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Shuttleworth Fly Navy Day 2016

 

   
 

"...a varied and fitting tribute to the aircraft and personnel of the Royal Navy"

With the 2016 airshow season barely underway, Old Warden Airfield, home of the Shuttleworth collection was already hosting its 2nd major event of the year. Having previously delivered the highly acclaimed Season Premiere, it was now the turn of the Royal Navy to take centre spotlight with the airfields first ever Fly Navy day, recognising 100 years of Naval aviation.
Those of you already familiar with the Shuttleworth collection will be well aware of the 50 plus vintage aircraft housed at the venue, all of which are kept in prime flyable condition. Amongst the home collection are many unique specimens such as the famous Percival Mew Gull and the immaculate Hawker Sea Hurricane which was to be kept busy on the day performing a number of flypasts with both visitors and regulars.

I arrived early, which gave me the chance to browse the stationary aircraft in the hangars and around the airfield. Today the static display was enhanced by a visiting Westland Merlin HM2 and a Lynx HMA8 both from active Naval stations at Culdrose and Yeovilton respectively. There were flight line tours available for anyone who wants to undertake a detailed inspection, but even without this there is nowhere else on the circuit where the public can get so close to the flying aircraft.

A vintage vehicle parade at 12pm kicked off the proceedings featuring a range of visiting bikes, cars and buses mixed in with a selection of the collections historic transports including an Ariel Motorcycle and anMG TA Midget previously owned by Richard Shuttleworth.

By 2pm the early morning mist had long since dispersed to reveal beautiful blue skies, setting the scene perfectly for the arrival of the first flying display and the only jet-propelled aircraft; the De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2. Initially accompanied by the Collections Hawker Sea Hurricane 1B, which quickly peeled away to allow the Vixen to undertake her demonstration. Due to airspace restrictions we only got to witness the ‘flat’ display, but the majesty and power of Britain’s fastest privately owned jet was apparent.

 
 

The Royal Navy theme was continued when the Sea Hurricane returned in formation with the authentically marked SupermarineSeafireIIIc. It was a remarkable site to see two rare World War Two aircraft in formation together over such a beautiful backdrop of Bedfordshire countryside. This was only topped by a blistering solo display of aerobatics from the Seafire, showing off its agility and speed to maximum effect.

The flying continued non-stop throughout the afternoon, with a range of formations including the unusual pairing of a DH60 and Morane Saulnier MS315. Later in the day the unique Avro Tutor, Miles Magister and Tiger Moth formed up with the Naval Historic Flights DHC-3 Chipmunk for a flypast in recognition of historic training aircraft. The Chipmunk then broke away to deliver one of the most energetic aerobatic displays of the afternoon.

Credit must go to the display organisers and air traffic control because as soon as one display landed there was another already in the air waiting to fill the gap.The action was literally non-stop. The recently revived Westland Lysander represented the special operations of the 2nd World War with a superb display. But in addition to the traditional aeroplane displays we also saw a fine display from the Westland Wasp helicopter which kicked-up a considerable amount of debris from the Old Warden grass runway adding to the spectacle. This was only topped later when the Westland Lynx departed taking with it some poor unsuspecting gentleman’s baseball cap.

 

The sun continued to shine throughout the afternoon and the displays came in thick and fast. As the Royal Navy had recently marked the anniversary of the attack on the German battleship Bismarck, it seemed only right that the Fairey Swordfish should take a central role in the day. The Royal Navy Historic Flights mark 1, showing the markings of the same fleet that disabled the Bismarck’s rudder in 1941 led a 3 ship fly past which also included the Kennet Aviation Harvard and a Gloster Gladiator. The Swordfish then embarked on its own display complete with a flagged salute to finish.

Other display items included two Hawker Nimrods accompanied by the collections Hawker Demon which represented the inter-war years with a loose Naval Aviation theme. We were also treated to a duo of historic transport aircraft in the form of the collections Avro Anson and DH Dragon Rapide. Credit must go to the flight planners for such a wide array of creative formations which provided some unusual opportunities for photographers.

One of the highlights of the Shuttleworth collection is its large selection of flying World War One aircraft. Today were able to witness individual displays by the reproduction Bristol Scout the Bristol F2b, and a Sopwith Pup. Although always a pleasure to see these aircraft flying, this section felt a little slow in comparison to the dynamism of previous displays. This is no criticism giving the age of the aircraft and the considerable effort it takes to keep these in the air.

The finale was left in the capable hands of the Fighter Collection who provided The Grumman Wildcat, Bearcat and Goodyear Corsair. The 3 fighters stormed onto the display arena from the left at break-neck speeds and immediately launched into three breath-taking solo displays.This represented the American contribution to Naval Aviation around the time of the 2nd World War. The final display form the Grumman Bearcat demonstrated how far technology developed during the period of the war and was surely one of the highlights of the day.

 

The Wildcat, Bearcat and Corsair teamed up with the Sea hurricane and two Hawker Nimrods for a final fly past which closed a remarkable show. The flying was superb throughout the day and the pilots and organisers should be applauded for putting on a varied and fitting tribute to the aircraft and personnel of the Royal Navy. This certainly was a memorable day of flying which has left me checking the diary with anticipation for future events at Old Warden.

Review by Lee Chapman

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