Report and photography by Wayne Bennett with Iain Ashmore
Fly Navy is the airshow of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust (FNHT), the charity behind Navy Wings. The FNHT was created to provide a living memorial to the history and achievements of Royal Naval aviation since its inception in 1911, with the unsuccessful airship “Mayfly”. They do this by promoting education of the general public through various events to keep the memories of past achievements alive and hopefully inspire the young to follow in illustrious footsteps.
For 2018, Fly Navy was hosted, for the third year in succession, by the Shuttleworth Collection at their Old Warden base. Old Warden is home to a fine collection of aeroplanes and motor vehicles, one or two of which are even older than the aforementioned Mayfly.
This was the third airshow of the Shuttleworth season and i must say, they never, ever, disappoint. This years Fly Navy may well have been the largest show the airfield has hosted, and they always bring something new.
As always, there was much more to the day than the air show itself. The fine amenities of the grounds, including the house and Swiss garden were open to visit, with a free bus service to get you there and back, operated by Shuttleworth’s excellent vintage and Edwardian buses, which are an attraction in their own right.
Various stalls were open to buy all manner of memorabilia, with a favourite of mine always being the model stalls.
As is the norm, the afternoon opened with a vehicle display featuring the collections own vehicles, as well as visitors. This was the most impressive such parade that i can recall seeing, with one highlight among many being the American half-track towing a field gun. Several vintage motorcycles also added a different dimension to this display, but i don’t think i’ve ever felt older then when i recognised a sidecar combination that i remember riding in as a child.
One of this things i always look forward to at Old Warden is to see the motley collection of aircraft that visitors to the show turn up in during the morning. A couple of Flitzer biplanes, one of which, G-ZIRA, had previously been damaged when it overturned on landing in 2015, and an Avro 504K which belonged to Eric Verdon-Roe, grandson of the founder of Avro, were especially welcome in this regard, as was a beautiful Stinson Reliant wearing appropriate Royal Navy markings. Before the display began, pleasure flights were available in a DH89 Dragon Rapide of Scillonia Airways, one of two attending the show. Shuttleworth is famous as the museum where ‘Everything Flies’, and so static exhibits are not usually prominent, except for this show a Leonardo Merlin HM2 from RNAS Culdrose was available for visitors to climb all over.
The start of the afternoon’s flying was heralded by a “Welcome To Fly Navy” banner pick up by the SVAS own Piper Super Cub G-SVAS, followed by a display from the collections own Sea Hurricane 1b and recently restored Spitfire Vc. They were joined by Hawker Iraqi Fury G-CBEL, wearing the colours and serial of SR661, the first prototype Sea Fury, which gave an extremely spirited display with several fast passes, though none more impressive than its initial low level fly by to start its display.
With the fury departed and the Hurricane and Spitfire back on the ground, we had our first large aircraft of the day, Consolidated Catalina G-PBYA, which demonstrated its amphibious capability by showing off both its retractable floats and undercarriage.
Westland Wasp G-BYCX was next up, giving a glimpse of the diminutive helicopter that served on Royal navy ships from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, including in the South Atlantic. This particular example is ex-South African Navy, and wears those colours today.
This was followed by a vintage transport pairing of the De Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide and Avro Anson. The Naval connection here was that both types were operated by the Royal Navy for training and liaison duties both during and after the war. Rapide G-AGJG wears Scottish Airways livery with the camouflage colour scheme that even civil aircraft wore from 1939-45, while the Anson, formerly the blue and silver painted G-AHKX, is owned by BAE Systems and has been repainted for the RAF centenary year with the military serial TX176 and ‘Royal Air Force Coningsby’ titles. The middle of this display saw our commentator employ a bit of quick-witted thinking, and bring a smile to my face, when he announced an overflying Cargologic 747 as an example of an up to date transport aircraft, as if it was part of the show!
Beautiful silver biplanes gave us the next display of the afternoon with the Hawker Nimrod II of the fighter collection teaming up with Demon Displays Ltd’s Hawker Demon. The Nimrod, registered G-BURZ and carrying its original military serial K3661, is a navalised version of the RAF’s Hawker Fury and this example was built in 1934 and restored to flight in 2006 and is based at Duxford, as are a few of todays aircraft. The Demon, K8203, was representing the generally similar naval Hawker Osprey, it was built in 1937 and restored to flight in 2009. Naval pilot training was then covered by a quartet of historic primary trainers, the Miles Magister, Avro Tutor, DH82 Tiger Moth and DHC-1 Chipmink, all giving a thorough showing of their nimble handling characteristics. Additional representation of Training aircraft came from the DH60 Moth and a Morane Saulnier MS317 wearing the colours of the french Aeronavale.
