Review – Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

For the first time this year, organisers decided to host the annual Wings & Wheels show on the Saturday and Sunday of the bank holiday weekend instead of the Sunday and Monday. When they saw the forecast for the weekend I can only imagine what must have been said in the office…

Having had such a brilliant two days last year, I once again opted for the two day ticket but almost immediately started regretting that decision on Saturday morning. Setting up early seemed almost pointless with just a handful of people on the display line first thing. Chair out and umbrella firmly in the ground for what was going to be a very miserable day.

The forecast early on in the week said that both Saturday and Sunday were both going to be full of sun and cloud – unfortunately as the week went on. Saturday’s forecast just got worse and worse. True to the forecast it was very wet and the cloud base was extremely low which meant poor visibility all around.

The car runs were slightly sparse with many private operators choosing not to run as there was too much standing water and only a handful of air displays got airborne during the day – the first of which was Peter Teichman in Lulu Belle. The Kittyhawk’s engine purred as it took to the dull grey sky and Peter showed that even in these horrendous conditions, you could still put a warbird through it’s paces. This was to be Peter’s first display of the day as he later performed a full routine with his Hawker Hurricane – disappearing into the low cloud clearly didn’t stop the Hangar 11 owner from having fun!

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Dunsfold managed to secure the RNLAF historic flight B-25 Mitchell for the third year running but unlike the last two years, it actually turned up! The WWII bomber graced the skies above Dunsfold and put on a truly magnificent display. Plenty of sweeping turns and low passes easily made this a contender for top display but unfortunately Saturday was the only time it managed to run through it’s routine. Shortly after take off on Sunday, the pilot reported that the gear was locked down and therefore the aircraft landed almost immediately. A real shame considering the weather on Sunday was fantastic.

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The AAC Apache, RN Lynx and RAF Chinook also all managed to put on a display for the crowd but these were also somewhat hampered by the persistent drizzle and low cloud.  All three put on superb displays considering the conditions but Flt Lt Paul Farmer stole the show when he managed to pull of the the full 720 degree downward spiral mid-display – incredible considering the cloud base.

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Saturday was all over and done with at 4pm as the heavens opened – well done to Jonathon Whaley for still managing to get out for a fast taxi on what looked like a river by the time I left!

With Saturday’s weather behind us, the sun was shining and blue skies were aplenty as I pulled up for day two on the Surrey based show. Temperatures slowly rose throughout the day and the sky just kept getting better and better for photography. I’d almost go as far as saying that it was the best light I’ve shot in all year.

The runway was still a little damp from the night before but this didn’t stop anyone from coming out for a run. Every single serviceable car powered up the straight demonstrating that this show wasn’t just about what was in the sky but that it was also about what the motoring industry has to offer. From classic Mustangs to modern day Porsches, Aston Martins to hot rods – there was something for everyone including a visit from the Louisiana State Police.

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The first air display of the day came from Dan Arlett in his Jet Provost. Dan took off into an almost cloudless blue sky and the lingering vapour made for some incredibly shots. The display seemed to go on forever and I simply didn’t want it to end – it was one of the most entertaining displays I’ve seen this year and was easily the most photogenic. An outstanding display by a former RAF jet trainer – thank you Dan!

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Something slightly different to a normal air display and an act that hasn’t been seen at Dunsfold before was the Reds Duo RC Hawk display team. The 1/4 scale Hawks lined up and took to the air in formation and performed a routine which consisted of passes and aerobatics pulled from the Red Arrows synchro pair display. I was expecting to find this little display boring but it was absolutely brilliant and even the real Reds approved of the smoke filled show.

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The Brietling Wingwalkers flew into the display circuit and Dani and Freya demonstrated once again that you have to be incredibly fit to perform acrobatics whilst in flight. The bright orange Stearman aircraft are always a pleasure to see and somehow manage to make the crowd smile every single time they fill the aerodrome with smoke.

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The RAF Odiham based Chinook team returned for the second day in a row to demonstrate the agility and capability of the tandem rotor aircraft. Dunsfold was one of the display venues that the team had hand picked earlier in the year so that they could say thank you to the owners for letting them use the aerodrome for training – and what a way to say thank you! Another top performance by the award winning display team and the penultimate show of their season.

