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2013 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Dunsfold Wings and Wheels

Dunsfold Wings and Wheels is an event that just keeps getting better and better each year. Organised by the company which now owns the former British Aerospace airfield in Surrey, the show presents an incredible mix of aviation and motoring for a relaxed entertaining family day out. Even better, the event benefits local and national charities which this year included the Brooklands Museum Trust and Help for Heroes. Since 2005, the event has raised over £250,000 for various charities.

Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author or as credited.

Dunsfold Aerodrome, now known as Dunsfold Park, has always been a secretive place, but one with a fascinating history. It has long been linked to the Hawker Aviation company which following its use as a military airfield used the aerodrome to test some of its most famous products such as the Hunter, Harrier and Hawk. That link with Hawkers also means the site shares close relations to Brooklands, now home to the amazing Brooklands Museum which celebrates some of the best of British motorsport and aviation.

That link was celebrated in 2005 with the inaugural “Brooklands Wings and Wheels” which was held at Dunsfold. The show even then proved to be something out of the ordinary mixing motorsport demonstrations on the main runway with some top airshow action. At that first show for instance they paired Peter Vacher’s recently restored Hurricane I with the BBMF’s Spitfire II for the first time as well as with The Fighter Collection’s Hurricane IV.

Now, as then, the motoring displays containing an spectacular array of two, three and four-wheeled machinery. Amongst the highlights are side-car racers, various supercars including Aston Martins, Ford GT40s, Ferraris plus some extremely historic cars with the Benetton F1 Car, Napier Railton and more that get the change to race around the famous Top Gear test track. The ground show side of the event has really come on in the past few years with a large collection of military vehicles alongside plenty of other attractions and entertainment.

While British Aerospace has long left Dunsfold, the aerodrome remains very active with private flying and the occasionally business and military visitors. Amongst the current Dunsfold ‘landmarks’ is the Boeing 747. The aircraft is a bit of star regularly featuring in the backdrop of BBC’s Top Gear but it also is a film set in its own right having been used in Casino Royale and World War Z. For 2013, the aircraft was opened up for tours which faithfully recreated the experience of air travel!

Sadly the weather was less than kind to the show. Saturday saw a very restricted flying display under a very low cloud base. Though early on Sunday things had not really improved, by the time the flying display got under way the cloud was beginning to break up and the afternoon saw near perfect conditions for the flying. Sadly though, the usual vintage fly-in did not happen leaving the static park looking decidedly empty on both days.

Dominating the static park on Saturday was a RAF Benson based AgustaWestland Merlin HC3 from Nos 28/78 Squadrons making a somewhat rare airshow appearance for 2013. The type is soon to be passed on to the Royal Navy as the RAF centralises its helicopter fleets onto the Chinook HC4/6 and Puma HC2.

For the first time, the Belgian Air Component participated at Wings and Wheels with one of the Belgian Navy’s Sud Aviation Alouette IIIs. These aircraft have been increasingly rare in Western Europe and will soon be retired by the Belgians who use them as a general utility helicopter.

As with previous editions, the Wings and Wheels flying display was split into two sessions around the motoring activities. It was also good to hear the familiar voices of Melvyn Hiscock and Brendan O’Brien providing the commentary for the event. Ever since the first show in 2005 they have very much made the Dunsfold commentary their own and it’s almost impossible to imagine the event without their banter and “quintessential nuggets of information!”

The flying display itself contained a number of favourites as well as displays new to Dunsfold. It is a show that is well supported by the Royal Air Force. The Red Arrows headlined the event operating from the airfield throughout the weekend which saw them also support Dawlish and the CarFest event, though the display at the latter was cancelled due to low cloud. It was great to see the team take in interest in another of the "flying acts", the Reds Duo who put on a magnificant routine with two 1/4 scale jet powered Red Arrows hawks complete with smoke.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also supported the show with the Avro Lancaster B1, Supermarine Spitfire PR XIX and Hawker Hurricane IIc.

