Airshow 2019 takes to the air
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. In the previous edition of our blog, we allowed ourselves to get a little excited about the coming Airshow season and how we can all finally look forward to some flying action, even daring to presume that the sun might also be ready to put in an appearance. As intended, I headed down to Old Warden to attend the Shuttleworth Collection’s Season Premiere Airshow, breaking my enforced long winter Airshow abstinence, full of optimism for the coming season. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as I had hoped, but nevertheless, you have to go with what you are dealt and this 119th edition of Aerodrome is devoted to this first Old Warden event of 2019. We will also be looking forward to Duxford’s first show of the year, which will be taking place over the bank holiday weekend of 25th/26th May and includes an interesting selection of home based aircraft and unusual visitors, an event we will also be covering here in Aerodrome.
Before we begin, I would like to thank the people who have been kind enough to send in museum visit and Airshow reviews and pictures since the publication of our previous blog, with submissions coming from all around the world. There is some really interesting aviation content here and I certainly intend to include many of these reader supplied features over the coming months – if you have sent information through, prepare for future blog fame (not sure if I can include any fortunes to go with it), as we share your reviews with our ever expanding audience of aviation fanatics. If you have yet to find inspiration, or you have been putting off that all important search of your hard drive, please don’t be shy and let us have your aviation related features, sending them to our usual email@example.com contact e-mail address. Ok, as the Airshow season is now well and truly open, we had better head for the hallowed aviation turf of Old Warden airfield and the magnificent aeroplanes of the Shuttleworth Collection.
An aviation venue like no other
A hive of aviation activity – there is always something happening on show day at Shuttleworth and visitors certainly feel connected to aviation for a few short hours
At a time when operational RAF airfields seem to be reducing in number with each passing year and many of the country’s Airshow events are now just a pale shadow of what enthusiasts became accustomed to during the 1980s and 90s, you could be forgiven for thinking enthusiasts might be a little disillusioned at the current state of our beloved hobby. Whilst things are certainly very different from the days when enthusiasts could rely on a plethora of RAF station open days and the incredible £2.00 walk-in entrance fee to attend the spectacular Mildenhall Air Fete, there are still plenty of aviation gems out there, you just have to look a little harder. One venue which has certainly received much more attention over recent years and has witnessed event attendance figures soar to unprecedented levels during that time, is the historic grass airfield at Old Warden, home to the world famous Shuttleworth Collection. This unrivalled collection of historic aeroplanes is maintained by a small team of engineers and volunteers, with the ultimate aim being that every aircraft in the collection should be preserved in airworthy condition. Usually residing within the safety of the six historic hangars at the airfield, the regular schedule of Airshows and events at Old Warden give these aviation classics the opportunity to spread their wings, to the delight of the crowds in attendance and should one aircraft be unavailable to fulfil its display slot, a replacement aircraft is simply pulled from its hangar and prepared for flight. With a collection which can boast several of the world’s only remaining airworthy examples of particular aircraft types, as well as the oldest surviving airworthy aircraft in the world (in the shape of the 1909 Blériot XI), Old Warden airfield has to be regarded as one of the most significant locations in the historic aviation world and we are extremely lucky to have it here in the UK.
When I first started attending Shuttleworth shows, now more years ago than I care to consider, this was a relatively sleepy corner of rural Bedfordshire, with beautiful country surroundings and an impressive mansion house. If it were ever possible to need a break from aeroplanes (perish the thought), or if you had other less aviation minded people in your group, it was always possible to take a pleasant stroll around to beautiful gardens, or admire the falconry displays at the Birds of Prey Centre, before enjoying a well earned cream tea in the café. In those days, Airshow crowds appeared to be much smaller than at other events, possibly because these smaller numbers were more manageable for the small Shuttleworth team, who had enough work on their hands without having to clean up after thousands of additional visitors. Unfortunately for them, those relatively laid back days are now a thing of the past and whilst the Shuttleworth team certainly try hard to maintain the charm of this unique venue, they have now been ‘discovered’ and many more people are desperate for a piece of the Old Warden action. Whilst other Airshows seemed hell bent on keeping visitors as far away from their aircraft as they could and displays appeared to be taking place so far away they may as well have been in the next county, Old Warden offered them something different and once they had experienced it for the first time, they were hooked for life. Unfortunately for the rest of us, not only did these new people come back time after time, they also told their friends, who also began to turn up and whilst this has undoubtedly brought much needed additional revenue into the Collection’s coffers, Shuttleworth show attendance is now not quite as relaxed as it once was, though still hugely enjoyable.
