Open day at Old Warden

The Open Day held at Old Warden grass aerodrome by the Shuttleworth Collection on April 1st to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the formation of the R.A.F. and the near-anniversary of the first operational patrol by Bristol Fighters, which took place with No. 48 Squadron on April 5th, 1917, was one of the most enjoyable flying displays I have attended.

The Flying Museum is itself well worth seeing, with well-housed and labelled exhibits and such facilities as clean indoor toilets, refreshment supplies and shops selling books and other aviation material. When admission to this Museum is coupled with a two-hour display by pre-war and war-time aeroplanes the admission charge of five-bob per adult head, kids half price, can only be regarded as extremely good value.

I arrived in time to watch Desmond Penrose of Hawker Siddeley test-flying the 1916 Sopwith Pup and making four attempts before setting it down, on the blip-switch. The display proper commenced at 2.30 p.m. with a flight by Penrose in the replica 1910 Avro triplane 4 built for film work and using a Cirrus engine. To see this early aeroplane with its warping wings disappear over the trees and return low down in dignified flight must represent the height of nostalgia to anyone who remembers Brooklands or Hendon before the First World War. It was nice to hear the crowd clap the pilot as he stopped the Avro by the enclosure.

This item was put on to compensate for the absence of the replica Fokker E 111 which Joan Hughes was to have flown but which had allowed its Permit to Fly to expire. Air-Commodore Alan Wheeler next took up the beautifully restored 1915 Avro 504K No. E3404. with 110-h.p. Le Rhone rotary engine. It was to have had a mock combat with the Pup but unfortunately after Penrose had demonstrated the latter, including a couple of loops, the port wingtip touched the ground on landing and the engine refused to restart. But while it had been in the air the superior performance of the Pup was evident and it must have been the envy of the Avro pilots!

The great event of the afternoon was the flight by Bristol Fighter No. D8096, powered with a 275-h.p. Rolls-Royce Falcon engine. Not only is this the only Bristol Fighter in airworthy condition but its engine is the oldest R.-R. aero-engine still flying. The pilot, Bert Russell, in 1914/18 Army uniform, and his gunner, P. Brown, in an R.F.C. “maternity jacket,” were driven out to their aeroplane by M. Frazer in a flat-radiator Crossley touring car with rear windscreen protecting the officers, and Bleriot headlamps. They were followed by a Hucks starter, a D.H.-built version on a 1927/8 black-radiator model-T Ford chassis with 33 x 5 Spencer Moulton back tyres and smaller Dunlop Cord front tyres. The engine of the Bristol Fighter was started by the Bucks starter after the latter’s wheels had been chocked to obviate T-creep.

As before, the aeroplanes were attended by Air Mechanics and Flight Sergeants in authentic R.F.C. khaki. They had primed each cylinder of the rotary engines in the Pup and Avro, for instance. After the rear gunner had been strapped in, Russell gave a convincing demonstration in the Bristol Fighter, he too looping-the-loop more than once.

Incidentally, in one hangar the Elva-B.M.W. 1600S which holds the 2-litre Snetterton lap-record was keeping company with the racing D.H. Comet G-ACSS, while it was interesting to note the apparently special valve rockers and head-securing bridge-pieces of the A.B.C. fiat-twin engine in the Wren motor-glider. These Open Days at Old Warden are excellent value and strongly recommended. During the summer they are scheduled for June 24th and 25th, July 30th, August. 27th and 28th, September 24th, and October 29th. – W. B.