Having parked up, my first port of call was the car park by the main gate as the Polikarpov Po.2, with a Hucks starter attached to the propeller of the 125hp Shvetsov M-11D 5-cylinder radial engine, was on public view. It was beginning to draw quite a crowd which made people free photography a bit of a problem. The Po.2 was to be the star attraction of a Russian themed part of the afternoon air display and was making its first public air show appearance after an extensive long-term restoration programme and for which the Soviet Air Attaché from London had been invited to attend. The Po-2 was a jack of all trades and performed a variety of roles from light bomber and aerial reconnaissance platform to trainer and post war as a crop duster and glider tug. Over 40,000 were built with a production run from 1928 through to 1959 where the last of them were licensed built in Poland. This particular aircraft, G-BSSY, is a trainer variant and served with the Yugoslav Air Force but has been restored as a Soviet Air Force Light Bomber.
Normally there are lots of visiting aircraft landing during the morning, but the Bedfordshire sky above Old Warden was relatively quiet apart from display aircraft arriving and a few General Aviation types that could handle the cross winds. Even the Dragon Rapide and Tiger Moth of Classic Wings never made the short hop from Duxford for the pleasure flights. Among the limited arrivals of note was the Spartan 7W Executive (NC17633) from Little Gransden and the equally highly polished North American Navion A(NA-145) (N8968H).
After the motor vehicle cavalcade the flying display started on time at two o’clock with a barnstorming routine by the de havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk 22, de havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth II, the camouflaged and yellow Miles M-14 Magister I and the all yellow Miles M-14A Hawk Trainer 3. Their display was limited to flour bombing a target to start with followed balloon bursting but unfortunately the balloons didn’t really want to fly and mainly hugged the ground and the tree line. The Chipmunk was airborne again later on in the afternoon for a solo display routine to fill a vacant display slot.
The Avro Tutor was due to display with the Hawker Tomtit but that was grounded as the blustery wind was gusting beyond the safe limits for it to fly. With the World War One rotary-engined aircraft grounded, a demonstration on starting a rotary engine was arranged to take place just behind the control tower on the Sopwith Pup. The demonstration was repeated again with the Sopwith Triplane a bit later on in the afternoon around the other side of the control tower so the crowd at the front could see. Only the SE.5a of the First World War aircraft ventured into the air but we later learnt from the pilot, Keith Dennison, that there was a radiator problem as soon as he took off. The engine was quickly overheating and he literally did one quick circuit just to position the aircraft to land it as soon as possible.
Of the Shuttleworth Collection civilian registered aircraft, the advertised Comper Swift didn’t fly but the DH60X Hermes Moth did take to the air. This Moth was originally owned by Richard Shuttleworth as his private aircraft and was modified with an x-legged undercarriage, Cirrus Hermes engine and different windshields on both cockpits. The rather unusual looking Desoutter Air Taxi completed a few circuits of the airfield as well on its return to the flying scene after being rested last year.
The Russian theme to the display started with the take off of the single seat Yak 50 and the twin seat Super Yak 52 of the Yakovlevs aerobatics display team from Compton Abbas in Dorset and flown by Jez Hopkins and Nick Barnard. They flew off to the rear to hold as the world’s largest single-engined biplane dragged itself into the air. The Antonov An-2 Colt, flown by James Black and operated by the An-2 Club at Popham, Hampshire, turned out to be the one aircraft that appeared to revel in the windy conditions. For a large aeroplane, the An-2 is a very nimble and agile aircraft. It was literally turning tightly within the airfield boundaries and its nose up, climb to height, point into wind, throttle back the engine and apparently hover over the airfield was impressive. As the An-2 touched down and stopped in what appeared to be its own fuselage length the Yakovlevs returned for a very spirited aerobatics display with plenty of smoke which was quickly blown away by the wind. The final part of the Russian ‘Troika’ was the Polikarpov Po-2, which looked remarkably stable in the wind as it flew over the Bedfordshire countryside. The 5-cylinder Shvetsov radial engine has a rather distinctive engine note and because of that the Germans troops on the Russian Front gave it the nickname of ‘Nahmaschine’ or Sewing Machine.
The flying display was winding down to an early end but not before Mark Linney put in an appearance in the F-86A Sabre, which is based at Duxford, with the natural metal of the aircraft standing out quite effectively against the deep blue of the late afternoon spring sky. Hopefully we shall see more blue sky during the rest of the air show season. There had been planned, according to the air show programme, a routine for the F-86 to play cat & mouse with the Po-2 as had taken place between these two types of aircraft during the Korean War. Hopefully to be seen in October at Duxford for the Korean War themed show. The Hawker Sea Hurricane IB and Westland Lysander IIIA then took off one after the other and after a couple of passes together, separated for individual displays. The aerobatic display of the camouflaged Hunting Provost T1 was the final act for the day.
The flying finished about an hour early and some of the Shuttleworth aircraft that did venture into the air extended their displays a bit to fill in the extra time there was due to other cancellations.
A big thanks should go to those pilots who displayed their aircraft and equally the ground crews that had to manhandle some of the aircraft in the less than favourable windy conditions to provide an afternoon of flying that entertained what must have been a near capacity crowd under a clear blue sky at Old Warden.
With the dark, cold winter months now firmly behind us, the start of May heralds the beginning of the air show season and what better place to start than at The Shuttleworth Collection based at Old Warden in Bedfordshire. The Spring Air Show didn’t quite go as planned as the tail end of the winter weather was still trying to maintain a hold over the country. Although there was beautiful wall to wall blue sky and reasonably warm sunshine with crystal clear atmospheric conditions there was also a 25 to 30 knot easterly wind, gusting at times, blowing across the runway and onto the crowd line. The wind seemed to gather strength during the day and this severely affected the flying display in the afternoon. It may have been the forecast of sunshine and blue sky that attracted the crowds as I had to queue for about 20 minutes to get in which is something I don’t often do when arriving early at Old Warden.
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