Shuttleworth showtime…

Paul Kiddell looks back at the surprise success of the summer airshow season – and flying in to the Shuttleworth Drive-in Airshow…

A couple of the reasons for the flying trip to the Shuttleworth Drive-in Summer show; at the top, the magnificent DH.88 Comet racer, Grosvenor House, from 1934; below, the 1925 DH.51 powered by a 120hp Airdisco V8

Summer 2020 provided a brief respite from lockdown restrictions with a welcome opportunity to escape and enjoy some memorable flying adventures. While some smaller fly-ins went ahead, the airshow programme was decimated. One notable exception was the Shuttleworth Collection, which adapted magnificently and held its first drive-in airshow at Old Warden on 18 July. The huge success of the day led them to offer limited fly-in slots for the drive-in show on Sunday 2 August and it was with considerable excitement that flying buddy Alex Smith and I purchased tickets and secured a fly-in slot for 1130.

With Old Warden some 2.5 hours south of our Eshott base, we decided to take full advantage and build a flying weekend around the show. On Saturday afternoon we set off in our EuroStar for our first stop, Breighton, one hour south.  The endlessly flexible Newcastle ATC provided an efficient zone-transit directly over Newcastle city centre with its iconic bridges. Looking down on the wonderful city, it seemed a lifetime ago that the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) admitted the UK’s first coronavirus cases into its specialist isolation ward on 31 January. Opposite the RVI, it was sad to see St James’ Park, home of Newcastle United, which hadn’t hosted fans since 29 February. 

The Durham County Cricket Ground looked immaculate and provided an interesting contrast with Tudhoe village cricket pitch a little further to the south. Tudhoe cricket green has an unusual claim to fame in that it marked the most northerly point in England to be hit by a V1 ‘doodlebug’ flying bomb in WWII. The ferocious V1 assault on London from June 1944-March 1945 is relatively well known with around 8,800 of the pulsejet-powered flying bombs being ramp launched from France and Holland. What is less well known, is that as the Allies advanced after D-Day, the Germans launched more than 1,000 V1s from Heinkel He 111s. On Christmas Eve 1944, He 111s operating in the North Sea off the Humber, launched some 45 V1s at Manchester. The raid had limited success and one rogue V1 headed north-west instead of west with the V1’s 850kg warhead finally impacting Tudhoe cricket ground breaking many windows over a wide area, luckily without causing any serious casualties.

Durham County Cricket Ground

Fortunately, our navigation proved more effective and we soon arrived at busy Breighton, home of the famed Real Aeroplane Company (RAC). The expansive 800m x 30m grass strip lies in the south-west corner of the former WWII Halifax bomber base, and can be hard to spot for the first time visitor. Due to potential non-radio formations and aerobatics which remain north of the runway, there are no overhead joins and all joins are downwind to the south. It was great to see Breighton stalwarts and great friends Andy Wood and Charles Sunter, while pals Jez and Diane Poller produced welcome cups of tea. As we chatted, the resident 1938 Bucker Jungmeister got airborne – simply marvellous – definitely my ‘Lotto’ win aeroplane for sure! Breighton has long been a hotbed of Buckers ever since Taff Smith founded the RAC in 1989 after completing his epic 25-day, 12,600-mile flight from Australia to England in his Bucker Jungmann, G-TAFF. Breighton remains one of my favourite UK fields with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, full of interesting aeroplanes and equally interesting people. Such is the demand for this unique atmosphere that Breighton built new hangars for another 32 aircraft a couple of years ago, and the airfield is now home to some 85 aeroplanes. Breighton holds regular fly-ins during which many of the historic residents are flown. At other times the landing fee is £5 and both avgas and Jet A1 are available 24/7 on credit card pumps. 

Departing Breighton, we crossed the Humber and followed the River Trent east of the Doncaster zone heading for our next stop, New Farm in Northants, which was holding a fly-in. It was late afternoon as we approached but Safetycom was alive with a stream of arrivals and departures. We landed on the 550m R27 over the trees before parking amid a delightful array of flying machines. These ranged from a classic 1941 Piper J4 side-by-side Cub Coupe to fixed-wing and flexwing microlights and powered parachutes. Ever-enthusiastic strip owner Courtney Chambers has a passion for collecting classic fixed-wing microlights (he currently has eight) and the fly-in had attracted many Shadows, X-Airs and other Single-Seat Deregulated (SSDR) microlights. SSDR must be single-seat, have a max take-off weight of 300kg (315kg with a BRS) and a stall speed not exceeding 35kt. There is no doubt that the CAA’s light touch on SSDR has re-energised this sector. It doesn’t make many headlines but CAA statistics show that on 1 January 20 some 707 aircraft were registered as SSDR. Certainly the CFM Shadow, designed by David Cook in 1982, is enjoying a revival for those seeking cheap and fun flying and type aficionado Adrian Jones told me about his plans to convert one to SSDR with electrical power.

