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Old Warden: First Flying Evening '99
The Road to the Past, by Dave Eade
The scream of jets, the smell of the burger stall and the frantic rush to log every thing that moves! We have all been there, done it and maybe bought the tee-shirt! Unfortunately, a bunch of Serbs seem to have thrown that plan out of the window for 1999 so we have to look for something different.The drive from Suffolk to Old Warden, in Bedfordshire, is short enough to make the Sunset Flying Event at the Shuttleworth Collection well worth the effort. Forget all the pre-conceptions about string-bags and museum pieces and treat yourself to this. Its a journey into the past in every way.
Shuttleworth airfield is set within the magnificence of the Shuttleworth Estate, with the ornate family home peeping through the trees, and the farm buildings to the East. If one could disguise the car-park, there would be nothing to date this place; it's as if you have intruded into a 1930s Garden Party somewhere in Middle England. The different vistas remind one of the many times we have seen the location, without realising it, in some TV-drama of between the wars. Arrival mid-day is to be recommended for many reasons, as parking your car at the edge of the flight-line means fewer cars, more atmosphere. The exhibits are all carefully stored in pre-war hangars so that, on any non-flying day, they are all perfectly visible in the museum tour.
By mid-afternoon, however, on May 15th, all the aircraft were parked out on the grass. A light breeze moved the clouds away fast enough to wait for a glimpse of sun on these worthy pieces. It would also have helped to remove a speck of dust had one dared to settle on the immaculate airframes (an interesting comparison with the new American Air Force museum at Duxford where already the airframes are covered with a layer of fine cement-like dust). By now the car-park was filling. It was easy to tell those returning for a second or third show they had their blankets, baguettes and wine neatly stored in the boots of their convertibles, three-wheelers and Rolls Royces. Even the arrival of an MG-owners rally somehow kept the air undisturbed. The principle of the Sunset Show is that, as the sun goes down so does the wind allowing the priceless vintage airframes and replicas to be shown in their true home the air.
Starting with the collection's Spitfire V, one is soon made aware that everything here performs in a unique way. The cross runway creates a dog-leg in the crowd-line allowing aircraft to turn through 90 degrees during a pass, or to approach the crowd from front right pass within 200 yards before disappearing crowd rear to the left. This gives excellent opportunities for photography especially as the crowd enclosure rises somewhat to the rear, so the further back you stand the higher you are. The setting sun is also conveniently to crowd-rear.The uniqueness of the display is exemplified by the list of participants. The Spitfire, being the newest, fastest and noisiest started the flying, but we were then taken on a lazy drift in time with The Bristol Fighter, Sopwith Pup and Triplane, an immaculate silver Hind complete with Hucks starter, and a gorgeous Gladiator. Trainers were not left out, with the beautiful Tutor in 1930s trainer yellow and the Avro 504. The inclusion of 1990s carbon-fibre and aerobatic styles in the form of the CAP 232 flown by Richard Pickin did nothing to destroy the mood in fact in a funny way just made one appreciate these old-timers all the more. To include the Avro 504 and the Bleriot made one almost weep with nostalgia. There was something here that was different!
Shuttleworth is not all about aeroplanes. When the collection was created it furthered Tom Shuttleworths interest in all machine and a large collection of cycles, motor cycles and cars has been made. These like the aircraft are in immaculate condition and are constantly puttering along the flight-line with, yes, the drivers and passengers in period costume. If this article is sounding like an advertisement for the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, that's exactly what it is! Give yourself a treat go there!