How we miss our Airshows
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.
As is probably the case with many thousands of our readers at this moment in time, I and the majority of my Hornby colleagues, are all now working from home and with restrictions on everybody’s outdoor activities still in place, I can’t believe how many hours the human body can endure sitting in front of a computer screen. In this almost surreal existence where moving to a different room in your house is now something to look forward to and everything occurring in the outside world seems to be taking place without our involvement, we have to console ourselves with the fact that by doing as we have been advised, we are playing our own small part in helping to defeat this unseen enemy, whilst at the same time keeping our families, friends and communities safe. Having said that, I really wish I had an Airshow to look forward to.
Unfortunately, with most of the scheduled early season events now cancelled, the chances of any Airshows taking place in 2020 are looking increasingly unlikely, with our only hope possibly being the final events of the year at IWM Duxford in September and Old Warden in early October, before the dark nights really begin to set in once more. Indeed, the high-profile cancellation of the Flying Legends Airshow last Friday, with organisers posting an extremely well-produced and thought provoking video, really did bring the situation home for enthusiasts, something of an event reality check. In spite of this, we British are renowned for our indomitable spirit and if we have no new Airshows to look forward to this year, let’s look back at some spectacular events from the past and use our imaginations.
In this latest edition of Aerodrome, we will be heading for last year’s Shuttleworth Military Airshow, an event which has yet to feature in our blog. In an image rich edition, we will include some of the shows highlight performers, focus on a couple of the less familiar display acts and generally attempt to recreate the thrill of attending a UK Airshow event, albeit by electronic means. In essence, we will be celebrating the fact that it won’t actually be too long before we can all enjoy the delights of attending an Airshow once more, even if it is next summer – it’s positivity all the way!
Destination Old Warden
One aircraft I was desperate to see fly in 2019 was this magnificent Albatros DVa replica in the Jasta 23b colours of Otto Kissenberth. It arrived at Shuttleworth on loan from the WW1 Heritage Trust in September 2018 and I still haven’t managed to see it in the air
By this time in any normal year, my cameras would usually have been cleaned and serviced, all image files from the previous year safely backed up, hotel accommodation for the coming months booked and a full schedule of Airshows and other events planned and arranged. Unfortunately, this is most definitely not a normal year. Although the year’s first Airshows would still have been a couple of weeks away, the excitement levels would still have been rising steadily by now and the long range weather forecast would suddenly have become required viewing on an almost daily basis – what I wouldn’t give to be planning my first trip of the year to Old Warden right now.
Usually, an early May visit to the world famous Shuttleworth Collection and their first Airshow event of the year would be the start of my own event season and would see me setting off from the North West at some ungodly hour to make sure I wasn’t too far back in the queue of early birds looking to secure our preferred positions on the Old Warden crowdline. For the purposes of this blog, as we have already covered the 2019 Shuttleworth season opening show in a previous edition of Aerodrome, the subject of this edition will be their Military Airshow which was held in early July last year and a celebration of all things military, both aircraft and vehicles – I still had to get up early!
As an Old Warden regular, it will come as no surprise to Aerodrome readers that I absolutely love this place and what it offers me as an avid aviation photographer. The opportunity to get very close to historic aeroplanes, many of which will be taking part in the display itself, is something other venues simply can’t offer and as the day’s activities all take place much closer to the crowds than at most shows, it is no wonder that once you have been bitten by the Shuttleworth bug, you’re hooked for life. There is something quite magical about the relaxed and friendly atmosphere at this place, where a morning stroll around the historic hangars allows you to bump into some old aviation friends, all the time knowing that the coming day can always be relied upon to throw up something new or unusual.
Is it any wonder that Old Warden gets in your blood – you simply can’t avoid being part of the day’s proceedings
The Military Airshow possesses particular attractions all of its own, as aeroplanes are not the only focus of attention at this show. In the hours before the flying display begins, you have time to walk amongst an impressive display of historic and beautifully restored vehicles, the vast majority of which have a link to military applications of some sort or other. For the 2019 show, the event commentator described it as the largest gathering of military vehicles Old Warden had ever seen and certainly for the number of vehicles which were in full working condition. Indeed, the highlight of the early afternoon was a cavalcade of vehicles driving the length of the crowdline several times, with the variety of vehicles represented spanning from the Great War to much more recent conflicts.
Proving that not all military vehicles have to be bristling with guns, the Collection’s striking Hillman Minx (HSL 958) was originally purchased in the late 1930s by a private owner in Leeds, but was commandeered by the Ministry of Defence less than twelve months later. These cars were used by all branches of the British military and would be used to transport commissioned officers above a certain rank and would have been chauffeur driven. This example is presented in the colours of RAF No.15 Squadron Bomb Disposal Unit.