All of the solo displays from the RAF also supported the event with the Shorts Tucano, Boeing Chinook HC2 and Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 displaying. The Typhoon was particularly impressive within the tight confines of Dunsfold which neighbours London Gatwick Airport busy airspace zone which restricted the displays to rolling or flat routines. The Chinook too was an apt display for Dunsfold; the Chinook force often uses Dunsfold for training, particularly during the winter to practice landing in zero-visibility conditions. Saturday’s low cloud base and damp conditions failed to put a damper on Flt Lt Paul Farmer’s display and I think his performance under the cloud base must go down as the air display of the year – everything else suddenly felt very tame!!!

The Royal Navy supported Dunsfold very well this year. The Black Cats Helicopter Display Team returned with the solo Westland Lynx HMA8 routine. The Royal Navy Historic Flight also contributed to the flying with the Fairey Swordfish marking over 70 years of Naval Aviation and together with the Lynx flew a lovely formation before their solo displays.

The British Army too had a major presence in the flying. The Tigers Parachute Display Team are from the show’s local regiment; the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment and have always been a popular part of the Dunsfold display. This year saw the Army Air Corps take part with the AgustaWestland WAH-64D Apache AH1 which was one of the star turns of the afternoon.

Dunsfold’s flying display always features a fine selection of civilian display team and 2013 saw the return of the popular Blades, GliderFX and Breitling Wingwalkers . Gerald Cooper also put on an incredible performance in his Xtreme Air XA41 showing off the some stunning freestyle aerobatic flying. Saturday’s display also saw commentator Brendan O’Brien join in the flying display with his crazy flying routine in the Piper J3C Cub.

However, it is the historic aircraft displays that really make Dunsfold unique as many of them link to airfield’s or Hawker’s past. Dunsfold’s own history dates back to 1942 when it became a base for first the Royal Canadian Army and then the Royal Canadian Air Force. Amongst the first types to operate from the Surrey airfield were Spitfires, Typhoons, Mustangs and B-25 Mitchells. It was therefore good to see amongst the warbird line-up the Royal Netherlands Historic Flight TB-25N Mitchell to represent Dunsfold's wartime time role.

Postwar, the site became a repatriation centre for prisoners of war before being taken over by Skyways. Skyways played a significant part in the Berlin Airlift but also refurbished and test flew Spitfires and Hurricanes from Dunsfold for the Portuguese Air Force. One of Peter Teichman’s contributions to the flying display was his Hawker Hurricane IIb which not only provided a link back to this often overlooked part of Dunsfold’s history but also to one of Hawker Aviation’s most famous aircraft.

Skyways went into liquidation in 1950 and Hawker Aviation soon took over the lease. A number of famous aircraft were flown from the site under Hawker’s tenure. Amongst these were the Hawker Sea Furies and Hawker Hunters. Both appeared in the flying with the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury T20 flown by Chris Gotke and Hunter F58a Miss Demeanour flown by Jonathon Whaley. Chis Gotke and Peter Teichman opened their displays with three formation passes in their famous Hawker mounts continuing the great tradition of special formations at Wings and Wheels. It got even better after the Sea Fury display as it formed up with the Fairey Swordfish and the two Boeing Stearman of the Breitling Wingwalkers for a truly unique and probably one-off formation.

One of Hawker’s most famous test pilots was Neville Duke who lived in the Cottage found near the Alford entrance to the Aerodrome. Duke was not only a famous test pilot but also a highly decorated World War Two pilot flying P-40 Kittyhawks in North Africa. His special place in Dunsfold history was marked by the second contribution by Peter Teichman with his Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk.

Folland Gnats were also worked on at Dunsfold and the Gnat Display Team made their flying display debut at Wings and Wheels following their static appearance last year. Further classic jet action came from Dan Artlett in Jeff Bell’s BAC Jet Provost T5 giving a wonderful aerobatic account of the classic RAF trainer.

Also appearing on both days was Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 which has become something of a Wings and Wheels regular and an awesome sight within the tight confines of Dunsfold’s display box.

Special mention must go the pilots and flying display organisers who managed to get some displays in the air during the dismal weather on Saturday and for some truly memorable formation flypasts on the Sunday. Despite all the difficluties the weather threw at Dunsfold, it was still a great weekend of action enjoyed by around 28,000 hardy visitors. We hope that Wings and Wheels continues long into the future as it has become one of the best airshows in the country in a very short space of time.

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