With historic aeroplanes everywhere you look at Old Warden, you can be sure that if they are not already airworthy, they will be in the near future
Having said all of the above, please don’t let me put anyone off from attending their first Old Warden Airshow. This is without exception, my favourite Airshow venue in the UK and offers something truly unmatched by other shows across the country – I was just being a little selfish in wishing that the airfield was still my little secret and I could take great pictures of famous old aeroplanes which few other people were aware of. Increased visitor numbers has allowed the collection to not only maintain their aircraft in airworthy condition, but also for the renovation and acquisition of other aircraft and vehicle exhibits, ones which may have otherwise flown from these shores, to new owners on the other side of the Atlantic, ones who always appear to have deeper pockets than our own.
So, why is an Old Warden Airshow so special? I suppose it is just the feeling you get whilst you are there, the feeling that you are somehow part of what is going on. Where other Airshows seem hell-bent on keeping their display aircraft as far away from the crowds as possible, Shuttleworth shows arrange their aircraft almost within touching distance and if you arrive at the airfield early enough, you could even find a Spitfire or Dragon Rapide blocking your path to the restaurant, as it is dragged from its hangar towards the airfield. Once the display aircraft are out on the field, you can watch engineers making their final checks, pilots looking over their aircraft and running through their display routines, as well as listening to veterans being shown around aircraft they may once have flown operationally. Each show will usually feature a ‘Pilot’s Chat’ where one of the Collection’s pilots will regale visitors with stories of what it is like to fly one of the day’s display aircraft, usually whilst all gathered around it. The sights, sounds and smells at a Shuttleworth show are certainly infectious and this is an aviation experience which truly fills the senses – is it coming across that I quite like it here?
'Lizzie duo' a potential show highlight
One of the most distinctive aircraft operated by the Shuttleworth Collection, the Westland Lysander is presented as one of the Special Operations aircraft which flew clandestine missions from nearby RAF Tempsford during WWII
For the second year running, the Shuttleworth Collection (along with Abingdon Airshow, which was taking place on the same day) had the honour of staging the first Airshow event of the new season and as I definitely need no excuse for a little visit to Old Warden, my ticket was secured early and my show attendance was added to the diary. Airshow regulars will certainly attest to the fact that you can never take the British weather for granted, no matter what time of the year your outdoor event is scheduled to take place, but you are certainly riding your luck if you try to break your Airshow duck so early in the season. At the same time last year, Britain was enjoying some unseasonably fine weather and the pictures I got from the previous show proved to be some of the best of the season, however, even though just a few days prior to this year’s show the sun had been shining and certain areas of the country were posting record temperatures for the time of year, the fine weather decided not hold out for the start of the 2019 Airshow season. Standing by the fence-line first thing in the morning, I was reminded of one of the annoying Northern sayings my dad used to come out with in situations like this, ‘Ne’er cast a clout til May is out!’ I think this means that we should not be too keen to think summer has arrived, until we have a few days of unbroken sunshine and certainly not in May – I used to hate it when he was always right. Thankful that I had brought a fleece jacket and my coat, at least there were aeroplanes to warm the cockles of my heart, even if the skies were grey, with little hope of improving conditions improving later in the day.
