- A vintage year for the vintage machines of Old Warden
Damien Burke reflects on Shuttleworth's 2003 season and looks forward to 2004. Photography by the author and Geoff Stockle
Hiding away just South of Bedford on the edge of Old Warden village is the Shuttleworth Collection of vintage aircraft and vehicles, which regular readers of Air-Scene UK will be used to hearing about by now. Over the last few years I've been to many of their regular airshows, and ended every single review recommending that people give this venue a visit.
For a change, I won't be doing so in this review. Because I'm doing it right up front - make a date in your diary, now! Shuttleworth's 2003 season was very successful, and while good weather always helps, it is the slick organisation and crowd-pleasing line-ups that keep people coming back here, and hopefully tempts newcomers.
Another big difference at Old Warden is that unlike so many commercially-driven shows, everybody in the Shuttleworth team seems to be a committed enthusiast desperately keen to see their collection thrive while giving as much enjoyment to the public as possible. What other airshow venue would you find actively seeking public input on what could be improved at their shows? Shuttleworth have done so, canvassing opinions on various message boards on the net and actually responding positively to suggestions that have been raised.
Catering not good enough at the shows? They've built a new restaurant. Don't like the addition of full-span wingtips to the Spitfire? It's going to go back to the clipped configuration for at least one season (possibly later in 2004). Don't like the ruddy great aerial that suddenly sprouted in the trees backing the airfield? Neither do the Collection - they fought hard to get it removed, and it'll hopefully be removed this year.
This year new goodies to see at Shuttleworth will be their Avro Tutor in a spectacular new paint scheme, a newly arrived Spanish Jungmann and the future still holds hope for the Po-2 to take to the air as well, with the DH88 Comet trying again in 2005 once the runway has been smoothed out a bit! Also taking to the air this year after several seasons rest will be the ultra-rare ANEC II and Desoutter Mk.1. No doubt visiting types will continue to be an imaginative range of rarities not usually seen displaying too (including a rather swish Bf 108), so you have absolutely no excuse to think that you can dare miss a show because you think you've seen it all before...
Last year's final twilight display on 20 September saw the last flight of the LVG, the only airworthy German WWI type in existence, sadly now grounded forever by its owners the RAF Museum. But the same show saw some breathtaking barnstorming antics - the ribbon pickup from a Chipmunk being particularly spectacular - as well as the usual favourites. Rare visitors included Peter Teichmann's outrageously gorgeous Staggerwing, an incredible package combining fighter style performance with tourer comfort and an interior to drool over (just don't let Peter catch you drooling or you'll be spending the rest of the day polishing out the marks). Denny Dobson had gone one better on his usual limbo-ribbon cut routine by having no less than four ribbons in a row to limbo under and then cut to shreds.
My final Old Warden show for 2003, though, was the Autumn show on 5 October. Once again blessed with fantastic weather (they must have some powerful mojo at work), the one disappointment was that this had been expected to be the LVG's last flying performance. Sadly a variety of factors including a strong crosswind meant it was limited to a spirited engine running session. The huge crowd surrounding the aircraft for the run was indication enough of its popularity - and the unpopularity of the RAF Museum's decision to ground it forever and stick it in some dark corner of a museum to gather dust.
Visitors this time were Seagull Formation's Jet Provost, one of few jet types that can 'fit' into the Old Warden display zone in terms of both character and volume; Kennet Aviation's Scout back for its second appearance of the season; and a rather swish looking silver Chipmunk (gracefully displayed to show off that silver finish beautifully). Shuttleworth's trademark formations once again kept photographers happy and Denny was back to cut more ribbons and roar around like a lunatic delighting a large proportion of the audience.
Airshows just don't get better than this - an intimate and friendly venue; an always-changing variety of acts backed by a solid line-up of beautifully restored and presented historics; value for money pricing (and it gets even better if you join the Shuttleworth Veteran Aeroplane Society); a perfectly oriented and curved display axis for the photographers; competitions to win a flight in one of the Collection's aircraft; no problems getting in or out... what more could you want?
Shuttleworth's first show in 2004 will be on 2 May and all the event dates can be found on the Shuttleworth Collection website.
to Andy Sephton, Steve le-Vien, Ian Frimston, Peter Holloway and everybody
else at the Collection for their hospitality in 2003.