Being unregulated, Adrian is, of course, free to experiment as he wishes. 

Fear of heights…

It was great to see Courtney and his wider team putting on yet another relaxed and fun fly-in and being rewarded by a large turnout. Indeed, so many friends were present that it must have taken us an hour to walk the 30 yards to the BBQ. Friend Clive Mason was still trying to persuade me to overcome my fear of heights (yes really…) and go up in his powered parachute… Perhaps one for another day, on the basis that tomorrow never comes! Also present was the sole airworthy de Havilland DH-82B Queen Bee, resplendent with her military markings. The Queen Bee was devised as a low-cost, radio-controlled target for anti-aircraft gunnery training and 412 were built between 1933 and 1943. It might look like a standard Tiger Moth but has significant differences, including a wooden spruce and plywood Moth Major fabric-covered fuselage instead of the Tiger’s fabric covered, steel tube fuselage frame. The enclosed rear cockpit was equipped with radio-control equipment including pneumatically operated servo units operating the rudder and elevator. Fortunately, LF858 survived being shot at for a living and during its restoration to airworthiness in the 1980s, the great survivor was restored as a two-seater. Today G-BLUZ/LF858 is owned by a syndicate, affectionately known as ‘The Beekeepers’ and was flown in from Old Warden by Clark Stanley.         

With time marching on, we departed for the short flight north to Sywell to overnight at the Aviator Hotel. Taxying in, we were delighted to see that we’d arrived in the middle of a Luscombe fly-in with seven of the classics lined up in front of the hotel. The Aviator had recently re-opened and had great Covid-19 procedures. After an excellent meal, Alex and I enjoyed a few beers and some appropriately loud, suitably distanced conversations with our Luscombe pals, including organiser and type champion, Nigel Barratt, who was celebrating 30 years of owning his beloved 1946 Luscombe 8E G-BRUG. Also present were our friends Mark Chambers and his dad Colin, who’d flown their 8A from the Aughrim hillside strip in the Mourne Mountains in County Down. Alex and I have visited the scenic strip several times and it was great to catch-up with the local craic from Northern Ireland. Interestingly, of the 70 registered Luscombes, only 42 have current Permits. My friend John Tempest suggested that when they were imported in the 80s they were 40(ish)-year-old aeroplanes providing cheap flying, but as they now approach 80 years old, corrosion and sourcing A65 and C90 engines are becoming issues.     

Nigel Barratt's 1946 Luscombe 8E

As is usual on these spontaneous occasions, we probably stayed far too late in the bar but after a good night’s sleep and fortified by a ‘full English’, we were ready for another day.

Sywell Airfield was operating weekends on a skeleton staff with blind calls on the radio. Marcus Ansell was overseeing fuel, PPR and pretty much everything else, so it was good to chat while we refuelled with unleaded to feed our frugal 80hp Rotax 912. We had a truly brilliant stay at Sywell and just as the Luscombe crew were rising, we blasted-off to do a couple of strips before the big show.

First stop was nearby Tower Farm at Wollaston just east of Northampton. The field is easy to spot with a huge water tower at the western end and we landed on the upslope of the 580 metre R27. We are so spoilt in the UK with access to vast numbers of interesting strips of endless variety and character. I estimate there are 1,500 landing sites available to the EuroStar and thanks to generous owners and operators like Peter at Tower Farm, I don’t expect to run out of exciting destinations any time soon.

As we took off, we spied Matthew Boddington passing overhead in his RAF Be.2C replica en route to display at Old Warden. Many FLYER readers will know that Matthew subsequently had a very serious crash in the Be-2C in September and we’re absolutely chuffed that he’s recovering OK.