One of the reasons many people will have made the journey to Bedfordshire was the prospect of seeing two Westland Lysanders flying together in British skies for the first time in many a year. The Shuttleworth Collection operate a much-loved example of this Army co-operation and reconnaissance aircraft, which whilst appearing to be rather ungainly and somewhat cumbersome, is a surprisingly spritely performer. The aircraft was to become famous for flying clandestine agent supply missions between Britain and France, using only stealth and the cover of darkness to evade the attentions of both the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht troops in Northern France. Modifying the rear gunners compartment to seat up to three people and fixing a ladder to the rear fuselage to aid their entry and egress, these missions proved crucial in the run-up to the D-Day landings, as both the French resistance and the Special Operations Executive prepared for invasion. Shuttleworth’s Lysander has been modified to represent one of the Special Duties ‘Lizzies’ flying agent taxi missions between 1942 and 1945 and sports a striking black paint scheme, with deep red squadron codes. What makes seeing this aircraft fly at Old Warden extra special, is that the wartime base of the Special Operations Lysanders, RAF Tempsford, is only around two minutes flying time from the airfield and their sinister profile will have been commonplace in this area during the 1940s, as they took off at dusk on their latest clandestine mission.
Unfortunately, only one Westland Lysander took to the air during the show, but as one of the Collection’s most popular aircraft, she seemed to enjoy having all the attention to herself
Scheduled to join Shuttleworth’s Lysander for what would surely be an early season Airshow highlight was a second example of this distinctive aircraft, one which had only just emerged from a mammoth fifteen year restoration programme. Based at nearby Duxford, the Aircraft Restoration Company completed the restoration to airworthy condition of Westland Lysander V9312 at the end of August last year and when it made its first post restoration test flight, it is believed that this was the first time in over 72 years that this magnificent machine had taken to the air. I managed to catch a glimpse of this beautiful restoration during the Battle of Britain Airshow weekend at Duxford last September and I was very much looking forward to seeing it fly for the first time, so as you can imagine, the opportunity to see it flying in formation with another Lysander was just too good to miss and a major reason for my attendance at the Shuttleworth show. Unfortunately, this aviation treat did not come to pass, as serviceability issues kept the ARCo Lysander safely tucked away in its hangar at Duxford and we will all just have to wait a little while longer to see a pair of 'Lizzies' going through their paces at Old Warden.
A sky full of 'Skytrains'
Perhaps more than any other aircraft type, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain symbolises the sacrifices of the D-Day landings and the men who fought to liberate Europe from years of occupation
As we fast approach the 75th Anniversary of ‘Operation Overlord’ and the D-Day landings, one wartime aircraft above all others is about to be thrust into the historic aviation spotlight, one which has been described as the plane which launched D-Day itself. As the decision to launch the invasion was taken on the night of 5th/6th June 1944, paratroopers of the US 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions climbed aboard hundreds of Douglas C-47 Skytrains at RAF Greenham Common and prepared to be dropped behind German lines in advance of the main seaborne invasion force, the spearhead of Operation Overlord. At the head of this mighty air armada and the aircraft which effectively launched D-Day, Douglas C-47A Skytrain 42-92847 ‘That’s All Brother’ would lead a force of over 800 Skytrains over the next few hours, as she navigated through thick cloud and German defensive fire to deliver her precious cargo of brave paratroopers onto their designated drop zones in Normandy and the opening combat operations of D-Day. For this significant 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the ‘Daks over Normandy’ project intends to recreate the monumental events which took place on the night of 5th/6th June 1944 and have gathered an impressive number of C-47s and DC-3s to fly a similar route to the one flown by the massed formations of Skytrains on that fateful night. Significantly, a number of aircraft are travelling to the UK from America, including 42-92847 ‘That’s All Brother’, which has been the subject of a high profile restoration project. This magnificent aircraft will provide its own unique tribute to the actions which took place on D-Day and is certain to come in for plenty of media and enthusiast attention during her latest European adventure.
