make longer and higher flights. This flight seemed to top all of those however. After what looked like a resistant start the Wren kept climbing until the airfield stood silent in awe as this unique machine floated around the afield seemingly not wanting to come down. A real testament to the magic of Old Warden.