Old Warden Family Airshow

5th August 2018                                                                  Words and pictures by Wayne Bennett

Sunday 5th August saw Airshow UK return to Old Warden for the third time this year. This visit was for the Family Airshow, at which the usual attractions of the shuttleworth Collection and visiting aircraft are bolstered by various family-friendly activities that are designed to make sure everyone has a great day out. In the Make and Paint a free Airfix model kit is supplied for anyone wanting to take part in the activity and there are free fairground rides help to make sure the kids don’t get fed up with looking at all the planes. I must confess at this point that I had wondered if it would all turn out to be pretty much ‘same-as’ the other shows I’ve attended at Old Warden, with one or two new things to see, but how wrong I was! Every part of the show, including the ‘regular’ items, managed to include something new to me and the aircraft line-up was very different indeed. This is partly due to the different participation from visiting aircraft and vehicles, but is also testament to the size and variety of the collection itself. Something that football managers refer to as ‘strength in depth’!

Two vehicle processions preceded the days flying with the first one consisting of vintage agricultural and commercial vehicles and bicycles. I’m afraid I’m no expert on this aspect though it was all very impressive. The massed collection of cycles looked very authentic with the majority of their riders wearing period Edwardian dress, and who can fail to be impressed by steam driven traction engines and lorries and a horse drawn fire engine? well, not me. This parade also included the Shuttleworth Collection’s own Land Rover crash tender and Huck’s Starter vehicle, which are both working vehicles and still in regular use at the airfield.

The second procession was the more traditional one of vintage and veteran cars and motorcycles, although even here there were new additions, such as the fabulous 1930 Bentley racing car wearing its very necessary authentic shade of British Racing green.

The start of the flying display was heralded by the departures of the Sea Hurricane, Spitfire and Lysander of the collection, the first of the days displaying aircraft to take up position in the circuit, awaiting their return to open the display with a three ship formation and solo spots.

Following this opening display by the collection’s own WW2 aircraft, there followed a solo display by an aircraft from the Breitling Wing Walkers, aka AeroSuperBatics. The daring young lady on the wing is Nikita Salmon. Although her day job is a primary school teacher, Nikita has always had flying in her blood, as both of her parents served in the RAF and she has fond memories of attending RIAT as a child. Neither Mum nor Dad ever travelled on the outside of the plane though, so Nikita wins that one!

Her driver for the day was Andy Cubin, a former RAF Jaguar pilot who also spent three years with the Red Arrows, where he progressed to being Red 6, leader of the synchro pair. Andy currently flies A320’s for British Airways, albeit far more serenely than he handles the Stearman. The wing walkers were followed by a pair of venerable transport aircraft, as BAE Systems Avro XIX and privately owned Beech Expediter G-BKGL, which was retired from service with the Royal Canadian Navy in 1971. Whilst obviously not aerobatic aircraft, its a pleasure to see them with the Beech in particular showing a sparkling performance. A light hearted moment came when the commentator informed us all how the Beech was a very popular aircraft among drug smugglers!

Vintage transport aircraft took centre stage for the first time after the wing walking as a BAe systems owned Avro Anson and privately owned Beech Expediter took off, in EXTREMELY close formation for their display. The Anson is actually an Avro XIX, but has been repainted into RAF colours for this centenary year, whilst in contrast, the Expediter wears the colours of the very early war USAAF.

We then had our first taste of the day of the collections World War 1 aircraft, now over a century old, as we had displays from the Bristol F2B, Sopwith Camel and SE5a, once again flying together before breaking off into individual displays. The Camel is a reproduction, but the Bristol and the SE5a are both genuine WW1 veterans, with the latter having claimed one of the last two aerial victories scored by the RAF before the armistice.

A more light hearted note was struck by Captain Nevilles Flying Circus and their barnstorming display. The team is led by Dennis Neville, flying his attractive maroon and cream coloured DHC Chipmunk, G-ALWB. This was once the De Havilland company demonstrator and was bought by Neville in 1999 and restored. A similarly coloured Thruxton Jackaroo is flown by Tricia Neville, a one-time wing walker who now enjoys the comfort of the cabin instead, she is the wife of Dennis and may well be unique among pilots today, as she has never soloed in anything but a taildragger!The Jackaroo was a post war four seater conversion of surplus DH Tiger Moths and this is one of only two flying in the UK, and one of only six in the world.

Another derivative of the Tiger Moth flown by the team is the worlds sole surviving De Havilland Queen Bee, G-BLUZ (LF858). The Queen Bee, first flown in 1935, was the worlds first full-size unmanned aircraft and was built to an Air Ministry requirement for an expendable target drone, possibly explaining why this is the only one left! The pilots cockpit was included for a ferry pilot to be able to deliver it to its doom. This particular Queen Been has, since 1995, been owned and operated by a six-man syndicate known as “The Beekeepers” flying group and founder John Flynn flew G-BLUZ today.

Piel Emeraude G-AZGY, “rescued” by owner-pilot Robin Braithwaite in 2004, is the fourth of the aircraft displayed at Old Warden by the team. This very successful French light tourer was the forerunner of the CAP series of aerobatic aircraft and was known as the ‘working lads Spitfire’, a description confirmed by Spitfire veterans who have flown it.

This motley collection of beautiful old aeroplanes were put through their paces in a number of events, with varying degrees of success. The display began with an unfortunate individual in an ‘outside privy’ getting bombed with various different objects such as balls and flour bombs. Then the Streamer Cut saw the team take it in turns to fly through various coloured streamers thrown from one the aircraft, cutting them into smaller pieces with their wings.

The Balloon Burst is similar to the streamer cut, but harder for the pilot to spot, and finally Limbo sees each aircraft in turn attempt to pass under two lots of bunting, suspended on poles about 150yds apart, an extremely difficult task with only three feet of ground clearance to play with.

Next on the agenda was a different, although very appealing, kind of display from two of the collections own trainer types. Avro Tutor G-AHSA, wearing military serial K3241, is the last of its kind in the world, and she was accompanied into the air by DH82a Tiger Moth G-ANKT, which wears the military serial K2585. These two aircraft regularly display together, but the difference for this show was the way in which the Tutor gave the usual low level display, while the Tiger Moth simultaneously provided a display of graceful loops and rolls above it.

Another biplane, was the Bucker Jungmann G-BSAJ of Skytricks, flown beautifully by Anna Walker. Although a low powered design, with barely more than 100hp installed, the Jungmann is extremely light and is extremely capable and its energetic display well reflected those qualities. The Jungmann was displayed wearing a 1936 Olympics livery as this was the only year in which aeronautics were an Olympic event! Even lighter still is the Letov LF-107 Lunak glider, Currently operated in the UK as BGA4286 but displayed wearing a slightly modified version of it’s previous Czech registration ‘OK-0927’, the lunar was towed aloft by the resident Piper Super Cub G-SVAS.

In stark contrast to the usual fare at Old Warden, the next item brought us bang up to date as a 2016 built Calidus Autogyro, appropriately registered G-DISP, was expertly handled by the very experienced Peter Davies to give us one of those ‘doing things a flying machine shouldn’t be able to do’ displays.

Old Warden is often the place to go for sights you simply will not see anywhere else, and a prime example of this was the display by a pair of DH89 Dragon Rapides flying in close formation! G-AGSH, wearing BEA colours, is owned by Philip Meeson and resident at the airfield, while G-AGJG, wearing wartime camouflage and Scottish Airways titles is a resident of Duxford.

Following on from the Rapides, the only jet turbine of the entire afternoon could be heard winding up to speed as the Jump4Heroes team were taken aloft in a Bell Jet ranger helicopter of Tiger Helicopters. Jump4Heroes are The Royal British Legion Extreme Human Flight Team and their role is to raise awareness and funds for the UK’s veterans, which they have been doing since 2007. A return to the WW1 era then saw the Sopwith Triplane and Avro 504 displayed 

An innocuous looking but very worthy exhibit at the show was G-GWFT, a RANS Coyote that was built by the pupils and teachers of Ercall Wood Technology School as part of the Boeing-sponsored ‘Schools Build A Plane’ challenge. It’s registration reflects the fact that it is owned by the Georgia Williams Trust. Georgia was murdered at the age of 17 and the trust was created to to provide support and adventure opportunities for young people in the area where she lived.

One of the rarest categories of aircraft must surely be that of ‘vintage racing aeroplanes’, due to their very nature, and the Shuttleworth Collection does excellent preservation work in this area. The most famous aeroplane among this type must surely be the collections DH88 Comet G-ACSS, which won the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934. G-ACSS remained indoors for this air show, but two other racing types of the same vintage took part in the flying display. Miles Hawk Speed Six G-AGDP was a one-off single seat version of the Miles Hawk trainer built in 1935. This was the newly acquired Hawk’s debut air show as part of the Shuttleworth Collection, While Percival Mew Gull G-AEXF, at Old Warden since 2013, was built in 1936 and was the pre-war mount of eventual Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw, author of the excellent book ‘Sigh for a Merlin’ in which he recounted not only his wartime career, but also his record breaking 1939 flight to Cape Town and back in this very aircraft.

Displaying such old and valuable aircraft is fraught with difficulty and, sometimes, unavoidable disappointment. The real wonder is that the Shuttleworth Collection are so successful, so often in mounting these displays that it’s easy to lose sight of this and take them for granted.  It is surely testament to the superb work they do in maintaining and restoring these aircraft that things go wrong so rarely. Sadly this difficulty was shown when the engine of the collections Percival Provost started to give concern after it had taken off to position itself ready for its own display. The subsequent recovery came right in the middle of the Stampe SV4 display teams programme, this delay caused them to abandon the second half of their display so that the timing of the show programme was not lost. The luck clearly wasn’t with the Stampe team, with them previously having had trouble starting one of the aircraft, until it was realised they were turning the prop in the wrong direction! The wind unfortunately defeated the Edwardians, which had to stay safely hangared, but even so, the show finale was a new experience for most of us and something special.

G-Force Aerobatics provide a unique “Little and Large” Extra Duo display with Chris Burkett flying an Extra 300, registered G-EXIL, while Mike Williams, on the ground, flies a 40% scale radio controlled model of the very same G-Force Extra. The co-ordination and teamwork needed to get these two aircraft performing together is absolutely amazing and, such is the excess of power in the model it is, at times, faster than its full size counterpart. It can even hover like a helicopter on its prop while waiting for Chris to catch up! And so another fantastic, and unique air display drew to a close. Here’s to the next one.

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