In this 75th Anniversary year of the D-Day landings, the C-47 is going to be a popular sight around the skies of Britain, although unusually, the Aces High Skytrain appears to have lost her usual identification markings
It is unusual to see such a large aeroplane as the Skytrain operating from the grass runway at Old Warden, but this extremely capable aircraft seemed to cope admirably
With so many Skytrains, Dakotas and DC-3s in European skies over the coming few weeks, this magnificent aircraft, which Eisenhower described as one the Allies wartime tools of victory, will not only be leading this years D-Day 75th Anniversary, but will also be reaffirming its position as one of the most important aircraft types of the 20th Century. Not usually viewed with the same affection as aircraft such as the Spitfire or Mustang, there is certainly no finer aircraft to lead the tributes to the sacrifices of D-Day and the sight of up to thirty of these aircraft on the ground at Duxford at the beginning of June will surely be one of the enduring sights of an Airshow season which may be referred to in future as the ‘Skytrain Summer’ of 2019.
The C-47 Skytrain which displayed at Old Warden is owned and operated by Aces High, a specialist business which sources and supplies aircraft for use by TV and film companies. This particular Skytrain was build in 1943 and served with the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, before being sold to the RAF in September 1944, from whom Aces High purchased the aircraft many years later. She has since proved to be quite the star of numerous TV and film productions, most noticeably the iconic Band of Brothers series and she is cleared to perform parachute drops. The aircraft is usually presented in a smart D-Day scheme, which includes the black and white identification markings which are so famously associated with Operation Overlord, however, for this latest Airshow appearance, she appeared to be wearing a plain grey and green scheme, presumably as a result of her latest filming assignment. This could make her Season Premier performance all the more memorable in the years to come, as far as photographs from the weekend are concerned and it was certainly impressive to see this very large aeroplane operating from the confines of this relatively small grass airfield. Highlighting the legendary agility of this magnificent aeroplane, the Skytrain took off from the grass strip and almost immediately went into its display – not bad for an aeroplane which has been an aviation workhorse for almost 76 years.
Old Warden goes all Vietnam War
The Bell UH-1H Huey arrives at Old Warden to take its place amongst the Vietnam War themed aircraft collection
One of the most unexpected themes of this year’s Season Premier show was a collection of display and static aircraft which all possessed links to the Vietnam War, from the iconic Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter, to the agile North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco. If it had not already enjoyed enough exposure at the show, the magnificent C-47 Skytrain also had a claim to be included in the Vietnam section, as the Douglas AC-47 ‘Spooky’ Gunships were amongst the first such close air support gunships developed during the conflict, to provide heavy air to ground firepower for units in contact with enemy forces. For sheer agility though, the OV-10 Bronco most definitely proved to be the performer of the day and clearly illustrated why this 1960s design is currently being seriously considered for production once more, as the US Air Force has a need for a capable light attack aircraft. This twin turboprop armed reconnaissance and forward air control aircraft is a truly rugged performer, able to operate from the most basic of airfields and even able to run its engines on normal car petrol. With an impressive loiter endurance of around five and a half hours when using external fuel tanks, perhaps the most distinctive feature of this aircraft, apart from its twin boom design, is the huge blown cockpit canopy, which affords the pilot and his observer an unprecedented view of the battlefield. The aircraft’s impressive agility allows the crew to either keep their eyes on the target at all time, enabling them to either coordinate strikes by other friendly units, or to bring their own weapons to bear, with minimal repositioning before their next attack run.
This was the first time I had seen the North American Rockwell OV-10 at a Shuttleworth show and I was very much looking forward to its display of power and agility
With Airshows being such popular events during the summer months, many enthusiasts form attachments to the various aircraft they get to see and if they are being honest with themselves, sometimes imagine which one they would buy if their Euromillions lottery numbers were ever to come up. Clearly, aircraft such as Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs would appear high on many people’s aviation shopping lists, but having thought about this subject a little too seriously over the years (for someone who would struggle to win an argument), I have to say that in my own case, sense and practicability would prevail and I would probably opt for a Bronco. Think about it for a moment if you will, rugged design, the reassurance of two engines, the ability to take a passenger and plenty of room to carry your overnight gear for all those overseas Airshows – yes, an OV-10 Bronco is just about the perfect Airshow run around aircraft. Beginning with another look at the magnificent Bronco (which I will never get to own), here is a further selection of images taken at an extremely enjoyable, if slightly grey and cold Season Premiere Airshow at Old Warden, as it announced the beginning of the 2019 UK Airshow season.
