Set in the beautiful Bedfordshire countryside, Old Warden airfield is home to the world famous Shuttleworth Collection and on June 29th, hosted the 2014 Military Pageant Airshow.
Old Warden is home to the unique and renowned Shuttleworth collection – a museum full of working airframes, many of which are the sole remaining aircraft of their type. Driving on to the airfield, you’re instantly transported back to 100 years ago – the airfield and it’s surroundings are truly stunning and make the perfect setting for an airshow full of vintage aircraft.
The weather forecast was predictably unpredictable with rain forecast on and off for most of the day. This meant that there weren’t too many people fighting for the front row early on so I decided to have a look at the participating aircraft while they lined up on the grass. Unfortunately they were nearly all facing away from the crowd line but it’s almost impossible to catch most of these aircraft in an ugly light. The stretched canvas and simplistic shapes make for some fantastic photographic opportunities.
Having spent a couple of hours looking around the collection and the stalls that were set up, the air displays finally got underway about 2pm. The show got off to a beautiful start with the based Hawker Sea Hurricane and the newly restored Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Ia from the Aircraft Restoration Company, based at IWM Duxford. Beginning with a pairs display, the two Merlin-powered WWII fighters graced the Bedfordshire skies with some truly timeless aerobatics. It was a fantastic way to open the afternoon’s event.
After another very graceful display by the based Gloster Gladiator, the second visitor of the day came in very low over the opposite end of the airfield. With a bright white paint scheme and super sleek lines, it was the Duxford based PBY Catalina’s turn to impress the crowd…and boy did they impress. I’ve seen the membership-sponsored Catalina display countless times but never like it was flown on that Sunday. Seeing the Catalina being thrown around the thunderous sky was like watching a modern day fighter/bomber; the display was low, powerful and flown with 110% commitment. By 2.30pm, I’d already witnessed the display of the day – just stunning.
Following the Catalina was a brilliant display by a trio of monoplane trainer aircraft; a Miles Magister, DHC 1 Chipmunk and a Percival Provost T1. Like the pairs display earlier in the day, the trio flew several tight formations before splitting off into their own solo displays. All three were flown superbly but for me the highlight was the Magister- the two seat basic trainer was first flown in 1937 and with the gorgeous backdrop of Old Warden, it didn’t look at all out of place. Elegance personified.
From monoplane to triplane – a late production Sopwith Triplane to be exact, nicknamed ‘Dixie’. The start of the triplane’s display was lovely with lots of sweeping passes showing off the unique structure of the aircraft. However, what followed was very much unexpected. Halfway through the display, the engine sounded like it cut out for a few seconds but fortunately the pilot managed to get things going again. Towards the end of the routine, the engine sounded like it cut out completely – I didn’t realise what was going on at first but it soon became clear that the pilot was trying to make an emergency landing.
What happened next took everyone by surprise – the aircraft came in extremely low over the back of the airfield, so low in fact that the aircraft got caught on a fence and as a result, went nose over. The crowd fell silent and within 30 seconds the crash site was secured by the show’s emergency responders. I’m happy to say that the pilot was in fact completely fine and didn’t suffer so much as a bruise. That was the first crash I’d been witness to the whole things was fairly surreal.
Making sure the pilot was ok was clearly Shuttleworth’s primary focus and rightly so. After just under an hour later, the airfield was clear and ready to kickstart the air displays again. Full marks have to be awarded to Shuttleworth here – the flying schedule was rearranged and extended so that all the booked items could still display.
The afternoon got back into the swing of things with a display from the collection’s Hawker Hind and Hawker Demon. To the untrained eye, the Hind and the Demon look incredibly similar and at times even I struggled to tell them apart – the pair performed a wonderfully synchronised routine with plenty of noise and low passes. The Hawker pair put on an aerial ballet that was an absolute pleasure to watch and I found myself watching this display more than photographing it.
As the Hawker pair landed, a trio of biplanes prepared to get airborne; a Blackburn B2, DH82a Tiger Moth and a Polikarpov Po2. The aircraft were flown beautifully but unfortunately the Po2 was the last of the three to come in for it’s solo routine and as a result, suffered possibly the worst weather of the entire day. The rain was absolutely pelting down but with visibility still pretty good, the pilot decided it was safe to stay up and finish his display. The Soviet built trainer (and cropduster) was an aircraft that I’d not seen before so I was slightly gutted that the sun couldn’t come out for it’s display.
The rain continued and the cloud began to get lower and lower but amazingly it didn’t stop Hawker Hunter T7 WV372 from putting on a spectacular display. This particular Hunter was a member of the short lived Team Viper Display Team and having been purchased by a new owner, now resides at North Weald airfield. Many thought that given the conditions, the Hunter would be unable to join the show so late in the afternoon but the low cloud didn’t seem to bother the pilot. With a beautiful long ‘blue note’ on arrival, the T7 certainly showed off it’s agile handling capabilities and seeing a jet aircraft after so many props was a very welcome treat. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the older aircraft but you just can’t beat the sound and shape of a Hunter.
Sadly the Hunter was the last display of the day for me, I was soaked through and had a 90-minute drive home. Given that the rain didn’t look as though it was going to clear any time soon, I made the decision to call it a day. Old Warden offered up a truly fantastic spectacle of an airshow and to begin with, I wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy the classic side of aviation – how wrong could I be. Vintage aircraft set it beautiful surroundings made for a brilliant day. As well as the display, the organisers also made sure that all stalls present on the day were 100% related to aviation; whether it be books, prints or models, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Unfortunately it meant that I had to part with some additional money but hey, my display cabinet looks all the better for it!
The Military Pageant was an incredible show and it certainly won’t be the last time I visit the Bedfordshire airfield.
You can keep up-to-date with the Shuttleworth Collection via their website http://www.shuttleworth.org/index.asp, Twitter @Shuttleworth_OW and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ShuttleworthCollection.