The Shuttleworth ‘Race Day’ airshow was the finale to Old Warden’s long season and for many enthusiasts, the last airshow of the year. The weather forecast had been getting marginally better for a number of days and on Saturday night I took a gamble and booked my ticket.
You couldn’t have asked for more really; a crisp autumn day and plenty of displays to watch in the skies above rural Bedfordshire. I attended the Military Pageant airshow earlier in the year and it was more than enough to tempt me back again for the end of season display.
The idea behind the ‘Race Day’ season finale airshow was to celebrate the golden years of ‘air racing’, most notably because this October marks 80 years since the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race in which the Collection’s de Havilland DH.88 Comet claimed first place.
To mark this anniversary, the Collection organised a special flypast of six aircraft that participated in the ‘World’s Greatest Air Race’; a de Havilland DH.88 Comet (Grosvenor House – the only specific airframe to fly in the race), a Dragon Rapide, a Miles M3A Falcon Major, a Miles Hawk, a Desoutter Mk1 and a de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth. All six aircraft flew past in a very loose formation (sadly too loose for me to capture in one frame) and then carried out several solo fly pasts before landing in the order that they arrived in Melbourne in 1934. It was a lovely way to celebrate such a momentous occasion.
The Air Race theme continued with another special formation flypast of three aircraft; two Percival Mew Gulls and a Vans RV-7. In 1939 Alex Henshaw flew Mew Gull G-AEXF and completed the 12,754-mile round trip in a staggering 4 days, 10 hours and sixteen minutes – some 71 years later, Steve Noujaim beat Henshaw’s record by 23 hours in a Vans RV-7. These trips to South Africa are regarded by many as two of the greatest and most intriguing stories in the aviation world and rightly so. The speed, sound and agility of the 1930s Mew Gull has to be seen to be believed, it’s a truly remarkable piece of British engineering.
The show also celebrated the Formula 1 air racing class of aircraft with a Cosmic Wind and a Taylor JT.2 Titch. These two aircraft are exceptionally small but can travel at incredible speeds – the Cosmic Wind was first built in 1947 and can achieve an impressive airspeed of 185mph! The Formula 1 racers flew several laps of the airfield before landing safely back on the grass runway.
The Air Race celebrations ended with a fantastic mock air race. The race used a handicap system which meant that the ten participating aircraft (two Chilton DW1s, a de Havilland DH60X Moth, Miles Hawk Speed Six, Miles M3A Falcon Major, Miles Whitney Straight, Comper Swift, Miles Magister and a Spartan Executive) took off in order of slowest-fastest with time advantages between each aircraft. Each aircraft had to complete eight laps of the triangular course which stretched to the airfield boundaries in each direction – the winner was the first to cross the finish line having successfully completed all eight laps. For twenty minutes the audience was transported back in time and it was incredibly easy to forget that you were still in 2014. The sound, sight and atmosphere was electric – the organisers did a terrific job of demonstrating what air racing was all about in a bygone era. An epic way to finish off the Race Day spectacle.
Best of The Rest
The rest of the airshow was padded out with some truly fantastic displays.
The Hawker Hunter T7 from North Weald Airfield arrived in style low and fast and let off just the tiniest hint of a blue note. Chris Heames flew a beautiful display in what has to be one of my all time favourite aircraft and filled the sky with the roar of the timeless Avon engine.
Hawker aircraft continued to thrill the crowd, this time in the form of the Collection’s own Sea Hurricane. I’ve seen a lot of Hurricane displays over the years but this was, hands down, the most thrilling and exhilarating routine I’ve ever seen. It felt closer than ever thanks to the sweeping curve of the Shuttleworth display line and it seemed to just go on forever – it was like an enthusiasts dream display.
Joining the Sea Hurricane in the golden autumnal light was the Westland Lysander. The Lysander is a peculiar looking aircraft with it’s bulky fuselage and high cockpit but’s it’s an incredibly graceful and majestic aircraft. This was the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to see the Lysander in all it’s glory and it really is quite a special aircraft.
The Shuttleworth collection is home to a fantastic array of aircraft but perhaps one of the most unusual looking airframes is the Fauval Glider. The glider was taken up on a tow and released at altitude; what followed was a brilliantly flown aerobatic sequence. With it’s short fuselage, large wingspan and small twin tail, the aircraft is capable of flipping on it’s tail in no time at all. The crowd was all but silent and all you could hear was the wind passing over the aircraft as the glider came into land. It was a glider display unlike any I’ve seen before.
A Fitting Tribute
Overall the ‘Race Day’ finale was a show of epic proportions – a packed flying display and almost perfect weather conditions made this one of the best airshows of the year for me. I attended the Red Bull Air Race at Ascot earlier this year so was more than intrigued when I heard that Shuttleworth were planning to celebrate the golden age of air racing. There were plenty of aircraft types that I’d never been fortunate enough to see before and the mock air race finale really was enough to make your jaw drop.
It may only have been my second show at Old Warden but I feel that I’ll be attending many more shows in the coming years. There’s something quite unique about this small all-grass airfield and there’s no doubt in my mind that The Shuttleworth Collection will make you fall in love with aviation all over again.