World’s First Drive-In Air Show – Shuttleworth Display at Old Warden

This spectacular image of Grosvenor House could grace any magazine cover. The aircraft is the last of her breed still flying, although the remains of another example, named Black Magic, are under restoration back to flying condition. Black Magic also took part in the MacRobertson Air Race, with Jim Mollison and his then-wife, the extraordinary aviator Amy Johnson, being the pilots. (photo by George Land)
United Fuel Cells

by George Land

On July 18th, 2020, the Shuttleworth Collection held the first air display in the United Kingdom under Covid 19 regulations over their home airfield at Old Warden in Bedfordshire, England. The organizing team came up with a novel solution to the significant problems involved with putting on an enjoyable event and entertaining display while making sure everyone present was as safe as practical in these serious times of airborne disease.

The unique idea they came up with was to lay out a grid of 3 metre boxes along the length and breadth of the airfield’s non flying area. Visitors would drive their cars onto the grounds and park in their assigned box, with the idea being that everyone would stay in the box with the car they came in. There was plenty of room to sit and picnic safely within this area and take photographs of the action in the skies above. Furthermore, they divided regions of boxes into zones; each zone had additional catering and comfort break facilities laid on with wide alleys between each row leading to the facilities. This allowed for socializing at a safe distance when visiting said amenities. Another bonus to Shuttleworth’s solution was that show-boss commentary came via the airwaves, which you could tune in to (or not) on your radio – and this allowed the music of aircraft engines to prevail over the usually mindless chatter and annoying soundtracks which typically dominate any air show with loudspeaker systems announcing them.

This is how the Drive-In Air Show looked at Old Warden on July 18th. Each car had its specially marked slot. The car parked on the left side of the slot, allowing its occupants to sit on the right side, with perfect social distancing from any adjacent attendees. The large lane in front of the cars allowed people to walk to any necessary conveniences (catering or rest rooms) in a socially distanced manner. This could serve as a model for future aerial events during the pandemic. (image by George Land)

Both entry and exit from the show ran smoothly, with friendly and well-organized handling from Shuttleworth volunteers and staff. To me, the whole experience was an overriding success which has set the standard that other similar shows will need to match. The unusual seating arrangement in no way detracted from enjoyment of the event, and in someways it was better, because we had the comfort of our own space. It was especially helpful to anyone with heavy camera equipment too, as you didn’t have to carry all your gear wherever you went – it could all stay at the ready with your car.

For this arrangement to work, tickets were sold per car, with no limit to the number of occupants per vehicle. This made it quite economical for groups, but it was a little pricier for those attending alone. In all honesty though, it was well worth the money to attend the show. Shuttleworth always puts on a magnificent event!

The aerial component of the display followed the normal pattern of a typical Shuttleworth Air Show, minus the static displays which typically are available before the performers take to the skies. Participating aircraft came exclusively from the locally-based fleet because of the present restrictions and time scale not allowing for many visiting aircraft or pilots. Apart from John Romain in the Aircraft Restorations Company’s Supermarine Spitfire PR.XI and the Mew Gull replica, the other participating aircraft either belonged to Shuttleworth, or were resident at Old Warden under their care.

Now for the best bit, the air show itself, which started on the dot at 3:00pm with an unmatched display of precision flying, grace and power from John Romain in ARCo’s recently-restored Spitfire PR.Xl PL983.

In a marvelous tribute to the heroic healthcare workers of Britain’s National Health Service, ARCo had taped the letters “THANK NHS” underneath PL983’s wings. (photo by George Land)

Participating aircraft included the following (including information about the significance of their liveries/histories):

  • A.V.Roe & Co 621 Tutor, K3241, G-AHSA, Central Flying School Aerobatics Team.
  • Bristol M.1C Monoplane, C491, 8G-BWJM
  • deHavilland D.H.51, G-EBIR, Aircraft Transport & Travel Ltd, Miss Kenya
  • deHavilland D.H.60X Moth, G-EBWD – G
  • deHavilland (Morris Motors Ltd), D.H.82a Tigermoth, T6818, G-ANKT, as K2585 RAF Central Flying School Aerobatic Team
  • deHavilland D.H.88 Comet Racer, G-ACSS, Grosvenor House  (evaluated by RAF as K5084)
  • deHavilland Canada DHC-1, Chipmunk 22, RCAF-671 G-BNZC
  • Desoutter Mk.1, G-AAPZ, National Flying Services (Air Taxi)
  • Elliots EON type S.G.38 Glider, Glider (Copy of the 1936 Schneider SG38 Schulgeiter) Primary trainer used by the RAF’s Air Training Corps
  • Fauvel AV-36 Glider
  • Hawker Sea Hurricane F.Mk.Ib, Z7015, G-BKTH, 7L No.880 Royal Navy Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Indomitable, 1942
  • Miles Hawk M14a Magister, N3788, G-AKPF
  • Parnell Elf ll, G-AAIN
  • Percival Mew Gull, G-AEXF, ex Alex Henshaw
  • Percival (Beale D) Mew Gull Replica, H-HEKL
  • Percival Hunting P.84 Piston Provost, T. Mk.1, XF603, G-KAPW
  • Piper J3C-65 Cub/L4J Grasshopper, 42-38384, G-BHVV, USMC-42-38384
  • Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub, G-SVAS (Glider Tug)
  • Pitts (Heverling ), Pitts S-15, G-SWON
  • Polikarpov PO2 Kukuruznik (Maize Duster) White 28 , G-BSSY
  • Sopwith Camel, D1851, G-BZSCD, 1851 Ikanopit
  • Sopwith( Beardmore) Pup, 9917, HMS Manxman,  G-EBKY
  • Sopwith Triplane, (Replica) N6290 Dixie ll No8 Naval Squadron G-BOCK
  • Supermarine (Westland) Spitfire L.F Mk.Vc, AR501,DU-E, No 310 (Czechoslvakian) Squadron RAF,  G-AWII
  • Supermarine (Vickers Armstrong)  Spitfire P.R.Xl, PL983-L, G-PRXl c/w THANK U NHS under wing
  • Westland Lysander IIIa, V9552, G-AZWT, Schemed as a Special Duties aircraft V9367 MA-B No161 Squadron RAF Tempsford and Tangmere

The program was a varied and balanced show of classic and historic aircraft covering all aspects of flying from the Great war through the 1950’s covering warbirds, air racers, general aviation and trainers – both powered and free flight. Overall the performances were marvelous and the new attendance arrangement was in no way detrimental to my enjoyment. The following images should give you and idea of how magnificent the flying was in the skies over Old Warden!

Even with the new restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the show was an outstanding success and showed what could be achieved with careful thought and hard work. The Shuttleworth Veteran Aviation Society are to be heartily congratulated for their vision and hard work. Well done to all at Shuttleworth!

Many thanks indeed to George Land for this marvelous report on the Drive-In air show at Old Warden. It is nice to see a little normalcy returned to our aviation world, even if under unusual circumstances. Thanks again George!


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