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Bits and Pieces

The Shuttleworth Collection (Old Warden, Bedfordshire, UK)

By Ian Brown, Editor - Bits and Pieces, EAA #657159

The weather was perfect for the evening air show on 21 July 2012 at the Shuttleworth Collection (Old Warden) in Bedfordshire, just an hour north of London, UK. Some of the oldest flying aircraft in the world are flown by expert pilots who seem to succeed in making the very difficult look easy.

1960ís replicas of 1910 Bristol Boxkite and 1911 Avro Triplane
1960ís replicas of 1910 Bristol Boxkite and 1911 Avro Triplane

An original Bleriot XI, the aircraft type that first crossed the English Channel, dating back to 1909, was flown the length of the runway. It has the British civil registration G-AANG, and it is powered by a "W form" Anzani three-cylinder engine identical to the one Louis Bleriot used to fly from Calais to Dover. It is the oldest flying aircraft in the world, and it is propelled by the oldest aircraft engine in flying condition. Replicas of both the Bristol Boxkite and Avro Triplane were flown through multiple circuits in a re-enactment of World War I, with flour bag bombing runs. There was also a Blackburn type D low-wing monoplane manufactured in 1912 (a hundred years ago and still flying). Several aircraft in the collection were manufactured in the 1960s for the movie Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.

Oldest Flying Bleriot XI
Oldest Flying Bleriot XI

So who was Richard Shuttleworth and how did the collection come about? Apparently he was the son of wealthy parents, who themselves had inherited a boat-building business and built up a large estate. Shuttleworth liked to tinker with mechanical things including cars. He loved racing and actually won the first British Grand Prix at Donnington, which is still an active racing circuit with 60 days of motorcycle and specialty automobile races per year. They also house the largest collection of F1 McClaren and Williams Grand Prix vehicles in the world outside of their own collections.

Shuttleworth inherited the Old Warden estate when he turned 23 and was at liberty to indulge his passion for things mechanical, as well as managing the estate. He was seriously injured in a crash in the South African Grand Prix and chose flying as his passion because it was "safer." He constructed the airfield and began restoring old aircraft, and when war broke out in 1939 he joined the Royal Air Force. On a night training exercise in 1940, flying a Fairey Battle, he was tragically killed in a CFIT accident. Six years later his mother decided to place the property in a charitable trust in memory of her son, having allowed the Manor House to be used as a Red Cross convalescent home for injured airmen throughout the war years. In 1963 the collection was opened to the public, and it continues strong to this day.

As an interesting aside, Shuttleworth Mansion is also home to the English School of Falconry, and there is a collection of 300 owls, falcons, and vultures in the Birds of Prey and Conservation Centre with examples from around the world.

One rare event was the balloon popping. Volunteers on the runway with a sack of helium-filled balloons released them in bunches so that the aircraft could try and pop them by flying into them. It seemed to be quite difficult, but the balloon pops were easy to hear when the pilots did manage to connect.

Balloon Popping with Aircraft
Balloon Popping with Aircraft!

There was also a ribbon-cutting demonstration with G-BNZC, a de Havilland DHC 1 Chipmunk. He managed to fly a full circuit with two ribbons trailing from the wings.

Your editor considers himself fortunate to have a nephew who decided to get married in the grounds of Shuttleworth Mansion! Coming the week before EAA AirVenture Oshkosh made travel logistics a little complicated, but it was well worth the visit.

Ribbon Cutting
Chipmunk proudly wearing ribbons

Learn more about the Shuttleworth Collection.

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