AIRSHOW GUIDE: SHUTTLEWORTH
AIRSHOW GUIDE: SHUTTLEWORTH COLLECTION
GUIDE BY ADAM LANDAU
Few airshows offer such a relaxed and enjoyable experience as those at Old Warden. The Shuttleworth Collection typically host around ten airshows per year at their small grass airstrip, including afternoon shows on Sundays and smaller evening shows on Saturdays. They often feature the Collection’s own rare classic aircraft, as well as visiting planes and occasional military participants. The venue is also a favourite among photographers, with its favourable lighting and curved crowdline, allowing for photogenic topside passes “round the bend”.
Tickets to visit the Shuttleworth Collection on any ordinary museum day cost £15 per adult, with free admission for children under 15. Some events may vary, but for the 2022 airshow season, a Sunday airshow costs £29 in advance or £36 on the gate, with under 16s being admitted for free. The Collection is also hosting a number of drive-in airshows on Saturday evenings, which cost £25 in advance or £32 on the gate. At drive-in shows, each car must also purchase a parking space (£7 for a standard size vehicle). Other spaces are also available for groups of pedestrians, those arriving by bicycle or motorbike, or those in oversize vehicles. The premium Flying Proms event costs £42 in advance, or £46 on the gate per adult, and £21 in advance or £23 on the gate per child.
Members Shuttleworth Veteran Aeroplane Society (SVAS) enjoy several perks, including free access to the museum on non-event days and discounted airshow tickets (typically ar discount of between £8 and £4 per event). SVAS membership costs £30 per year for an adult, or £15 per year for a young adult (16-25). A pair of adults can share membership for £50 annually. Lifetime membership is also available for £900 (under 60) or £500 (over 60).
Aside from a small enclosure for disabled visitors, there are no hospitality enclosures at Shuttleworth Collection airshows, meaning the entire crowdline is open for spectators to enjoy. Sunday airshows can be quite busy and it can be a good idea to stake out a good spot at around lunchtime (flying starts at 14:00), but Saturday shows are more relaxed affairs and there is usually plenty of space right up until the start of the show. There is usually a parade of vintage vehicles half an hour before the start of the flying display, so you may want to be on the crowdline early to enjoy that.
The most popular spot is on the crowdline, parallel to the runway, immediately to the south of the control tower, as this is where photographers have a good view of the main runway while also benefitting from the topside passes around the curve in the crowdline. This is usually considered show centre, and B-axis manoeuvres are usually centred on this point.
All of London’s commercial airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southend and City) have good rail connections, airport hotels and plentiful hire car facilities. The nearest of these airports is Luton.
Most visitors drive to the show, taking advantage of the free parking and generally light traffic, when compared to other airshows. This is a convenient option, but note that Hill Lane, which crosses the northern end of the main runway, is shut during the air displays, so don’t be late if you will be arriving at the airfield from the west.
New for 2021, on event days, visitors must enter the site via a new entry gate on Alder Road, off the B658. Arriving from the east, the road passes the theshold of Runway 03 and turns north towards the showground. Access is no longer permitted from Old Warden village, through the grounds of the estate.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT:
Few airshows are as delightfully easy to attend as Shuttleworth’s using public transport. A free shuttle bus runs from Biggleswade railway station during most airshows, leaving at every half hour between 10:30 and 13:00. A return bus is offered at between 17:00 and 18:30, again, running every half hour. The journey takes approximately 10 minutes and bypasses any event traffic, arriving at the main museum gate on Hill Lane.
Biggleswade is served by Thameslink and Great Nothern services, which run between London King’s Cross and Peterborough. The trip from London takes 45 minutes, with trains running around every half an hour. Return tickets start from about £15. See the operator’s website for more details and to book tickets at the lowest prices (note that all services will be operated by Great British Railways from 2023).
Shuttleworth airshows can be done as a daytrip, and there is generally no need for overnight accomodation at or near the airshow. However, camping is available in the grounds of the estate. For those who do require a nearby hotel, the nearest large towns are Bedford, Luton, Hitchin and Letchworth Garden City. Hotel prices are not affected by the airshow.
The vast majority of aircraft performing at Shuttleworth’s airshows are locally based, and visiting planes usually arrive on the morning of the show. There is no arrivals or practice day, and the eve of an airshow generally does not differ from any other non-event day at the museum. However, on any non-event days, particularly in fine weather and during the spring or summer, it is not unusual to see some of the Collection’s aircraft out of the hangar for flight tests or display practices.