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2011 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Dunsfold Wings and Wheels 2011

Now in its 7th consecutive year, Dunsfold Wings and Wheels has firmly established itself as one of the best outdoor events in the South-East. Combining the very best air displays with large scale motoring displays both within the main arena area and on Dunsfold Aerodrome’s runway it is a unique event that has something for everyone. Wings and Wheels is very much a community event raising money for several local charities each year as well as Help for Heroes. The aerial elements of the event are centred around the history of Dunsfold and nearby Brooklands with the emphasis on Hawker products.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author. Video highlights by Planes TV.

Dunsfold Aerodrome is a very secretive airfield hidden away in the rolling hills of the Surrey-Sussex border. Its hidden location made it the ideal airfield for its Second World War and post war life. Post war it was famously the main test centre for a lot of Hawker Aviation’s most famous products such as the Hunter, Harrier and Hawk. It continued as a test centre right up to 2000 when BAE Systems left the airfield to centre its operations at Warton.

Today, the airfield is in private hands and has been renamed Dunsfold Park. The many buildings provide industrial units while the airfield has remained active. A small collection of private aircraft are kept here and it’s not unusual for private jets to visit where they are able to stay out of the attention they may be given at other airfields such as Farnborough. The secretive nature of the airfield also makes it an ideal film set location. The Da Vinci Code and Casino Royale are amongst the films to be filmed here and the 747 used in the later is now a prominent landmark for the airfield. Perhaps Dunsfold most famous recent role is as home of the filming of BBC’s Top Gear and the location for their famous test track.

I first came across Wings and Wheels right at its inception in 2004. Then a single day event held in early June it was an event I decided to visit at the last moment and was certainly a very pleasant surprise. Seven years later the event has grown considerably and has firmly established itself as one of the premier aviation events in the UK. The show became so popular it has expanded into a two day event just to cope with the number of people who attend and the flying displays now include several of the best acts in the UK. The motoring component of the show has also grown and includes everything from vintage cars through to historic military vehicles to today’s most exciting supercars many of which are unleashed on Dunsfold’s long runway for everyone to enjoy.

It is perhaps fair to say the show had something of a difficult run-up to the main show. Firstly the Vulcan became unserviceable with just over a week to go, then was repaired in time for the show only to suffer a major hydraulic problem on its transit down on the first day resulting in an emergency landing at RAF Coningsby. Then the tragic accident that befell the Red Arrows at Bournemouth Airport the week before the show meant that they were also unable to make their only planned appearance at Wings and Wheels on the opening day. There was however a very moving dedication and minute of silence before main flying display that was impeccably marked by the crowd – Dunsfold fell completely silent. There were also two books of condolence at the show.

The two flying display periods however did include some real gems from the UK airshow scene. Civilian and sports flying was very well represented. Performing close to the beginning of both days displays was Brendan O’Brien (nee Captain Boogaloo) with his crazy flying and trailer top landing ‘flying circus’ act which was greatly enjoyed by the crowd.

Also drawing applause from the crowd was Gerald Cooper’s ‘antics’ in his new Sbach 300. Performing some freestyle aerobatics that only a few years would have been deemed impossible! Philip Steinbach, the designer took his inspiration for the Sbach 300 from radio controlled model aircraft and it really shows in Gerald’s display with some breath-taking changes in direction!

Also using the Sbach 300 this year are the Matadors pair flown by Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones. As ever their demonstration of close formation aerobatics was truly stunning. Completing the line-up of aerobatic acts were the SWIP Team and the GliderFX teams.

Barnstorming acts always raise a smile for the crowds, particularly when combined with Brendan O’Briens enthusiastic commentary. The Tiger Club Turbulent Team coped with some very gusty conditions for their display of limbo flying, flour bombing and balloon bursting while the rain showers on Sunday didn’t seem to put off the amazing Breitling Wingwalkers from putting on their full show on Sunday. Monday’s better weather was at least much kinder!

More modern day flying machines came from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The RAF displaying its Grob Tutor T1 and Shorts Tucano T1 solo displays while the Royal Navy sent a rare solo Westland Lynx HMA8 display from 815 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton. The Army were not left out with Dunsfold’s local regiment, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment providing the Tigers Parachute Display Team.

As well as the modern aircraft, there was a superb and varied collection of historic machinery on show. Golden Apple’s beautiful F-86A Sabre was a late addition to the flying filling in the gap left by the Vampire T11 which ran into a few issues during a mid-season engine change.

As mentioned earlier, Dunsfold has a rich wartime and post war history. Leading the fleet of historic types on show was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with their standard compliment of Lacnaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. The Lancaster is an apt addition to the Wings and Wheels line-up as post war Dunsfold became an important hub for the repatriation of prisoners of war which saw bombers as well as transport aircraft used to bring allied troops back from German occupied areas. Dunsfold was also used during the Berlin Airlift and the Lancaster’s derivatives such as the York would have been a common sight.

During the war, Dunsfold was also home to a number of fighter units including those from the Canadian Air Force. It was therefore fitting a number of piston fighters flew in the display including Peter Teichman’s Spitfire PR XI, Hurricane IIb and P-40M Kittyhawk. Alister Kay also flew a very purposeful display in the Old Flying Machine Company’s P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie.

As ever, the Hawker dynasty of aviation was well represented. Perhaps the overall show highlight for many was the pairing of the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury T20 flown by Chris Gotke and Jonathon Whaley’s Hawker Hunter F58a. The formation routine was particularly slick and saw the formation lead change and the aircraft superbly presented for the photographs before each aircraft performed its own solo display.

Further Hunters were provided by Team Viper. Despite the airspace restriction around Dunsfold to the airfield’s proximity to London Gatwick, both days saw some of the team’s most polished routines to date with their Hunter T7s, GA11 and PR11.

Bringing the Hawker and Dunsfold story right up to date was the Royal Air Force’s Hawk T1 solo flown by Fly Lt Juliette ‘Jules’ Fleming. Jules’ display was not only appropriate because of the Hawker connection, but also as Wings and Wheels coincided with “Women in the Air Day” held to mark the 100th anniversary of the first British female pilot to gain a Pilot’s Licence. That was achieved by Hilda Hewitt flying from Brooklands Aerodrome on the 29th August 1911.

The 2011 edition of Wings and Wheels was another success and firmly cemented the show reputation as perhaps the best family airshow in Southern England. That reputation come from not only a wide mix of flying and motoring displays but also the very special atmosphere the event has which is firmly squared at family fun.

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