Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

2015, Reviews

For over 50 years Dunsfold Aerodrome’s history remained top secret under the protection of the Official Secrets Act but in 1990 the government declassified records and the importance of Dunsfold was revealed to all. The airfield played a crucial role in the Second World War but once war was over, the airfield was declared as inactive in 1946. Some five years later, the airfield once again returned to the forefront of British aviation and became home to the infamous Hawker Aircraft Company, where the boundaries of modern technology were pushed to their limits in order to design, test and develop aircraft like the Harrier and Hawk. It’s fair to say that Dunsfold Aerodrome is a shadow of its former self but each year the public are welcomed on to the historical site to enjoy the wonderful Wings & Wheels show.

In recent weeks the Airshow community has been thrown into a media frenzy, with every aspect of the industry coming under extreme scrutiny following the tragic accident at the Shoreham Airshow. Strict measures were instantly put in place to help prevent a similar incident occurring; all UK-based Hawker Hunter variants were grounded, pending a full investigation by the AAIB, and all vintage jet aircraft displays were temporarily restricted to a number of flypasts, rather than their usual aerobatic sequences.

In light of this news, a number of events up and down the country announced that they had decided to cancel or postpone their event, but this wasn’t really an option for the Wings & Wheels team. The team quickly realised that now, more than ever before, the Airshow community needed to stand strong, acknowledge what had happened but at the same time, continue to demonstrate just how safe the UK Airshow circuit is and to re-confirm that this country really does have one of the safest and strictest set of Airshow regulations anywhere in the world (regulations that are the envy of many foreign nations).

Aviation at its Best

In September 2013, one of the last RAF VC-10’s touched down at Dunsfold Aerodrome for the final time. Brooklands and Dunsfold Park had worked together to acquire this example and the plan was for the aircraft to be in taxiing condition by the weekend of the show in 2014. Due to a number of technical difficulties (and perhaps an underestimation in what was required in maintaining such a complex aircraft) this didn’t happen but it was promised that the Conway engines would roar once more at Wings & Wheels this year; and boy did they roar! Brooklands delivered on their promise and much to the enthusiasts’ delight, opened the Sunday show with two fast taxis up and down the runway.

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With the VC-10 runs complete and the first round of motoring out of the way, it was time to reflect on the events at Shoreham and hold a minute’s silence. As the announcement was made over the  loud speakers, people immediately stood to show their respect; it was so silent that I’m pretty sure you could have heard a pin drop on the other side of the airfield!

The end of the 60 seconds were signalled by Peter Teichman in his P-40 Kittyhawk screaming over the tree tops and carrying out a victory roll over the aerodrome, before going to hold briefly prior to conducting his solo display. Peter is one of the best (perhaps the best) warbird display pilots going, so for him to take part in this way was an extremely fitting tribute to the events that had occurred just a week previous.

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Rich Goodwin’s ‘Muscle Biplane’ act is becoming increasingly popular on the UK circuit and for Wings & Wheels, his display had been altered slightly to include a number of ‘races’ in which he tried to match his ability with that of a Porsche 911 that was going at speed up and down the tarmac. There is no doubt about it, Rich Goodwin’s aerobatic ability is phenomenal and no two displays are exactly the same due to the nature of the free-flow routine; the Pitts Special is a great little aircraft and it was certainly pushed to its limits by Goodwin.

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A familiar sight at Dunsfold is the Aces High DC-3 Dakota. The aircraft has been a star of many Hollywood films and TV series, and has a rather unique, distressed look to it. For such a large aircraft, this display was flown with exceptional grace and was an extremely photogenic display. I’ve seen this routine on a number of occasions over the last few years and this was easily one of the most polished to date.

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Another common sight at Wings & Wheels was the Old Flying Machine Company pairing of Spitfire MH434 and P-51 Mustang Ferocious Frankie. This act has been at the event on numerous occasions over the last few years but the display always manages to impress with its tight formations and solo routines. The formation section of the display seemed especially tight this year and the pilots of OFMC really have to be applauded for their skills in flying such historic aircraft.

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Although the 2015 Chinook Display team is made up of members of 27 Squadron, the team have been displaying in the 18 (B) Squadron centenary-schemed aircraft at a number of events over the summer. The aircraft has been somewhat of a ‘problem child’ over the course of the season but finally, I was able to see the display in this special commemorative paint scheme. In my opinion, the Odiham-based team have easily won the award (again) for the most consistently impressive RAF display this year; there’s something about the gravity-defying, tandem rotor routine that just never gets boring.

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Returning to the Surrey airfield again was the Dutch B-25 Mitchell. Even though the aircraft are very different, the RAF could learn a trick or two from display routines like this; the B-25 was thrown about the dull grey sky and almost instantly brought a bit of colour to proceedings. Always a welcome sight and a thoroughly entertaining display.