Curved approach into Sackville Farm Runway 31

Our next stop was Sackville Farm Airstrip, two miles north of the old RAE Bedford Airfield, which incidentally is still active (£5 landing fee for SEP!), as well as being used extensively for car storage. In accordance with the brief, I flew a ‘Spitfire-style’ curved approach to R31 to avoid Riseley village before landing on Sackville’s huge 730 metre grass strip. We received a very warm welcome from owner Tim Wilkinson and were invited into the clubhouse for a brew. Sackville has a thriving flying community, which includes LAA machines, microlights and gliders and is well known for its annual hot air balloon meet which attracts upwards of 100 balloons. Tim is the third generation of his family to fly from the site after his grandfather Jack started flying an Auster from the field back in 1946. Sackville is a real gem but our slot time was approaching so we soon departed for the short journey to Old Warden. 

Old Warden tower is only manned on show days with Restricted Airspace (Temporary) and ATZ activated by Notam and our entry was facilitated by the cheery FISO. It’s always a thrill to arrive overhead Old Warden on airshow day and see lines of historic aircraft being readied for action. We enjoyed a great view of the magnificent house set in 425 acres of grounds which encompass the airfield with the six Shuttleworth Collection hangars, the Swiss Garden and the agricultural college.  The Shuttleworth Trust was formed in 1940 by Dorothy Shuttleworth in memory of her only child, Richard, who was killed aged 31 flying a Fairey Battle on a night Navex out of RAF Benson. Petrolhead Richard had been an avid collector of both early aeroplanes and cars in the 1930s and his collection went on to form the basis of today’s world-renowned museum. Notably he purchased, restored and flew the Collection’s 1909 Bleriot, which today is the oldest flying aeroplane in the world. He was also quite the adventurer and flew his Comper Swift G-ABWE to India in 1932 to compete in Viceroy’s Cup Air Race.

Matthew Boddington displaying his Be.2C replica

Today, Shuttleworth has one of the finest collections of airworthy historic aircraft in the world and what a thrill it was to land on R20 adjacent to many of the Collection’s treasures. We were marshalled in by Dave Georgala, who like all the ground crew sported white overalls, although Dave’s were appropriately stained by castor oil sprayed by the resident rotary aero engines. It was good to see Dave who has marshalled us in on our last four flying visits and no sooner had we shut down than he was busy parking our good pals Nigel Hitchman and Dave Haines, who arrived in Nigel’s RV-6, followed by Jon Crook in his EuroStar. Dave G is a volunteer and, like us, a member of the Shuttleworth Vintage Aeroplane Society (SVAS). SVAS plays a key role in supporting the ongoing operation of the Collection and donates around £100,000 a year to the Trust, funding the odd aircraft purchase (the Trust’s Lysander was purchased by SVAS) as well as rebuilds, engine overhauls and spares. It also provides around 43,000 hours of voluntary work annually. Membership is £30 per year and provides unlimited access to the collection, up to 50% off airshow tickets and a quarterly magazine. A great way to support our aviation heritage and have fun at the same time.

Cars arriving at Shuttleworth Airshow
The Edwardians, like this magnificent Avro Triplane replica only fly in still or light wind conditions

Bygone era

Cars were streaming into the site as we walked past so many superb aeroplanes from a bygone era.  The drive-in format sees Shuttleworth divide the grass spectator area into 5m x 5m squares and car occupants remain in their square except for going to their area ‘welfare hub’ containing food and drink vendors and toilets. The grass areas slope up from the runway and create a natural amphitheatre, perfect for airshows. After booking in, Alex and I were directed to our own square, next to Nigel, Dave and Jon. Our other neighbour had arrived in a very smart camouflage Chipmunk and amazingly turned out to be a former RAF colleague of mine, Alec Trevett, so it was good to catch up on old times. We’d all come equipped with folding chairs and in no time the flying display got underway with Cranfield University’s Jetstream 31 beautifully displayed by Roger ‘Dodge’ Bailey and Joe Brown. The fully instrumented Jetstream flying laboratory allows students from 25 universities across the world to fly as flight test engineers, monitoring real time performance parameters during the flight. The Jetstream will shortly be replaced by the larger SAAB 340B, so this was a novel and welcome display.

