Review – Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

For the past ten years, the August bank holiday weekend has been home to the Dunsfold based Wings & Wheels show – an all-day event dedicated to showcasing both motoring and aviation displays.

The Wings & Wheels show is celebrating it’s tenth anniversary this year and Dunsfold Park were extremely keen to show that they’re still one of the best shows on the UK circuit. With two massive crowd-pulling aircraft confirmed for the show, the ‘double V effect’ led to an almost capacity show on Saturday and a completely sold out show on the Sunday.

The Wings

The team at Dunsfold Park pride themselves on being able to stage a fantastic air display year in, year out and 2014 was no different. With a backdrop of greenery at both ends of the airfield and a relatively short crowd line, the venue has become synonymous with both warbird and vintage jet displays.

After being absent from the show in 2013, the Old Flying Machine Company Spitfire and P-51 Mustang made an incredibly welcome return in the form of MH434 and Ferocious Frankie. If you’ve only ever seen WWII aircraft flown in the hands of the RAF’s BBMF then you might be in for a bit of a shock. With plenty of low, extremely tight formation flypasts and two superb solo performances, the OFMC duo certainly rank extremely highly on the list of this country’s best warbird displays (if not the best). The noise of these two aircraft in close formation is just phenomenal and it really is a display that’s ideal for photographers. I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of seeing these two machines.

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2014 is an epic year for any aviation fan – for the first time in more than 50 years, two flying Lancasters are in the UK at the same time. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby are currently hosting the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster ‘VeRA’ and for a handful of shows in the country, both aircraft are displaying together with fighter escorts. Wings & Wheels was one of those events that drew a lucky straw and my goodness did it show. Having attended the show for the past six years, I’ve become quite used to the relaxed and laid back atmosphere at Dunsfold but this year was the busiest I’ve ever seen it – if you weren’t on the crowd line by 9.15am then you’d missed your chance for a front row seat. The routine was mainly just the normal BBMF trio routine with an additional Lancaster – don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible what the team have achieved in getting the aircraft over here but I’m just so gutted that we didn’t get to see ‘VeRA’ in all her glory in a solo routine. Saying that though, the sight and sound of all those Merlin engines was simply spectacular and a really special tribute to all those that were lost in WWII.

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Making it’s second appearance at the show in as many years was the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight B-25 Mitchell. After a problematic weekend last year, the team behind ‘Sabrina’ demonstrated that you really don’t have to just fly wide circuits with historic aircraft and put on a truly breath taking display of strength and agility. Looking at the American-made bomber, you’d never believe that the aircraft was capable of flying in the way that the team did – it makes you wonder what a slightly heavier bomber would be capable of if there were no limitations…

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The Dunsfold Park team have become renowned for putting together unique flypasts and this year there were two such displays. The first consisted of the B-25 Mitchell, the Dunsfold based DC-3 and the OFMC fighter pair and much like the BBMF routine, it was a fitting tribute to all those that took part in the Second World War. The second formation routine saw Avro Vulcan XH558 take to the skies with the three-ship Gnat display team and although it was a nice thing to see, I actually thought that it was a rather lack-lustre formation. I think I would have preferred to see the three Gnats leading at the front of the formation in a short arrow, rather than at each tip of the Vulcan’s vast triangular fuselage. Putting that personal dissatisfaction aside, the organisers have to be applauded for continually thinking outside of the box and supplying elements that can only be seen at Dunsfold.

The Midair Squadron continued the classic jet theme with their Canberra PR.9 and Hunter T.7. Over the past twelve months, the Kemble based display team have well and truly stamped their mark on the UK airshow scene. The display started out with a beautifully elegant pairs routine which showed off the pilots’ skill in maintaining a constant close formation throughout the opening section. After a crowd centre break, the Hunter and Canberra split into two solo performances. Both aircraft were flown with extreme enthusiasm, especially on the Canberra’s finale which brought back that almighty high speed pass from earlier in the year at Abingdon – boy can that aircraft howl! It’s easy to see why the team have had so many bookings this year, I’ve got everything crossed for the Midair Squadron to be around for many years to come.

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The display programme was bolstered by both Army Air Corps and RAF assets. Continuing on a rollercoaster of epic proportions, the Odiham based Chinook Display Team took to the skies over Dunsfold and delivered yet another awe-inspiring display of power and agility – the type carries out a lot of routine training at Dunsfold so it means an awful lot to Odiham to be able to say thank you in their own special way.