My perfect Airshow carriage, I can almost picture myself behind the controls of this extremely capable aeroplane. If only my lottery numbers would come up just the once!
An unusual view of a classic fighting aeroplane. Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc AR501 has only just returned to Airshow duties, after undergoing major renovation works
Marking this as a very early season event, the Catalina was forced to display in some rather murky conditions and produced pictures which almost look as if they could have been taken over the ocean
The Catalina is a very large aeroplane to be operating from the confines of the Old Warden airfield, but it was a real treat to see this graceful aeroplane at such close quarters
You are always assured of aviation variety at a Shuttleworth show, with training aircraft rubbing shoulders with classic Great War fighters. Here, the collection’s DHC Chipmunk T.22 is put through its paces
An unusual scheme for a Percival Provost trainer, this aircraft provided the RAF with an effective side-by-side pilot training solution during the 1950s
‘Dust off’ Old Warden. The iconic sound of the Huey definitely served to remind everyone that one of the show’s major themes was aircraft which served during the Vietnam War
The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog was used to spot and mark targets for USAF strike aircraft during the Vietnam War and this example carries marking indicator rockets under its wings
A firm Shuttleworth favourite, it is so good to have their Spitfire back on the display circuit
Only at Old Warden. So many of the Collection’s aircraft are the only examples still flying in the world and formations like this are the reason crowds continue to come back to these events year after year
Fighter supreme. A predecessor of the Spitfire, the Sopwith Camel shot down more aircraft during WWI than any other type
The beautiful Bristol M1C has the distinction of being the RAF’s first monoplane fighter, entering service over 100 years ago
The De Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide operated as a light airliner, but had its history in military service as the RAF Dominie
Pure aviation culture, the Gloster Gladiator is regarded as the finest exponent of biplane fighter technology, with this example being the last mark I variant to be built
A true queen of the skies, the collection’s De Havilland DH88 Comet is the actual aircraft which emerged triumphant in the 1934 England to Australia Air Race
After its starring role, the Shuttleworth Collection’s Spitfire returns to the care of the engineers and volunteers who maintain these magnificent machines for the nation to admire
Duxford to mark 75 years of the jet engine
One of the best things about getting the first Airshow event of the year under your belt is that it usually signifies the start of a hectic few months of activity and the prospect of seeing lots of aeroplanes. If our review of the season opening Shuttleworth show has inspired you to attend your first Airshow of 2019, then next weekend’s Duxford Air Festival may be the event for you. Staged in the surroundings of one of Britain’s most famous historic airfields, Duxford’s first show of 2019 boasts an impressive flying display, which will include many of their home based favourites, such as B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally B’ and an impressive selection of visiting aircraft, which this year will include a rare UK appearance by the Breitling Jet Display Team.
For many people, Duxford’s Air Festival will be their first opportunity to catch the 2019 display by the Royal Air Force Typhoon multi-role aircraft
A true aviation classic, Martin-Baker’s ejection seat test-bed Meteor is scheduled to form part of an impressive static aircraft display
Aviation enthusiasts will certainly be hoping to document a rather interesting feature of this year’s show, as the organisers intend to chart 75 years of the jet engine in their static and flying displays. Representing the widest possible jet powered timeline for currently airworthy British aircraft, the flying display will include an example of the RAF’s latest Typhoon multi-role aircraft, whilst sitting majestically somewhere on the airfield, Martin-Baker have allowed one of their Meteor ejector seat test-bed aircraft to form part of the static aircraft display. All we need to do now is to keep our fingers crossed for fine weather, as this is already shaping up to be a memorable aviation occasion. Tickets still appear to be available, so please head for the Duxford Airshow website for all the details you might need – Aerodrome will be in attendance over the show weekend and we look forward to bringing you a review of the event in a forthcoming edition of our blog.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Aerodrome, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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