Representing motorised transportation from the First World War, this magnificently restored Halford E1 D1-80 would have been used to transport supplies to the front lines during the latter stages of the war. A rugged machine with solid rubber tyres, driving these lorries for any length of time would probably not have been a pleasant experience, however, they were much more effective than using horses. Discovered in a shed in Newark, this historic lorry underwent an intensive 15 year restoration program and is now an incredible working link to the Great War.
Moving on to the Second World War, a true supply heavyweight was the famous GMC CCKW 2.5 ton 6x6 cargo truck, a vehicle which was produced in great numbers during WWII and kept Allied forces supplied as they fought on all fronts. Colloquially referred to as the ‘Deuce and a Half’, this particular example is one of the many open cab variants which were built on or after 1944, one in four of which were produced with a machine gun mounting ring above the co-drivers position. When equipped with a powerful .50-cal Browning machine gun, this supply heavyweight was more than capable of driving off any unwanted attention from enemy infantry units.
If the Deuce needed a slightly more capable escort, the M3 Half Track was usually bristling with guns and equipment, not to mention a fully equipped rifle squad – it also possessed the speed to keep up with the cargo truck on road. The magnificent example on display at Old Warden carried the name ‘To Hell with it!’ and had been restored to an incredible standard, incorporating unbelievable levels of detail – in fact, this M3 was much too beautiful to go to war. Not only have its owners spent much time and effort restoring the half track to an impressive standard, they have also gone to great lengths to source as many authentic WWII items as possible, details which really do make you feel that you are looking at a living piece of wartime history. Owning a vehicle like this can be both a joy and a constant headache, as ongoing maintenance costs can be significant, all of which comes on top of the initial restoration outlay – thankfully, some people are happy to take this on and allow us to share in their passion.
An unsung Avro classic
An aircraft which rarely receives the enthusiast attention it deserves, the Avro 504 series is undoubtedly one of Avro’s most successful designs and one which can claim to be a true multi role aircraft. Making its first flight in September 1913, the 504 would go on to be one of the most produced aircraft types of the Great War and despite not possessing particularly impressive combat statistics, it did have some notable firsts to its name. It was the first British aircraft used to strafe enemy troops and the first to make a bombing raid over Germany. Equally notable, but for less impressive reasons, the Avro 504 was also the first British aircraft to be shot down by the Germans (on 22nd August 1914) and the first to be brought down by German anti-aircraft fire.
Where the 504 came into its own was as a trainer and it would be the first aircraft to be flown by many young Allied airmen who would go on to become celebrated air aces, as they struggled for supremacy of the skies above the battlefields. The 504 would also be pressed into service as a home defence fighter, protecting British cities and RFC airfields against Zeppelin bombing attacks by night, whilst continuing with its flying training duties by day. In that crucial training role, it would be 1933 before the RAF finally retired this magnificent aircraft, with small numbers continuing as civilian trainers well into the early 1940s. In a production run which lasted 20 years and included machines which were built overseas under licence, over 11,300 Avro 504s were eventually produced, aircraft which represented the air forces of well over thirty nations.
The 504K variant of the aircraft was a dedicated two seat trainer, one which was designed to be both easy to fly for a competent student and to be extremely reliable. With so many pilots to train, it was important that aircraft were in the air and not in the hangar undergoing maintenance. This variant was built incorporating a universal engine mount, a feature which allowed the aircraft to use any one of several different engine types, again increasing its serviceability percentages and ensuring continuity of training support. Performing this crucial role over such a long period of time, the sheer number of people who must have passed through the cockpit of an Avro 504 has to mark this as one of Britain’s most important dual wartime and peacetime aircraft types.
Last year’s Military Airshow could boast the inclusion of two Avro 504s on the display programme and having looked at the significance of this aircraft in British aviation history, it is fitting that the 504 takes pride of place at the head of this review, particularly as it is often overshadowed by some of the more glamorous biplanes which are based at Old Warden. G-EROE ‘Olivia’ is a replica aircraft which was built in Argentina, one of the countries who built the aircraft under licence many years ago. It was shipped to the UK in 2010 where it was offered for sale, with the threat that it would return to South America if a buyer could not be found.
Ownership was later transferred to Eric Alliott Verdon-Roe trading in early 2016 and it made its first flight for its new owners on 6th May the same year. A beautiful example of this important aircraft, it is hoped she will be a regular performer at British Airshows in the future, especially smaller events such as the ones which take place at Old Warden.
The second machine taking part in the show was Shuttleworth’s own aircraft, one which was originally built in 1918. This aircraft saw military service performing glider towing evaluations during WWII and went on to star in the 1956 film ‘Reach for the Sky’, the story of Douglas Bader, before being passed to the Shuttleworth Collection. The aircraft is currently finished in the colours of an RAF No.77 Squadron aircraft which was employed flying nightfighter sorties from East Lothian in late 1918.