Indeed, the Collection puts enormous effort into creating imaginative displays and the four-hour long flying display was tremendous. The sound of WWI era rotary engines and the smell of castor oil is a highlight of any Old Warden display and we were treated to the 130hp Clerget 9B in the Sopwith Triplane and Le Rhones in the Sopwith Pup (80hp) and Avro 504K (110hp). Castor oil is pumped into the fuel/air mixture to lubricate the rotaries and as it’s a total loss oil system, the castor oil gets sprayed everywhere. Good news is that SVAS have recently bought an exceptionally rare, airworthy Clerget 9 to act as a spare for the collection’s Triplane and Camel. 

A 1935 Hawk Speed Six leading Mew Gulls, with amazing sound from the three de Havilland six-cylinder racing engines.

While broadcast commentary was available on car radios, we much preferred to listen to the aircraft – in the new format, it’s nice to have the choice.   

Another unique formation consisted of three British racers, the 1935 Miles Hawk Speed Six accompanied by the famous Alex Henshaw 1936 Mew Gull G-AEXF and David Beale’s beautiful Mew Gull replica G-HEKL, all powered by six-cylinder de Havilland Gipsy Six / Queen engines of around 200hp (David’s Mew Gull was featured in FLYER, summer 2020). What an incredible sight and sound as they tore around the circuit. 

A personal favourite of mine is the 1925 de Havilland DH-51 Miss Kenya G-EBIR, a big three-seat tourer powered by a large 120hp Airdisco V8, which was the first aircraft to fly in Kenya in 1926 where it operated for 40 years before being returned to the UK and restored. Add in an exciting barnstormer display, Peter Kynsey doing aerobatics in a Jungmann, the impossibly agile (and brave) Kirsten and Gemma wing-walking atop two 450hp Stearmans, some great formations including a Lysander/Gladiator and a Spitfire/Sea Hurricane and you can sense how well the aviation enthusiast is catered for at Shuttleworth displays. 

But for me, the greatest historical aeroplane flying in the world today is the exceptional de Havilland DH-88 Comet G-ACSS Grosvenor House, which famously won the 1934 MacRobertson air race between England and Australia. Powered by two 230hp Gipsy Six R, the aircraft had three large fuel tanks giving a range of nearly 3,000 miles which enabled pilots, CWA Scott and Tom Campbell Black, to fly the first leg,  Mildenhall to Baghdad direct in 12 hours. The Comet finally arrived in Melbourne after 70 hours and 54 minutes (of which 65.5 hours were airborne), ahead of a KLM Douglas DC-2, the forerunner of the great DC-3. Grosvenor House, (named after the owner Arthur Octavius Edward’s Hotel in Park Lane which is now a five-star Marriott) was finally restored to flight in May 1987 after being grounded for almost 49 years.

DH.88 Comet Grosvenor House, winner of the 1934 MacRobertson air race from England to Australia

What a privilege to see this beautiful aeroplane display in the capable hands of chief pilot Dodge Bailey. On his approach to land, the gusty wind saw Dodge go-around, a treat for spectators but maybe not so much for Dodge. Sadly, the winds were too sporty for the marginal Edwardian aircraft to wrap up the show and it was time for us to depart. It had been a truly outstanding day and I must thank everyone at Shuttleworth for pulling out all the stops to put on a brilliant show in challenging circumstances.

We departed in high spirits and as Jon broke off to return to Brown Shutters Farm near Bath, we flew in formation with Nigel and Dave as we headed to Hinton to overnight with Nigel. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone had finished earlier that day with another Hamilton win and passing close by, the absence of crowds meant it was spookily quiet. Hinton’s PAC-750 parachute aeroplane had finished for the day so we followed Nigel straight in on Hinton’s hard 700m R24. Hinton is a great sports flying field with parachuting, gliding using a Eurofox tug, as well as the base for many interesting LAA Permit machines. But everyone had gone home and as Nigel put the RV away in the hangar, we tied down for the night. We enjoyed a lazy evening at Nigel’s and in the morning were ready for another fun day.

Nigel decided to join us in his 80-year-old Piper J3C-85 Cub for a morning fly-about. As Alex had never flown in a Cub, he jumped in with Nigel for some vintage fun as we headed off to nearby Bicester. En route we avoided a large-ish Notamed area south of Bicester where Tom Cruise was parachuting out of a helicopter for his new Mission Impossible film. I’m not sure our £2m third party liability would even cover breaking Tom’s fingernail, so we kept well clear!

