Shuttleworth Collection’s 2023 Season Premier Airshow

deHavilland DH.60X Hermes Moth G-EBWD leading Southern Martlet G-AAYX (in red) and.deHavilland DH.82 Tiger Moth G-ANRF (blue). (photo by Nigel Hitchman)
United Fuel Cells

by Nigel Hitchman

Celebrating the coronation of King Charles III from the previous day, the Shuttleworth Collection held their Season Premier Airshow, with the theme of King and Country, at their home field in Old Warden, Bedfordshire on May 7th, 2023.

We had a great day to open the UK air show season; with light winds and lots of sunshine it was almost perfect. That being said, the significant rain events over the previous two days left the runway too soft for the operation of heavier like the Collection’s Spitfire and Hurricane.

The show opened with three of the Collection’s stars: de Havilland DH.88 Comet Grosvenor House (G-ACSS), Percival Mew Gull (G-AEXF) and Miles Hawk Speed Six (G-ADGP). Grosvenor House is arguably the most historic airworthy aircraft on the globe, due to its participation and victory in the epic 1934 MacRobertson Trophy air race between Mildenhall, England and Melbourne, Australia. The Mew Gull has a similar pedigree, with the legendary Alex Henshaw setting the fastest roundtrip time for the London-to-Capetown route (12,754 miles in 4 days, 10 hours and 16 minutes) in 1938, a record which stood for more than 70 years. The historic trio made a few superb formation flypasts, followed by single displays from each aircraft.

de Havilland DH.88 Comet (G-ACSS) leading Miles M2L Hawk Speed Six (G-ADGP) and Percival Mew Gull (G-AEXF. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)


Next came a display from the collection’s original Bristol F2B Fighter, followed by the de Havilland Chipmunk WP903 in the colours which it wore when King Charles III learned to fly in this same airframe during the 1960s.

An original Bristol F.2B which served in the Royal Flying Corps and RAF as B1162. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Avro Lancaster B.I PA474 had been scheduled to lead the massed flypast over Buckingham Palace following King Charles’ Coronation on the previous day. Although its participation in that historic event was scrubbed due to poor weather, it certainly didn’t disappoint us at Shuttleworth. The Lancaster’s crew made perfect use of the curved display line at Old Warden, giving us three fantastic passes at a perfect height, with the wonderful music from its four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines offering a magical accompaniment. It was probably the best Lancaster display I have ever seen in my 50 years of airshow attendance.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster B.I PA474. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

In total contrast, the next two displays featured a superb aerobatic display from the vintage Czech Lunak glider followed by the display debut for the civilian-owned Westland Lynx AH.7, a former British Army Air Corps helicopter. North Weald Flying Services recently restored the Lynx to flying condition for its owner Graham Hinkley. Amazingly, this helicopter is now 45 years old, having first flown in 1978!

Letov LF-107 Lunak glider (CK-0927). (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

Varying the display again, we next had two unique aircraft: DH.51 G-EBIR (currently the world’s oldest de Havilland design flying) alongside the sole airworthy Avro 621 Tutor (K3241/G-AHSA). While these two made some elegant formation passes, a Chipmunk with red white and blue streamers performed aerobatics overhead.

deHavilland DH.51 Moth (G-EBIR) leading former RAF Avro 621 Tutor K3241 (G-AHSA). (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

Fairey Swordfish Mk.I W5856 (G-BMGC) from Navy Wings was another highlight at the show, the biplane torpedo bomber making its first display at Shuttleworth for a number of years – now as a civilian-operated aircraft, rather than with the Royal Navy Historic Flight of old. As the Swordfish performed, the air show commentator interviewed 99-year old David Berry, who shared stories about his WWII experiences flying with the Fleet Air Arm as a gunner/observer in the Swordfish. In addition to the Swordfish, Navy Wings also brought along their former Royal Navy Stinson Reliant as a support aircraft; it was great to see it arrive and depart – and on static display.

Fairey Swordfish W5856 operated by Navy Wings. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

Next up was a red, white and blue tribute to the King’s coronation, with the red Southern Martlet (G-AAYX), the white DH.60X Hermes Moth (G-EBWD) and David Cyster’s blue DH.82 Tiger Moth (G-ANRF) executing some nice three-ship formation flypasts, followed by a tail-chase.

deHavilland DH.60X Hermes Moth G-EBWD leading Southern Martlet G-AAYX (in red) and.deHavilland DH.82 Tiger Moth G-ANRF (blue). (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

More Shuttleworth regulars followed, with the Gloster Gladiator, Westland Lysander and Sopwith Triplane each displaying individually. While the Avro 504K took off, it had a fuel mixture issue and landed immediately after takeoff. We were then treated to a display from Graham Saw flying the open-frame Eon Primary glider (towed aloft behind a Piper Super Cub). While he was under tow, the Polikarpov Po-2, newly adorned with Ukrainian flags, gave us some nice flypasts.

The Shuttleworth Collection’s Gloster Gladiator Mk.I K7985 (G-AMRK). (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

It was also great to see the Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A join up with the Collection’s Sopwith Pup for a few formation fly-bys, something which doesn’t often happen with Shuttleworth’s WWI-era aircraft.

The Shuttleworth Collection’s Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a (G-EBIA) served in the Royal Flying Corps as F904. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

After an interlude with a performance from the British Army’s Red Devils parachute display team, it was time for the “Edwardians” to take to the skies, a highlight for many at the show. For those readers perhaps perplexed by the term “Edwardians,” this moniker refers collectively to the group of aircraft at Shuttleworth with designs which fall within the reign of King Edward VII (1901 to 1910). These aircraft are fragile, and incredibly sensitive to even light breezes, which means that the public only rarely gets the opportunity to seem them perform. With favorable weather on the day and pilots needing to remain current, we were treated to two displays each from the Bristol Boxkite and Avro Triplane replicas. In between these flights, the unique English Electric Wren trundled up and down the runway attempting to get airborn on its 8hp engine, the soft ground not helping. Eventually the Wren made it up for a short circuit inside the northern end of the airfield to then land in the opposite direction.

The Shuttleworth Collection’s Bristol Boxkite replica (G-ASPP). (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

The weather on May 7th was almost perfect, but with the windsock still moving around, jostled by light thermals and gusts, the conditions slightly exceeded the 5 knot limit for the Blériot and Deperdussin. Although the two ancient aircraft were at the end of the runway, ready to start, they were unable to launch, with their performances left for another day.

English Electric Wren (G-EBNV) comes in to land. The Shuttleworth Collection’s Blériot XI and Deperdussin monoplanes sit in the background, awaiting their turn to fly. Sadly the slightly gusty condition’s made it unsafe to fly these fragile, original airframes, so they will have to wait until the next event to have an opportunity to stretch their wings. (photo by Nigel Hitchman)

Many thanks indeed to Nigel Hitchman for his wonderful report and spectacular images. For those interested in seeing the next display at Old Warden, the Shuttleworth Collection will be hosting another air show on May 20th, 2023.


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