Not that Focke Wulf
Sometimes, the aircraft which leaves the biggest impression on you at an Airshow is not always the one you were expecting. When mentioning the name Focke Wulf, most people will instantly think of the fearsome Luftwaffe fighter which did so much damage during the Second World War, but if you then qualify the statement by saying you were actually talking about a cultured inter-war biplane trainer, many people would have absolutely no idea what you were talking about. The Focke Wulf FW 44 Stieglitz (Goldfinch) made its first flight during the summer of 1932 and was developed as a sports flying and training aircraft, with a particular flair for aerobatics.
Quite an advanced design, the Stieglitz possessed superb handling characteristics which made it a favourite mount of pilots competing in the hotly contested inter-war aerobatic competitions which drew such huge public interest and were held throughout Europe in the months before the clouds of conflict gathered. As Germany prepared for war, the FW 44 would be one of many aircraft engaged in training thousands of pilots destined for service in the Luftwaffe, a role in which the vast majority of the 2000 aircraft produced would be used. An unusual exception to this rule were the 20 aircraft purchased by China, which were all modified to perform an offensive combat role during the second Sino-Japanese War, that is at least until they were all destroyed.
The aircraft which displayed at Old Warden is the only airworthy example of the FW 44 Stieglitz in the UK and is one of only five original Bremen built machines still in existence - in fact, it is one of only fourteen airworthy Stieglitz airframes to be found anywhere in the world, making this quite an exotic aeroplane. When watching this aircraft display, you can’t help but be impressed by the way it seems to glide effortlessly through the air, with its attractive silver, black and red scheme only serving to enhance its cultured appearance. It is also difficult to make the connection between this graceful aeroplane and the brutal ‘Butcher Bird’ which followed it into Luftwaffe service.
By Royal appointment
Proving that Old Warden is a venue of international repute, last year’s Military Airshow could boast one of only three UK appearances from the Royal Jordanian Falcons, one of world’s most accomplished aerobatic display teams. Founded in 1976 at the behest of His Majesty the late King Hussein Bin Talal, the team has since gone on to perform at events all over the world, promoting peace and friendship, whilst displaying exceptional levels of airmanship.
Most UK enthusiasts associate enjoying a Royal Jordanian Falcons performance at the massive Royal International Air Tattoo, where their close formation aerobatics still manage to enthral despite them having to share the skies with such acts as the Red Arrows and some of the world’s latest combat aircraft. For that reason, the opportunity to see these talented airmen displaying over the intimate surroundings of Old Warden’s grass airfield was definitely going to be an opportunity not to be missed and one of the undoubted highlights of the show. For the team themselves, this must have been a very different occasion for them, as the large and relatively impersonal expanses of RAF Fairford were replaced by the idyllic English countryside of a small Bedfordshire airfield.
As the four Extra 330LX aerobatic aircraft taxied past the large crowd, the pilots were left in absolutely no doubt as to how much the audience were looking forward to their performance, which again was a far cry from what they would usually experience at Fairford. As for the display itself, their large, sweeping formation manoeuvres would all have to be performed within the confines of a much smaller display area, something which must have caused a few problems for the pilots, but which proved to be a real bonus for the crowd.
As you would expect, their performance was as thrilling as it was exemplary and even the notoriously fickle British summer weather behaved itself for the duration of their display. A real international bonus for those in attendance, it was great to see how the crowd interacted with the pilots and their display commentator, who were all left in absolutely no doubt how much their appearance was appreciated – a real international coup for the display organisers.
Hurricane force over Bedfordshire
Over recent years, this magnificent grass airfield has become something of a haven for airworthy examples of the Hawker Hurricane and its navalised variant, the Sea Hurricane. With many of the home based aircraft regularly taking part in the flying events taking place at Old Warden, Hurricane fans have been flocking to the airfield in the hope of seeing ever increasing numbers of their favourite aeroplane in the sky at the same time. Continuing this fascinating recent trend, the 2019 Military Airshow promised something really exciting for Hurricane fans, the possibility of seeing no fewer than seven examples of Hawker’s famous fighter in the air at the same time. If it happened, this would be one of the largest formations of Hurricanes flying in the same airspace since the end of the Second World War and just another of the many reasons why enthusiasts flocked to the event.
An aircraft which always seems to be in the shadow of the more famous Supermarine Spitfire, the Hurricane was actually crucial to the survival of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, as it was responsible for destroying more enemy aircraft during the struggle than the combined total of the rest of Britain’s defences. An incredibly stable gun platform, the Hurricane was also relatively easy to ﬂy and even easier to maintain, both factors which would prove significant during the summer of 1940 as the RAF fought to stave off imminent invasion. A real aviation workhorse, the Hurricane airframe was also extremely adaptable and would allow the aircraft to be developed into everything from a shipborne catapult fighter to a cannon toting tank buster, very much a case of the right aircraft at the right time.
