The final stop on my trip was London, where I stayed for most of a week (thanks, Jakob and Sarah, for putting me up!) I had big plans, but ended up spending most of my time at British Library Newspapers doing research for an article. But first I got to spend a weekend looking at old aeroplanes, thanks to JDK who put me in touch with Trevor, who kindly offered his services as a chauffeur and guide. On the Saturday, we visited the fabled Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden in Bedfordshire, which was holding an evening flying display.
The collection consists of both vintage aeroplanes and vintage automobiles, nearly all from before the Second World War: here is a Hawker Demon interceptor, the Napier-Railton racing car (actually a visitor from Brooklands) and a 1920 Hucks starter.
(The Hucks starter is used to start the propeller spinning, instead of doing it by hand. All the mod cons here.)
The wonderful thing about the Shuttleworth Collection is that so many of its aircraft can and do fly. (The cars can drive too, but I readily confess to being less interested in that.) This Sopwith Triplane can be seen in the air further down the page.
Well, they fly when they don't have mechanical difficulties, as with this Westland Lysander. A shame, as I was looking forward to seeing how it handled!
The other factor, of course, is the weather. On the day of my visit, it was overcast early on, but cleared up later on and by dusk the wind had fallen to the merest zephyr, which was perfect as it meant the 'Edwardians' would be able to fly.
While the various machines were being moved around outside, I had a wander through the hangars. This is a propeller from the R101, damaged in a collision with the mooring mast at Cardington.
A Bristol Scout Type D replica, probably built by RAF apprentices in 1960.
One of the most historically significant aircraft in the collection, the de Havilland DH.88 Comet Grosvenor House which won the 1934 London-Melbourne air race. Say what you like about its almost-variable-pitch propellers, it's a gorgeous aeroplane.
Back outside. One of the nice things about this display was that the flight-line was behind the rope, so you could get a good look at the aeroplanes and chat to the pilots. This Hawker Sea Hurricane IB was very popular.
A Blériot XI undergoing an engine check. (A replica -- I think. But see below.)
The primary trainer for the US Army in the Second World War, the Ryan PT-22 Recruit.
As I said, these things fly! This is the Sea Hurricane seen above. You might just be able to make out the fairing for the arrester hook, used for landing on the deck of a merchant aircraft carrier (i.e. a merchant ship fitted with a landing deck, to provide some air cover for convoys).
The RAF's last biplane interceptor, the Gloster Gladiator.
Spectacles require an audience.
A Klemm Kl 35, a near-contemporary equivalent of the American PT-22.
Another trainer, the Bücker Bü 131 Jungmann, which equipped all the nicest air forces of the 1930s and 1940s: the Luftwaffe, the Japanese army, Franco's air force.
I think this was my favourite aeroplane of the day, the Avro Tutor, which is why it gets three photos (including the one at the start of the post).
Photogenic and aerobatic.
A very rare type: the only surviving Blackburn B-2, a side-by-side trainer. Only 42 were built, most of them used by civilian flying schools rather than the RAF.
Another rare trainer, the Hawker Tomtit, which first flew in 1928. It lost out to the Tutor for a RAF contract, and only 35 were ever built.
As you may have guessed, the programme was ordered by reverse chronology. Now we're up to the late First World War (and the very late afternoon), with the Bristol F.2 Fighter, uninspiringly named but amazingly agile, especially given that its a two-seater.
Probably the best British fighter of the war, the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a.
And it's a Great War veteran. 84 Squadron's CO was flying it when he shot down a Fokker D.VII on 10 November 1918.
The Sopwith Triplane seen above. Only a reproduction, but one endorsed by Tom Sopwith himself.
The oldest British aeroplane, the Blackburn Type D. The only one built, it first flew in late 1912, crashed on a farm in 1914, was recovered in 1938 and restored for its first flight in thirty-three years in 1947. And here it is, still flying, another sixty-three years further on!
A replica Bristol Boxkite, Britain's first military production aircraft.
An Avro Triplane, another replica. This and the Boxkite were made for the 1965 film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (which I watched on the A380 coming home -- first time I've ever seen an inflight movie with even one plane crash!) and the Shuttleworth got to keep them afterwards. The Triplane was flown by that bounder, Sir Percy Ware-Armitage.
And finally, the most amazing survivor in the collection, a Blériot XI built in 1909. It's the same type Louis Blériot himself used in his historic flight across the English Channel that year. It's the world's oldest aeroplane which is still flyable, and I got to see it fly! Of course, when I say 'fly', it really only hopped. It's too fragile to do turns -- especially given that it doesn't use ailerons to steer, but Wright-style wing-warping -- so all they did with it was get up enough speed to get into the air and then land again, turn it around and do the same thing in the other direction. But pretty amazing all the same. I was lucky that my camera's batteries just lasted long enough; between that and the low light my best photo of the Blériot gives a somewhat misleading impression of great speed. But it kinda works for me!
The Shuttleworth Collection is named in honour of Richard Shuttleworth, a rich kid who liked fast cars and aeroplanes, winning several motor races in the 1930s and even taking a course record from Sir Malcolm Campbell. But he also liked old cars and aeroplanes, and started collecting machines which even then were becoming rare. He joined the RAF and was killed in August 1940 while flying a Fairey Battle. His mother founded the Shuttleworth Collection (along with an agricultural college) in his memory, and we have cause to be grateful for them both for ensuring the survival of so many unique aircraft from the early days of flight.
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