Damien Burke samples the first airshow at Dunsfold in many-a-year, held on 4 June
Dunsfold opened in 1942 and from then until 1945 the airfield reverberated to the noise of Spitfires, Mustangs, Typhoons, Mosquitoes and B-25s. Postwar it was first used as a repatriation centre for returning POWs and later played a big role in the Berlin Airlift operations of 1948/1949. Hawker Aircraft acquired the airfield in 1950 and from 1951 until 1992 it was busy with development flying and aircraft manufacture - with everything from the Hunter to the Harrier GR7 making their first flights from Dunsfold. Sadly BAe closed the airfield in 2000 and their remaining activities there were dispersed to other sites.
Fast forward to 2002 and the acquisition of the airfield by the current owners, the Rutland Group, and the rebadging as Dunsfold Park - with the return of aviation, albeit on a small scale with just a handful of light aircraft based there. Well... it was only a matter of time before somebody suggested having an airshow, wasn't it?
Step forward Brooklands, the motorsports and aviation museum not so far up the road from Dunsfold, joining forces with the Rutland Group and stepping into the airshow limelight in fine style! Some of our readers may recall the fly-ins held at the Brooklands site in past years - well the Wings & Wheels show at Dunsfold was to exceed those in scope by a considerable margin. The show was put on to support three charities - the Museum itself plus the Cranleigh Village Hospital Trust and CHASE Hospice Care for Children, and to mark two events - the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, and the 70th anniversary of the first flight of the Hawker Hurricane.
While here at Air-Scene UK we are most interested in the aerial portion of proceedings, the ground-bound side proved just as fascinating, with a large selection of military vehicles and vintage sports cars and motorcycles. Among these were a selection with a strong aviation flavour - the Austin Hall-Scott (a 1911 Austin chassis married with a WW1 Hall-Scott aero engine), the sleek and shiny Napier Railton (powered by a 24-litre, 12-cylinder Napier Lion aero engine) and the sheer brute force of the Napier Bentley (another Napier Lion, in fact this and the one in the Railton are the only ones in the world in running condition). The noise and spectacle (smoke from the tires and flame from the exhausts!) from these and other vintage (and not quite so vintage) cars was seriously impressive - so much so that I have made a vow to seek them out at another venue where they can be seen a little closer. Sadly, running them on the runway at Dunsfold put them a little distant from the crowd. There were two periods during the day when cars and bikes roared up and down the runway, plus a parade of military vehicles along the crowdline once the various (mostly vintage) fly-in visitors had arrived.
While many venues run supposedly 'themed' events, often it's little more than an excuse to show the same old stuff under a theme that bears little if any relation to what you're seeing. Wings and Wheels at Dunsfold put such events to shame with a theme that encompassed not only the aviation history of Brooklands but also that of Dunsfold - Hawker aircraft. Descended from the Sopwith Aviation Company (established at Kingston upon Thames in 1912 with flight sheds at Brooklands), the companies of Sopwith, Hawker, Hawker-Siddeley, British Aerospace produced a fantastic variety of world-beating aircraft. We were lucky enough to see a great number of them at the show - kicking off with a spirited Sopwith Triplane (replica) display in a downpour that had much of the crowd diving for cover or erecting umbrellas.
Further items following the Hawker theme were an RAF Hawk, TFC's desert camo Hurricane thrown about with gusto by Nick Grey, Peter Vacher's 'new' Hurricane I (a genuine Battle of Britain survivor, restoration of which was completed late last year - this being one of its first public outings), RAF Harrier GR7, RNHF Sea Fury and Sea Hawk, Delta Jets' black Hunter, BBMF Hurricane and, of course, the Red Arrows happen to fly a few Hawker-Siddeley Hawks too! Nods to Dunsfold's WWII history came in the form of Peter Teichman's P-51D Mustang (another genuine wartime survivor), the Aces High C-47 plus the BBMF Spitfire and Lancaster... and I'll count the BBMF Hurricane again, seeing as 'Last of the Many' was based at Dunsfold for so long! Rounding off the display were a Harvard (last minute replacement for the Duke of Brabant B-25 that didn't quite manage to make it - sad as the B-25 was another WWII Dunsfold type) plus a couple of civilian aerobatic acts - Paul Ambrose in an impressive debut with his Pitts Special, and Will Curtis in his Sukhoi 26 - a display that's improved a lot over the last two years or so - and no interruptions from oil leaks or wandering sailors at this show!
Again while other shows would have been content with individual acts in a loose theme, the Dunsfold organisers went the extra mile to put on a number of unique sights for us to enjoy - who would have just last year that we would see a pair of genuine Battle of Britain survivors flying with each other for instance? But we did - with the BBMF Spitfire IIC P7350 flying in formation with Peter Vacher's Hurricane I R4118! The show was closed not with the Red Arrows as is so often the case (judging by the crowd exodus that began when they finished, plenty of people weren't paying attention to the running order), but first of all with the BBMF and finally with another unique formation - Hurricane I R4118 in formation with TFC's Hurricane IV KZ321. The Museum even made the effort to transport a number of airframes from their collection to join the static/fly-in visitors line-up - including their Bleriot XI replica plus the Santos Sumont Demoiselle replica. Bravo!
Special mention has to be made of the commentary team - Stuart Bennett and Allan Ede handling the wheels, and the comedy duo of Melvyn Hiscock and Brendon O'Brien handling the wings. Brendan's lurid description of his ideal Harvard (lime green, flames down the side, bags of diesel smoke, pilot dressed as Darth Vader) had to be heard to be believed and for the first time in my personal airshow history I found more of the commentary jokes hitting than missing. Nice to hear from commentators who seem to know what they're talking about too - obviously it's all faked, but at least they made the effort! It was also great to hear from some veterans - including Duncan Simpson OBE (pictured right), fighter pilot and later Hawker's Chief Test Pilot. In fact there was a good turnout of veterans at the show, with several taking the opportunity to ride along in the military vehicle parade too.
To sum up, once again it seems a 'charity' show has outperformed the more established 'big boys' and put on a day far more entertaining than the standard airshow with a superb mix of action both on the ground and in the air - and slickly organised with much hard work from volunteers -including most of the airside operations being handled by the Brooklands Museum Aerodrome team. The quality of the organisation was all the more impressive for the show having been put together in a mere four months, which just goes to show what a superb job the Rutland Group and Brooklands staff did in putting together such a stunning debut show. Apparently crowd numbers and feedback were both excellent so it is very likely that we will see more shows at Dunsfold in the future. Now if they could just shove the two closed runways a little closer to each other so the walk from the fly-in visitors to the display aircraft isn't quite so long, I'll be 100% happy!
With many thanks to Julian Temple and Melvyn Hiscock for the hospitality. Pictures from the event can be purchased here.