‘It used to be restricted to current test pilots,’ he tells us, ‘but fewer and fewer of them had experience with piston engines. So we've moved to civilians with a lot of “tail wheel” time. There’s a grading process for the aircraft, based not on age or value but on what vices it has.’ In other words, the harder it is to keep an aeroplane in the sky, the better you have to be. Which seems pretty sensible to me.
There's a lot of fascinating aeromobilia at Old Warden. The rocket engine from a WW2 Messerschmitt Komet ME 163B-1a fighter, for example, or the Avro 504K used for tests to see if early radar could pick up wooden-framed aircraft. The 1909 Blériot Mk 11 displayed here is the oldest aeroplane in the world still in flying condition.
And there’s the De Havilland DH88 Comet, Grosvenor House, which won the 1934 London-to-Melbourne air race thanks to its ample fuel tanks, two-stage variable-pitch propellers and retractable undercarriage, all big innovations at the time. The fabulously-1930s Comet hotel at Hatfield, on the piece of former A1 that’s now the A1001 through the Galleria shopping metropolis, used to have a large model of that DH88 on a stand in the forecourt, celebrating the win and the De Havilland factory nearby.
That’s the surface of Richard Shuttleworth’s collection barely scratched. Now it’s time to head home in our old car built by an aircraft company, using as many quiet, scenic backroads as possible. Isn't that what classic cars are for?