Dunsfold Wings & Wheels
Saturday 15th June - Sunday 16th June 2019
Wings and Wheels presents one of the most varied and fun line-ups on the airshow circuit. Dunsfold is perhaps most famous these days for its role as home to Top Gear, however, the airfield's rich aviation heritage is celebrated throughout the Wings and Wheels weekend. The show's mix of automotive and aerial action gives a unique and relaxed feel to the event, with the flying display broken into two sections with a break for motoring displays in the middle. Redevelopment of the site beckons, and coupled with the current 'aviation and economic climate', 2019 was unfortunately set to be the last ever Wings and Wheels show at Dunsfold.
headed to Surrey on the Saturday of the final edition of the show and reports for UK Airshow Review.
Wings and Wheels provides something unique to the display calendar. The mix of displays that Dunsfold attracts reflect the airfield's historical ties to the likes of the Hawker Aircraft Company, as well as a vast array of other types that are linked to Dunsfold; for example, B-25 Mitchells operating from the airfield during wartime or playing home to the development of the Harrier. The airfield is rich in aviation history, the celebration of which has become a central pillar of the shows at Dunsfold, mixed with the fun and frolics of aerobatic displays to delight the more casual airshow goer.
The commentary duo of Brendan O'Brien and Melvyn Hiscock embody the jovial spirit of the show, delivering anecdotal and factual nuggets of information in the most entertaining and engaging fashion. The pair are part of the fabric of the show in their own right and always one of the highlights. The familiar Dunsfold format remained the same this year, with a varied programme through the day, started by a military vehicle parade along the crowdline before supercars took to the runway to demonstrate their high performance. The two flying display sections then ensued, with another motoring display sandwiched in the middle. The only unfamiliar aspect of the show was the time of year. Moving from the August Bank Holiday weekend slot the show has occupied in recent years, the organisers elected to return to a mid-June date, enabling the Red Arrows to perform at the show one last time before heading off on their tour of North America.
At a varied event such as this, where the interest is split between aviation and cars, the role of the Red Arrows in attracting an audience for the show could be seen as having much greater importance than at a show like The Fighter Collection's Flying Legends, which has its own clientele that will be in attendance regardless. August is highly populated with shows such as this, and many seaside airshows too, and therefore the decision to move the show to fit in with the RAFAT's summer schedule is somewhat understandable. As it turned out, unfortunately only eight of the team's aircraft were able to attend with one of the team's Hawk T1s unserviceable. Whether it was the missing aircraft or another factor responsible is difficult to say, but the Reds' performance appeared rather lacklustre compare to previous years and certainly lacked the flair that would be expected from them.
Elsewhere, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, often victims of criticism from enthusiasts and photographers on their displays, where anything but lacklustre. Close to the crowd, there were no fewer than five arcing passes to show off the topside of their recently returned-to-the-air Griffon engined Spitfire XIX PM631. Flight Lieutenant Andy Preece put on a warbird masterclass in a thrilling display to behold that boasted many of the usual elements of the BBMF display, but in a seemingly more dynamic and engaging routine that any master of display flying would have been proud of. Having missed their original display slot due to inclement weather on the transit to Dunsfold, and therefore assumed to have been a cancellation, this excellent finale was a real treat given that its attendance was somewhat unexpected. The high quality of the display, the frequency in which BBMF displays are berated by enthusiasts and their battle just to make it to the show, this will surely go down as one of the best displays of the season.
The BBMF Spitfire's new slot at the end of the show created something of a warbird finale (with the aerobatic antics of Dunsfold favourite Rich Goodwin sandwiched in the middle), as it followed on from the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation's Sharkmouth North American P-51D Mustang - resplendent in its recently applied D-Day stripes, and a pairs routine from the Ultimate Warbird Flights' stable of Hawker Hurricane Mk.I and Republic P-47D Thunderbolt 'Nellie B'. Originally due to consist of Hurricane and Hawker Fury FB.11 in a salute to Hawker's history at Dunsfold, the P-47 was a last minute stand-in after the Sea Fury encountered technical problems. The pair were flown capably by Jon Gowdy and Andy Durston, who were performing for the second time in the day, having previously displayed in their pair of Vans RV4s that make up the Fireflies display team. The Sharkmouth Mustang - superbly demonstrated by Cliff Spink - was really put through its paces and this was surely one of the best routines that has been seen in the aircraft since it emerged onto the circuit, with a fine mix of gentle aerobatics and low passes. Upon touching down on the runway, Spink once again demonstrated superb skill, keeping the aircraft under control as a gust of wind appeared to catch the Mustang and lift the port wing and landing gear some way off the runway. Notably, it was not the only Mustang present at Dunsfold as Peter Teichman - a long-time supporter and regular performer at these shows over the years - arrived in the Hangar 11 Collection P-51D to take in the last ever show. Now retired from display flying, it was nice to see him and his wonderful Mustang out and about at a public event again.