The amazing AeroSuperBatics 450hp Stearman with Gemma and Kirsten

Historic airfield

Arriving at Bicester, we joined downwind for 600 metre R24. While the huge grass site is famously one of last omni-directional grass landing areas, there are two mown runways, 600 metre 04/22 and 790 metre 12/30. What a pleasure to land at this most historic airfield where organised flying has taken place since 1916. In 2013, MOD sold the airfield to Bicester Heritage who are developing the site as a national centre for historic motoring with supporting businesses.

While there was some controversy when the Windrushes Gliding Club left, Bicester Heritage maintain that it is keen to continue aviation and certainly I felt very welcome when I PPR’d. It is clearly putting a huge effort into restoring many of the 1930s buildings and also have some smart and reasonably priced accommodation on site. Parking in the south-west corner near the original 1934 tower, we wandered over to the hangar where the resident joy-riding Tiger Moth was undergoing a 50 hour check. Alongside were many interesting residents including LAA Chairman Steve Slater’s Currie Wot, G-APNT, Airymouse. Designed by Joe Currie, two Wots were built in 1937 only to both be destroyed in a German air raid on Lympne aerodrome in May 1940. Post-war, Viv Bellamy, CFI of the Hampshire Aeroplane Club persuaded Joe, by then HAC chief engineer, to produce drawings to enable more Wots to be built and John Isaacs (of scale Spitfire and Fury fame) built G-APNT in 1958. The Wot went on to be the mount of Westland test pilot Harald Penrose and he wrote the classic book Airymouse about the simple pleasures of grassroots flying.    

It was time to depart and as Alex was loving the whole Cub experience, he jumped back in with Nigel as we headed for Turweston. It made a change for the EuroStar to need flap flying in formation with Nigel, normally he needs it when alongside us in the RV-6. En route our little formation did some orbits of our good friends Roger and Joan Syratt’s house in Winslow. Warned of our plan, they’d used large bedsheets to make a large ‘N’ and ‘P’ in their garden, much to our amusement!

We soon arrived at Turweston, another former wartime bomber training field – and LAA HQ – where we landed on the 1,200 metre R27 before parking-up and heading for lunch at the excellent Flight Deck Café. The café, on the first floor of the impressive Tower building offers fabulous views of the airfield and was busy with punters in the ‘new normal’. After a fine lunch, we wandered down to the Midland Aeroplane Company (MAC) which specialises in vintage aeroplane restorations and maintenance. Owners, Sam, Alan and Tim and their team were busy on a wonderful variety of aeroplanes including a Jungmann, an incredibly rare 1940 Cessna 165 Airmaster with its huge one-piece wing and even some classic homebuilts including a Nipper, a Tailwind and the only UK Monnett Sonerai with a current permit.

Restoration work was nearing completion on Nigel Rhind and Kathy McDonald’s L-21B Super Cub which was absolutely gorgeous, painted in USN markings by resident painting company Mick Allen & Sons. Nigel R was certainly very excited to test fly it and enjoy it once more. The incredible Mystery Ship replica built by the late Ron Souch sat in the corner and the good news is that MAC will be re-permitting it with a view to it returning to the airshow circuit next season.

Heading home up the Trent passing the decommissioned coal-fired power station at Cottam
Expecting overflying visitors, Roger and Joan Syratt used bedsheets to make a large ‘N’ and ‘P’ in their garden in Winslow!

After 30 minutes of drooling in this super-friendly hangar workshop, it was time for Alex and me to say goodbye to Nigel and head northwards. Alex had really enjoyed his Cub experience thanks to Nigel’s generosity and I had to put up with him all the way home going on about how great the Cub was!  Having done a lot of Cub flying with Nigel over the years including some epic Europe adventures, I couldn’t help but agree – who doesn’t love a Cub…?

Flying up the Trent, we spied one of the two red and white Oil Spill Response Boeing 727s doing circuits at its Doncaster base. The former FedEx 727s carry 15,000L of dispersant and spraying is conducted at just 150kt, a mere 150ft above the waves, which must be very exciting.

After refuelling at Breighton we finally arrived back at Eshott at 1830 after a memorable weekend visiting 10 airfields in nine hours of flying. It made me incredibly happy to experience a 2020 airshow with great pals, while enjoying plenty of fun flying along the way. Here’s to the 2021 vaccine and a return to normality!


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