As increasing numbers of airworthy Hurricanes have emerged from various restoration workshops over recent years, the tantalising prospect of seeing a large formation of these historic aircraft in the sky has been on the minds of enthusiasts for some time, however, even though previous events have promised such a spectacle, it had so far eluded us. With Old Warden’s recent association with the aircraft and the potential support of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Military Airshow really did hold the promise of producing something very special for Hurricane devotees. Having said that, actually staging such a formation display is much more problematic than it might seem. Most of the aircraft will be based at different airfields and the simple logistics of them all being serviceable at the same time, with experienced pilots available to fly them, holds the potential for a great many problems.
From the display pilot’s perspective, most would be operating from an unfamiliar airfield and will not have had the opportunity to practice the display routine with the other aircraft in the proposed formation, aircraft which would all be powered by different versions of the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine. In fact, when you think about it this way, it’s a good job we leave these things to the professionals and just thank our lucky stars!
With the sound of Merlin engines filling the air, the aircraft lined up at the opposite end of the airfield to where I was positioned, so I waited with some anticipation to see how many climbed into the air. One after the other, Hurricanes began their take-off runs, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and finally 7 aircraft made it into the air and we were on – a record for recent times and certainly for an Old Warden crowd. As the aircraft formed up on the far side of the airfield, it seemed as if every camera in Bedfordshire was trained in their direction, each one determined to secure their own personal record of what was surely going to be a truly emotive sight.
In the end, we were only treated to a single pass by all seven aircraft, before the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Hurricane Mk.IIC PZ865 broke formation and headed for home, leaving the other six to make a further pass before itself braking into two smaller formations and individual displays – what a treat for all. With several other Hurricanes now airworthy or close to it, it is hoped that it will not be long before Shuttleworth’s Hurricane formation record is broken, that is once we are all in a position to enjoy seeing such a thing again in the future.
French Fokker Killer
Old Warden enjoys a worldwide reputation for maintaining and operating an impressive collection of classic Great War aeroplanes, machines which attract visitors to the airfield from far and wide. The last aircraft we are going to feature in this review is not actually an Old Warden resident, but it is very much a WWI classic - the extremely nimble Nieuport 17. A significant improvement on earlier designs, the French Nieuport was a fast and relatively well armed fighter aircraft from 1916, one which proved crucial in Allied air forces overcoming the dominance of the German Fokker Eindecker. A true fighting aeroplane, the Nieuport was by far and away the most capable fighter aircraft available to the Allies when it was first introduced, and for that reason, 525 would be ordered by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, many of which would be flown by future ace pilots.
A relatively small and agile aeroplane, the Nieuport allowed Allied pilots to fly very aggressively in pursuit of the never ending struggle for superiority of the air and would become something of a blueprint for the development of future fighter aircraft and not just on the Allied side. The Germans were desperate to get their hands on a pristine example of the aircraft and when they did, it was sent back to Germany so their aircraft designers could inspect every aspect of its construction. The Nieuport 17 proved to be such a successful aircraft that at one stage during 1916, it equipped every fighter squadron of the French Air Force, however, it was not without its problems. The tiny lower wing may have afforded the pilot a much improved field of view, but it was prone to failure during violent manoeuvring, accidents which would cause many fatalities.
Before more capable aircraft could be introduced, the Nieuport 17 was flown by French, British, Italian, Belgian and American squadrons and it takes its place amongst the ranks of the classic fighting aeroplanes of the world.
The aircraft which performed so spectacularly at Old Warden is actually a full size replica of a Nieuport 17, a machine which was built in the UK by a pilot enthusiast during the 1990s. It is now a relatively regular performer at Airshows around the country, where it allows show visitors to experience something of the stellar performance of this aggressive little Great War fighter.
Military Airshow 2019 in photographs
We end this review of the 2019 Shuttleworth Military Airshow with a final selection of images featuring aircraft which call Old Warden their home, as well as one or to significant visitors. Hopefully, it will not be too long before we can enjoy these magnificent aeroplanes once more, although it is looking increasingly likely that that might be in 2021. Until then, let’s remind ourselves what we have to look forward to when we can all indulge our passion for all things aviation once more.
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. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our firstname.lastname@example.org address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
In between new editions of our blog, the aviation related conversation continues over on the Airfix Aerodrome Forum and we can also be contacted on either the Airfix or Corgi Facebook pages, in addition to Twitter for both Airfix and Corgi - please do get involved in the discussions and let us know what you think about Aerodrome.
The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 8th May, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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