The first Gypsy of Spring, Shuttleworth comes alive.
Its been a long winter. Days when dusk falls shortly after three in afternoon, when the lazy east wind is so cold it seems to go through you rather than round you, and when bright sunlight heralds sub-zero temperatures and a carpet of white frost in the morning seem to last for an eternity as Autumn gives way to January and February. The Hangars at Shuttleworth, though insulated, are still cold and the engineers wrap up warm as they go about winter maintenance, tools are icy to the touch and breath turns white in the air. Second by second, hour by hour and day by day the time passed, days get longer and the winter tasks get completed.
Then with Buds bursting, early blooms, birdsong and butterflies act as beacons for the arrival of Spring, at about the same time as the first swallows arrive on their epic journey north, with the Spring Lambs playing in the field comes the unmistakable sound that heralds the arrival of the new season, the first Gypsy Major of Spring.
The annual workup for the pilots staff and ground crew at The Shuttleworth Collection gives everyone an opportunity to blow the winter blues away. This then is a short preview of what can be seen during the coming season.
But remember none of it would be possible without the cheerful band of engineers and volunteers who work hard to get the aircraft ready so the pilots can produce the arial ballet at each display.
The new arrival, a Grumman Wildcat, sits in Hangar 1 awaiting its turn to take to the air. Elsewhere work continues on the Spitfire. One wing now looks, well, like a wing; the other looks like a kit of parts. Work is progressing and its being carried out to the highest standard.
We will journey now into a strange and mysterious land. At the back of Hangar 5 there is a display of old horse drawn coaches and suchlike, dark in order to preserve the fabric of the exhibits there is also a representation of an aircraft workshop in the corner. Just next to this, under a staircase, lies an incongruous blue door. This leads to the mysterious land known as the Vehicle Section Workshop. Here the members of the team prepare and repair the many Cars and motorcycles for display, most of them run and many can be seen on airshow days. When not being run or worked on they reside around the hangars and in their display at the back of Hangar 7
Back to the flying. Some of the heavier aircraft take a bow. Requiring much manhandling by the groundcrew.
There are few sights sounds and smells in historic aviation that match that of a Rotary Engine. Two of the three rotary powered aircraft flew. The starting procedure begins with the priming of each cylinder before the prop is swung and the engine barks into life, as it settles down into a reassuring buzz the smell of burnt Castor Oil fills the air. And then they’re off!
The Sopwith Pup and Triplane both flew, if there is a better backdrop for flying historic aircraft I have yet to find it.
The Storch owned by Peter Holloway and the Po2 owned by the collection both came out and were flown, very slowly.
Beware of the Hun in the sun.
Last but not least the Lympne Trials aircraft, with the exception of the Wren, were flown. The Anec and Cygnet have been rested for a year and the Humming Bird is returning to displays after much work has been carried out on its engine. Dynamic they aren’t but they are an important part of the collection, coming from a time when private flying was in its infancy.
Last but by no means least, its 35 years since Tony Haig-Thomas joined the Collection as a pilot. This year marks his 15th and last as Aviation Trustee of the Shuttleworth Trust. Quite simply, the Collection wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for his guidance, leadership and management. The 2012 Airshow season is his “farewell tour”. Here he is in front of Richard Shuttleworth’s shed with Richard Shuttleworth’s aircraft. Two out of the three have been lovingly restored and looked after. Can you tell which they are?