A special treat for us all at the show was to witness the arrival of the Fighter Collections Goodyear built Corsair, the first time the type has ever operated from the Old warden site. This large powerful fighter was a real contrast to the smaller aircraft that preceded it and its hydraulic wing folding was most impressive. The Corsair was the first Navy fighter to reach speeds in excess of 400mph due to its powerful engine and larger propeller. It was also the longest American production run of a fighter with them being built up until 1952. There would be more of the corsair later….
The Royal Navy operated a wide range of different types during WW2 and this was well reflected in the line up at Fly Navy. The Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish was joined in the display by Kennet Aviations North American Harvard. We also enjoyed displays from the Westland Lysander, more famed for its daring espionage flights perhaps, and the Percival Provost trainer.
Three flypasts from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster PA474 then led into a segment featuring the EON Primary training glider, so named after its manufacturers Elliots Of Newbury, a furniture company, and the Slingsby Motor Tutor, powered glider, highlighting how many of the the intrepid naval aviators of years gone by began their careers, albeit with only three Motor Tutors ever produced, and looking at it, you can kind of see why.
The power and pace were raised once more as the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury T.20 took centre stage to give a stirring demonstration of the UK’s last ever piston engined front line fighter. The Sea Fury was followed by the most modern of the days flying displays as the Gazelle Squadron demonstrated two of their aircraft, with a third on static display. The sleek lines of the Gazelle can easily fool you into thinking it is a much more modern aircraft than it really is and it it was quite startling to hear the commentator announce, quite correctly, that this helicopter is now over fifty years old.
Following on from the Gazelle Squadron, we travelled right back in time once more to the First World War segment. This was opened by the Bristol Scout D, complete with its unsynchronised Lewis gun bolted to the fuselage as a reminder of what pilots in 1915 had to put up with. Along with this we saw what I regard to be a very special Avro 504 indeed. Shuttleworth’s E3273 was built as a 504K in 1918 but was converted to a Jaguar engined 504N for post war service. It was then converted back to a rotary engined K model for the film Reach for the Sky (1956) in which Kenneth More gave the performance of his career as Sir Douglas Bader. The rest of this part of the show featured the Bristol F2B Fighter, Sopwith Triplane and Sopwith Camel. The triplane standing in for the Sopwith Pup which sadly went U/S.
The show then returned to the theme of the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War with displays from the previously mentioned Corsair, an aircraft unwanted by the USN until the royal Navy demonstrated its worth, and the Grumman Wildcat, the first modern fighter available to the FAA in 1940 following years of neglect by the government, as thousands were supplied from the USA under lend-lease arrangements. This segment developed into a five aircraft display as the two US types were joined in the air by the Sea Hurricane and Spitfire that opened the show, plus a reappearance from the Demon, which somehow overtook the two monoplane types during one lap.
Whilst this was the scheduled end of the days flying, when conditions permit, Shuttleworth always has a rather special encore up its sleeve and it just so happened that conditions were perfect for the Edwardians to put in an appearance. The lead two aircraft, a Bristol Boxkite and Avro Triplane (sometimes called an Avro Type IV) are precise replica’s built in the 1960’s for the film ‘Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines’ and the Avro carries on its fuselage the names of the characters played by the late, great Terry-Thomas and Eric Sykes ‘Sir Percy Ware-Armitage and Courtney’ whose aircraft it was.
Following this we saw the Blackburn Monoplane of 1913. This time not a replica, but an original aircraft that was once used to deliver copies of the Yorkshire Post from the printers to outlets in North yorkshire. The curtain was then brought down on the 2018 display by the oldest original aircraft and engine combination flying anywhere in the world. Sadly the wind restricted the 1911 Deperdussin racing monoplane to a single hop along the flight line.
Shuttleworth always engenders a warm feeling of relaxed enjoyment and this was no different. Helped no doubt by the excellent hot sunny weather and a varied and interesting line up flown with great skill and aplomb. Appreciation was reflected back by the crowd as they applauded the pilots on their return to the flight line at the conclusion of their displays. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.