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One of the stars of the show for me was the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron MiG-15. This was fortunately the only aircraft affected by the temporary display regulations and whilst the aircraft was a joy to see (and one that I’ve never actually seen in the air before), the tame routine left a lot to be desired. There didn’t appear to be much of the trademark Russian-built black smoke but I’m guessing that’s because the display wasn’t flown at any real speed. A disappointing display in my eyes but this couldn’t be helped; in terms of the aircraft though, it’s another one that I can tick off my wish-list!

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I can’t really believe that I’m saying this but the Breitling Wingwalkers have been fairly absent from the display circuit this summer with much of their work being focused on a more international scale, with trips to India, Japan and Dubai. To see them back in the air down South was a welcome sight and whilst their display is of a much slower pace to most items, the formation and opposing sections of the routine are incredibly photogenic. The sound of the radial engines is also something that I’ll never tire of!

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The RAF Hawk T2 Display Team are new to the circuit this year and their display is built around a role-demonstration, with a view to showing off the capabilities of the modern jet-trainer aircraft. The RAF Valley-based team have built a routine that shows off the aircraft’s agility nicely but at times the two-ship passes feel very distant. The pyrotechnics add another dimension to the display and I feel that this team has an awful lot of potential. In their inaugural year, they’ve done Valley proud!

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The rest of the air segment featured displays from The Blades, Turb Team, two Aerobility-backed routines (Yak-52 and Glider – both flown by Guy Westgate), Sally-B, the RAF Typhoon/Spitfire Synchro Pair, RAF Tutor and the RAF Typhoon Display Team. The solo Typhoon display was perhaps the most impressive Eurofighter Typhoon display I’ve ever seen; the combination of noise, power and reheat wrapped up the 2015 show in style.

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The Vulcan was due to attend but must to the disappointment of the crowd, XH558 couldn’t get through the bad weather front that was lingering around country for most of the day.

There were many intriguing acts this year but I can’t help but feel that the aviation element of Wings & Wheels is starting to feel a little stagnant. If you look at the above, the B-25, Blades, Turb Team, OFMC pair, DC-3 and to a degree, the Kittyhawk, are all acts that appear at Dunsfold almost every year (or at least feel like they’re far too common there). With the wealth of warbirds and display teams in this country, I find it difficult to understand why we don’t see more variety at Wings & Wheels year on year.

With the Vulcan exiting the display scene later this year, I really hope that the organisers make the most of the spare funding and book some really interesting (and new to the event) items in 2016.

Also, what happened to the large-scale model section this year?

Burning Rubber

Keeping true to the ‘Wheels’ part of the event’s name, the show also focuses heavily on motoring with two sections of running from both historic and modern-day cars and motorbikes.

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The first segment runs right at the beginning of the day and the noise that some of the vehicles produce is almost spine-tingling at times. Whether you’re interested in motoring or not, the speed at which some of these cars can go is truly fascinating and the first run is always something that I’m interested in. To see so many beautiful motors at once is a real treat.

I guess that’s where one of my main problems with the show comes from. Just two hours later, that entire run of cars and motorbikes is repeated and you end up with an almost identical 60-minute slot of driving. No one usually watches any given TV programme and then re-watches the exact same episode just two hours later that day; why would you?

It’s not the first time that I’ve said this and I have a feeling that it won’t be the last, but the motoring element of the show really could benefit from a little re-think. Why not break up the running order into two sections so that you don’t have to just run a repeat session? Many people immediately around me were making similar comments on the day and a large proportion of the crowd line took the second session as an excuse to go and get some food or have a toilet break. A few years back I remember seeing a Mercedes-Benz act at Dunsfold; what happened to that? Motoring entertainment acts do exist and I can’t understand why they’re not used more at shows like this.

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Still a Top Show

Despite the slightly familiar air displays and repetitive motoring sections, Wings & Wheels is still a very enjoyable event and always manages to provide an entertaining day at a reasonable ticket price.

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The team are always thinking on their feet and brought in a load of hay for the weekend to help out with the extremely boggy ground. The showground itself wasn’t too bad but the car park itself was incredibly muddy and slippery. The car park could have really benefitted from some metal tracking on the main paths coming in and out but as it dried out towards the end of the day, it got a little better.

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It was also great to see an even larger range of catering options available on site this year; people are definitely willing to spend a little more at the moment, as long as they’re getting a quality product in return.

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Many have moaned about the queues getting out of the car park but from what I can gather, this wasn’t really avoidable. A lot of people decided to leave once they found out that the Vulcan wasn’t attending (an hour or so before the end of the show) and at that time, by design, there weren’t as many marshals around to direct traffic so it became a free-for-all to get out first. Had some people hung around at the end of the show, grabbed a coffee and listened to the live music, they would have found that getting out of the site was in fact incredibly easy; it was then only the slow moving traffic all the way to Guildford that was a problem but that seems to be completely unavoidable.

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In my eyes, the organisers have got a little work to do for the 2016 show but I can guarantee that I’ll be there regardless of any changes. Wings & Wheels is still a great show and for atmosphere and friendliness, is still one of the best on the display calendar.

Review – Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

2014, Reviews, Uncategorized

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.