Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | October 13th 2016
Dunsfold aerodrome has a long and rich history when it comes to British aviation. The aerodrome was home to the Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force throughout the Second World War until it was declared inactive in 1946. Hawker moved on to the site in 1950 and after nearly 50 years of production British Aerospace finally shutdown business in 1999 as part of a cost-cutting restructure. Today, almost twenty years later, Dunsfold Park is a sleepy airfield primarily used by the TV and movie industry for filming large-scale set pieces but once a year a dedicated team opens the doors to the public for the brilliant Wings & Wheels air and motor show.
Wings & Wheels has always taken place over the August bank holiday weekend and has seen it’s fair share of good weather over the years but sadly this year it just wasn’t meant to be. Dark skies, strong winds, low cloud and persistent rain meant that the weekend was spent ducking in and out of shelter. It also meant that decent photography was pretty much non-existent when aircraft were in the sky!
Dunsfold’s main event traditionally doesn’t start until late morning which gives you plenty of time to take a wander around the site, check out the stalls and photograph the static aircraft that take up residence on the disused taxiway.
Wings & Wheels is very much an event for the whole family so there’s usually something for everyone on the ground; stalls to do a spot of shopping, a small fairground for the kids and if you’re there for the aviation and motoring then there are dedicated areas at each end of the showground.
The aviation static park was shared predominantly by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The RAF brought along their special scheme King Air and a Tucano to represent the training fleet, while the Navy had one of their Hawk T1s and a Merlin Mk2 which was open to the public throughout the day. It’s great to see people interacting with the armed forces and showing such a strong, genuine interest in what they were up to while out on operations.
The Main Event
Wings & Wheels, as the name suggests, is a show split into two main segments; one half for the motoring and one for the aviation. The trouble with this in reality is that both these sections are split in two with the airshow element being interrupted by a duplicate run of cars half way through the day; something that many in attendance seemed to respond a little negatively too.
The motoring element was, as always, fronted by Brooklands and featured an incredibly unique array of cars and bikes. It has to be said that we weren’t there for the motoring aspect but nevertheless it was fantastic to see. Certainly if this is something you’re interested in then you’d love it!
Before the motoring had even kicked off though, Brooklands ran their beautiful VC-10 up and down the runway. Due to the length of the runway, the aircraft can’t get up to any great speed but it was still a delight to see.
The first and second airshow segments began with a superb display from the large-scale Remote Control ‘Reds Duo’ display team. The R/C team have been on the circuit for a a few years now and have displayed at Dunsfold in the past but the skill of these controllers on the ground never ceases to amaze. The display was accompanied by an upbeat backing track that certainly got the audience in a good mood.
Dunsfold Aerodrome played a crucial role throughout the Second World War so it’s only right that Wings & Wheels acknowledged this with an extensive line-up of period aircraft.
Peter Teichman was on hand to display not one but two aircraft; his P-51 Mustang and a Hawker Hurricane. Peter’s P-51 had a new paint scheme applied for the 2016 display season but amazingly this was the first time we’d actually seen it in the flesh. The Red Tails ‘Tall In The Saddle’ scheme got a mixed reaction to begin with but we think it looks absolutely incredible, especially when you consider that this was a scheme actually worn by this airframe during the War!
Peter was originally scheduled to display his Hurricane as well but the aircraft has been in maintenance for most of the season so instead of letting the organisers down, he rung a friend and borrowed another Hurricane for the weekend. How many people can call a friend and ask to borrow a Hurricane? Unsurprisingly the Hurricane wasn’t flown with quite as much spirit as we’re used to but I think that’s understandable given that it wasn’t his aircraft.
The Hurricane and Mustang weren’t the only fighters however, as the Luftwaffe were represented by a beautiful Buchon HA-1112, the result of a short-term agreement between Spain and Germany to build a licensed version of the formidable Messerschmitt Bf-109. Many in the community dislike the Buchon because it’s not a pure WWII variant but there’s no denying it’s a great aircraft to look at; it was flown beautifully in the dull grey skies above Dunsfold.
The fighters were also joined in the air by two bomber aircraft from WWII; B-17 Sally B and the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight B-25. The B-25 has been coming to Dunsfold for a number of years now but incredibly Sally-B had never flown or landed at the airfield before.
Both aircraft went up in less than ideal conditions but put on admirable displays and owned the sky while they were airborne. The bomber displays may not have been as fast paced as the fighter but my word, their sheer size was enough to keep you in awe.
After the accident at Shoreham last year it’s difficult to see how classic jet aircraft will survive in the UK long-term. Interest in flying the types in this country are at an all time low due to public perception and rising costs, with many aircraft having sold to owners abroad in the last few months but there’s still a little hope.
Returning to Dunsfold was Dan Arlett in his beautiful Jet Provost and making their debut appearance was the stunning Vampire pair of the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron.
Somehow this was the first time we’d seen a Jet Provost all year and that goes some way to explaining how difficult a season it has been for the UK circuit regulars. Jet Provosts, once upon a time, were almost a guaranteed sight at every UK show but that’s not the case anymore. Dan Arlett has become a favourite among the community and displayed the JP with an extreme amount of agility.
The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were represented by the Red Arrows, Typhoon and Black Cats respectively. The Red Arrows are always a big crowd pleaser at family orientated events like this and it was great to see them following the Reds Duo in the display programme. Due to the weather the Typhoon was one of two acts that was massively delayed but eventually found a break in the weather and displayed shortly after many had left the showground.
Time for Change
While for the most part the action on track and in the air was entertaining for the masses, there’s an awful lot about Wings & Wheels that’s starting to feel a little bit too ‘safe’ year on year.
The duplicate running of the motoring element has been criticised by many on more than one occasion but still it remains the same. This could be fixed so easily by just splitting the running order in half and reducing the gaps, therefore keeping people intrigued with what’s to come instead of people just seeing the second run as a chance to go and grab some lunch. There are some truly unique pieces in the motoring section and they should be given centre-stage.
There are also many elements of the air display that’s starting to feel all too familiar with acts like the Blades, the B-25, Gerald Cooper and the Turbs returning year in year out. While these acts are hugely entertaining to many, especially the Turb Team, there is a much wider array of display aircraft in this country that haven’t been seen at the show before. Even when it comes to the warbirds, there are countless other privately owned fighters that could be booked instead of sticking with the Hangar 11 collection.
We don’t mean to sound like we’re giving the organisers a hard time; the show was fantastic, despite the weather, but it just feels like Wings & Wheels could do with a fresh lick of paint in places.
Wings & Wheels has brought a close to a long display season in perhaps one of the most difficult years the industry has ever experienced. Fingers crossed that things start to return to normality over the winter and the Dunsfold event comes back with a bang in 2017!