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The show was closed by the AAC Apache and for 2014, the Wattisham team have opted for a role demonstration. The scenario follows a typical mission in Afghanistan – whilst out on a routine patrol, the Apache is called in to provide close air support for a coalition unit who are heavily under fire on the ground. A show of force (a low and fast pass without any use of weapons) prompts the enemy to launch a surface-to-air missile (SAM) which narrowly misses the gunship. After repositioning, the aircraft is authorised to fire a Hellfire missile on the enemy position and to use it’s 30mm cannon to completely neutralise the enemy. It’s thought that the enemy are all but gone when the Apache takes enemy fire from small arms but they’re quickly dealt with when the mosquito (the name the Taliban have given to the mighty helicopter) unleashes a salvo of CRV7 rockets. The Apache’s weapons systems are simulated by specially designed pyrotechnics which range from a series of single bursts of smoke for the strafing run to full blown balls of fire that represent rocket and Hellfire attacks. The whole routine is very reminiscent of the old Tornado Role Demo and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch – personally I prefer these types of display to the more normal aerobatic performances. To see just a fraction of what an aircraft is capable of in a combat environment is incredibly impressive and it gives a fantastic insight into the role that they play outside of the airshow bubble. I really hope that the role demo returns in 2015 – it would be great to see the Apache joined by an AAC Wildcat and maybe even some Army ground elements. I strongly believe that role demonstrations captivate the audience much more and it can only be a good thing for recruitment.

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The Wheels

The motoring element, like the air display, is broken up into two separate segments; one in the morning and one in the middle of the afternoon. The cars and motorbikes are provided by Brooklands Museum as well as many private owners/collectors. Once again Dunsfold slightly improved the motoring section by having several different groups of vehicles run right along the crowd line so that people could get a little closer while the main driving was still happening on track.

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As much as I love watching the motor displays, I don’t quite understand why it’s repeated later in the day. At the moment it’s broken into two one-hour slots which are exactly the same – for the first run the audience seems to be fully immersed in the sights and sounds that cars and bikes have to offer but later on in the day, it seems like it’s used by most to go and get some food or to look around the stalls. I feel that the show could really benefit from breaking up the motoring section into two completely different sections, even if that it means that each section is only 30-40 minutes long. I’m confident that in doing so, the team would be able to keep all eyes on the track at all times of the day, rather than just doing a complete re-run from a couple of hours previous.

The Rest of The Show

Also new for the 2014 show was a small remote controlled aircraft section. After the very successful Dunsfold debut of the ‘Reds Duo’ last year, a larger contingent was put together for this year and I have to be honest, it was a very welcome addition. The skill that these people have in controlling an aircraft from the ground is incredible and one of them was just ten years old! I’m 24 years old and all I can do with my R/C Spitfire is fly it into the ground.

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As usual there was a nice mixture of aviation related stalls which is a danger to any enthusiast who carries a purse or wallet – amazingly I managed to resist buying anything although I did very nearly buy a nice print off Aces High.

The Brooklands owned Vickers VC-10 that retired to the airfield late last year was supposed to conduct it’s first public taxi runs this year but unfortunately the aircraft has deteriorated more than was expected and as a result it will not be ready for running until the 2015 show.

For all that Wings & Wheels is an airshow, the number of aircraft on the ground for the public to see and get close to is fairly limited. Yes you can pay to go on both the VC-10 and 747 but it could be so much more. The amount of space available on the taxiway at the end of the airfield (next to the two large aircraft) where some displaying aircraft park, is not used nearly enough and it would be great if this could be opened up early in the morning for a limited number (possibly first-come first-served) of people to get close for photographs. I honestly feel that Wings & Wheels still has room to grow without becoming too big for its boots – even something like a small night shoot could easily be arranged on the Friday or Saturday night without too much hassle or extra costs.

I went on the Saturday but heard that exiting the site on Sunday was a bit of a nightmare with some cars only moving a few metres in half an hour. If the show continues to attract unique and special aircraft, it may soon be time to start thinking about advance ticket sales only.

Overall the 2014 show was a massive success; a close to capacity crowd on Saturday, a total sell out on Sunday and plenty of star items all combine to make Wings & Wheels one of the best airshows of the year.

Happy 10th birthday Wings & Wheels – I cannot wait to see what the next decade holds for the Surrey show.

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