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Lt Si Dixon carried on the rotary theme by taking the Lynx up for the solo Black Cats routine. Throwing the aircraft around the sky as if it were just a toy, Si demonstrated just what the Agusta Westland helicopter is capable of. It’s still a little strange to see the Black Cats  display as a solo performance but I’m really excited for what the 2014 season holds…bring on the Wildcat!

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After a slightly disappointing solo display at Abingdon back in May, I was slightly sceptical about seeing the Gnat pair display but I had no need to be. Flying in from North Weald and straight into their routine, the two Folland Gnats filled the sky with smoke trails and put on a very impressive display of formation flying – it’s easy to see why the Reds used to fly them! A smaller airfield and another aircraft led to this display being one of my favourite from the weekend. Well done guys!

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After another faultless display by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, XH558 began running in for it’s display. Although I’m getting a little bored of seeing the cold war giant display, the crowd seemed to disagree. The aerodrome fell almost silent as the Olympus engines kicked into life and let out a short burst of that infamous howl – a nice sight to see but I’m not sure I’ll miss it that much when it’s gone.

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Over the far side of the airfield, nine Hawks were powering up and children started to gather at the display line – it was time for the Red Arrows. Taking off in three staggered formations of three, the Reds retracted their landing gear and went into circuit to start their display. I love seeing the younger ones’ reactions when the Reds take to the sky – nothing on earth produces a smile quite like the site of red, white and blue smoke. The Arrows are on top form again this year and every single one of their displays has been fantastic – well done guys and thank you!

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Over the last few years Dunsfold has become infamous for putting together unique formations that you’ll be hard pushed to find elsewhere and this year they carried on that tradition with not one but two set pieces. Firstly was the RNHF Sea Fury and the Hangar 11 Hurricane which performed a few formation flypasts before breaking into their individual routines. The second formation seemed as though it was arranged last minute – there was a brief gap in the display programme while the Wingwalkers, Sea Fury and Swordfish all departed. The commentators then announced over the loud speakers that they were going to positions themselves together and fly in for a formation fly past before going their separate ways. Top marks to all involved, especially the RNHF Sea Fury which had to fly with flaps down just to slow down enough.

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Now late into the afternoon and the sun was starting to go down in a clear sky, needless to say that for the remaining displays the light was absolutely phenomenal. First to take to the sky in the fading light was the multicoloured Hawker Hunter – Miss Demeanour. Dunsfold’s aim is to get aircraft involved with the show that have some sort of history with the airfield and of course, the aerodrome was home to Hawker/Hawker Siddeley back in the day. Jonathon was able to put on an outstanding show and there were even traces of that desirable blue note – a controversial scheme but always a truly awesome display.

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The day concluded with displays by the RAF Typhoon and AAC Apache. As I mentioned earlier, the light was out of this world and meant that both displays made for some incredible shots. Flt Lt Jamie Norris gave yet another amazing display in his Eurofighter aircraft – I really feel that the Typhoon has been brought to life this year and that’s all down to Jamie so lets keep that momentum going into next year.

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The Apache closed the show demonstrating that the combat proven helicopter is more than capable of keeping up with the likes of the Chinook and Lynx in terms of display flying. Although not a full aerobatic display like it’s Dutch cousin, the Wattisham based team still managed to fill the sky and wow the crowd with it’s tight banking and combat manoeuvres.

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So Dunsfold Wings & Wheels 2013 really was a show of two halves – a rain filled Saturday and sunny Sunday. After leaving the grounds soaking wet on Saturday I really feared for the organisers and couldn’t work out why they’d decided to change the show days given that it’s always been such a huge success in the past. Nevertheless, the weather pulled in the crowd on Sunday which hopefully more than made up for the lack of money taken on Saturday. The organisers must be highly applauded for their efforts in constantly rescheduling the show on Saturday and making sure that the audience were not left totally disappointed. Gaps in the display programme were filled with aviation related chat which didn’t feel at all forced so congratulations to the commentary team too. One thing also worthy of mentioning was the improved layout of the show ground – toilets were placed throughout the arena meaning that you never had to walk far and the dedicated WWII re-enactment area was very interesting. The bigger shows could learn an awful lot about catering if they were to speak to the organisers too, with a huge selection of food available; hog roasts, locally sourced burgers and even a Domino’s wagon – as well as all the fast food regulars.

If you ignore the terrible weather on Saturday then I really can’t fault the show.

Full marks awarded to Dunsfold Park.

Roll on 2014…

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