The American warbird theme was further explored within the display programme with the appearance of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress 'Sally B' and Aces High's C-47 Dakota 'Mayfly', the latter fresh from its venture to France as part of the 'Daks over Normandy' celebrations. Sally B arrived on-slot and flew a circuit around the airfield, allowing the Skytrain to get airborne and chase down the Flying Fortress until they were into a loose formation, making a single pass along the crowd line together before their solo routines. It is moments like these that have contributed to making Dunsfold such a special venue, most years putting together some unique or rare formations that add to spectacle of the show and giving the enthusiast and photographer moments that they won't see every other week as they travel around the airshow circuit. In this vein, the Strikemaster Pair enhanced their Dunsfold display beyond the usual routine, which includes some great close formation work, to include pyrotechnics, closing their display by running in low and fast for a series of simulated bombing runs.
The varied action kept the pace of the show constantly changing. The Tiger Club's Turbulent Display Team are firm favourites at Dunsfold, with their mix of formation flying, flour bombing, balloon popping and limbo flying a staple of the show. Their display, coupled with the excitable commentary of Brendan O'Brien – who adds so much to this display through his experience and tangible love for this kind of flying – typifies the character of the show. As do the Army's Parachute Display Team, an ever-present at Dunsfold, they were given the pleasure of opening the show. Likewise the 'Little and Large' display presented by Chris Burkett in the Extra 300 and Mike Williams flying the scale model added something truly different to the display programme compared to any other act available. Variety is the spice of life as they say, and Dunsfold certainly oozes variety.
When compared to some of the major military shows, Dunsfold is certainly a more compact setting which makes it a great place to view displays from smaller and rotary types that can become lost at venues where they have more ground to cover. Included amongst these are the RAF trainers, such as the Grob Tutor and the Shorts Tucano, the latter in its swansong year on the airshow circuit with retirement looming over the type before the end of the year. Likewise, the RAF's Chinook display always seems to have a large presence at Dunsfold - in fact, it's impact only seems to be enhanced as the runway elements of the display, such as the reverse take-off, take on greater prominence. At a large venue like RAF Fairford, these parts of the display occupy a fraction of a two-mile crowd line, and obviously they're impossible to conduct at seaside shows, making this one of the best places to take in the ever popular 'Wokka'.
In addition to the displays already discussed, the show saw further participation from Bygone Aviation's Hurricane Mk.I, the Aircraft Restoration Company's newly restored Westland Lysander, The Blades and the Gazelle Squadron. A further indicator in those four of the great variety of aircraft brought together to display at Dunsfold.
Was this one of the best shows to have been seen at Dunsfold? Probably not. However, that is not entirely the fault of the organisers. At its peak, the show's array of participants used to include a strong showing of classic jets to further add to the quality and range of acts on show. However, moving dates to take in the Red Arrows came at the cost of some other regular participants, as the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron aircraft aren't in the country until the late summer. Their absence, coupled with the general demise of the classic jet scene in the UK left this show a little light in this area, albeit for understandable reasons. Aside from the Red Arrows for a large number of those attending, there was no real standout stars on the participation list, but Dunsfold has never been about a single star act. It is an amalgamation from the spectrum of acts present and available on the UK display circuit presented in a fun, relaxed and entertaining manor, and the final show certainly delivered on that front. Dunsfold now joins the likes of Kemble, Waddington and Shoreham as locations that have all dropped off the airshow circuit in the recent past, and its unique charm and character leave a large hole to fill.