2012 Articles

AUG 31 2012
Airshows >> UK: Dunsfold Wings & Wheels 2012 - Review

Over the past couple of years, Wings and Wheels has become one of my favourite shows of the year. Whilst the line-up is often familiar, the flying is always tremendous and organisers TSA Consulting can always be relied upon to sprinkle a touch of innovation to the proceedings.

The forecast for day two wasn’t especially promising. A bright start, but with overcast skies soon dominating and the threat of heavy rain by afternoon. Thankfully, although the clouds were ever-present, the rain pretty much held off, barring a very short shower. The sun even made sporadic appearances throughout the afternoon.

Held to raise money for a number of worthy charities including Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance, Help for Heroes, Cranleigh Village Hospital Trust and the Brooklands Museum, Wings and Wheels is a show of two halves. Representing the “wheels” element was a large variety of classic vehicles, many of which were paraded down the main runway in two showcase events during the day. Add to that plenty to see on the ground – trade stands, military vehicles, a funfair and “stunt zone” and it’s easy to see why Dunsfold is such a hit with the family. Unfortunately crowd numbers on the Monday were down on my previous visits, no doubt induced by the grim forecast. Happily, Sunday’s excellent conditions had seen a much larger crowd in attendance, with an estimated 20,000 coming through the gate.

Dunsfold Park has a rich aviation history, most famously with Hawker and British Aerospace (now BAE Systems). It is always fitting that the show honours the venue’s past and that is clearly reflected in the flying items.

Star of the show for many was due to be the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight’s B-25 Mitchell. Now a rare visitor to these shores, this was due to be its only UK appearance this year. It would have been particularly relevant given the type’s association with the airfield; 180 Squadron of the Royal Air Force flew Mitchells out of Dunsfold during the Second World War. Unfortunately technical gremlins prevented her from making the trek across from Holland, however, the organisers had a real ace up their sleeve as a replacement. More on that later...

It fell to Peter Teichman in the Hangar 11 Collection’s P-40 Kittyhawk to recall the airfield’s wartime history. Kittyhawks were based at the venue for a period during the war and Peter’s machine is now a regular at Wings and Wheels. This was a busy weekend for “PT” as the P-40 also performed at Little Gransden on the Sunday, whilst his beautiful “Hurribomber” (Hurricane IIB) was also confidently displayed by her owner on both days.

Obviously, being a Hawker design, the Hurricane was right at home here and was joined by its rather more powerful Hawker successors. Lt Cdr Chris Gotke flew a typically powerful routine in Naval Aviation Ltd’s Sea Fury T.20 and was joined on Sunday by Jonathon Whaley’s mighty Hunter “Miss Demeanour”, in a repeat of their memorable formation display from 2011. Monday’s plan was to formate these with the B-25’s replacement, the Classic Aircraft Trust’s Gloster Meteor T.7. What a sight this would have been, had the incoming conditions not forced Chris Gotke to re-arrange to an earlier slot in order to beat the rain back to Yeovilton.

That said, the two ship of Hunter and Meteor was still a fabulous sight and the undoubted star item. Alternating leadership, the jets swooped in for several top side passes and B Axis turns, culminating in a break towards the crowd. As I mentioned in the Sywell report, Dan Griffith is now completely at home in the T.7 and gave another photogenic display that showed the aeroplane off at all angles. The final low, wing waggling flypast was spine-chillingly awesome! Someone knight that man... “Flapjack” was on typically fine form too, the technicolours brightening the grey skies that prevailed late afternoon.

Another star performer for many was Vulcan XH558. Whatever your viewpoint, it is still undoubtedly a draw, as evidenced by the gaggle of people who moved towards the crowd barriers when the dulcet tones of Sean Maffett announced her imminent arrival. Kev Rumens and Bill Perrins flew a polished display; not as memorable as the flypasts at Little Gransden on Sunday, but they will take some beating. It’s important to savour each opportunity to witness ‘558 this year. Yes, the official line is that she will hopefully display next season but the struggle to keep this Cold War warrior financed never dissipates.

The last classic jet in action was Heritage Aviation’s Jet Provost T.5, flown by Squadron Leader Dan Arlett of Team Viper fame. Highly appropriate to see a JP in the 100th anniversary year of the Central Flying School, Dan flew a varied routine consisting of pleasant aerobatics and graceful topside passes.

Yes, Dunsfold does rely on its regular acts on a yearly basis, but when we are talking about the Old Flying Machine Company’s (OFMC) Spitfire IX and P-51 Mustang pair, I don’t think anyone can question their inclusion. Brian Smith and Alister Kay put on another breath-taking display of close formation warbird flying par excellance. It can’t have been easy up there due to the gusty wind, but these guys are two of the best and, as always, created pure magic. The founding fathers of OFMC, Ray and Mark Hanna, are still much missed, but displays like this are the best way of honouring two exceptional aviators.

Speaking of exceptional aviators, Gary Connelly is not a name synonymous with air displays. However, you would have seen him in the Olympic Opening Ceremony when he parachuted in as “The Queen”. An experienced sky diver, who has also appeared as a stunt performer in many movies, Gary dropped into Wings and Wheels from a Hughes 500 helicopter in his Batman-like wingsuit. Having initially fallen from 2,000ft, Connelly deployed his parachute at approximately 400ft, to a standing ovation. Unfortunately the wind dictated the short nature of his performance, but it was a highly bizarre and unique moment to witness. Now, can someone book him to formate with “Jetman”...?

Service support was typically strong and led by a large contingent from the Royal Air Force comprising the Red Arrows, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (both on Sunday only – poor weather prevented the Lancaster from reaching Dunsfold on Monday), Hawk, Tucano, King Air and the superb Tornado GR.4 Role Demonstration. The crowd really lapped up the noise and explosions that accompanied the latter. The Prince of Wales Royal Regiment’s Tigers Parachute Team also dropped in during the afternoon.

Dunsfold also pulled-off a considerable coup by securing the 2012 Army Air Corps Apache AH.1 demo from RAF Wattisham. This impressive beast has only displayed at RAF Cosford and RAF Fairford this year and has one final appearance at the Duxford Autumn Air Display in the pipeline. W02 Clive Richardson and Captain Lillie Mead gave a captivating performance of the Apache’s agility, at one point disappearing behind a cluster of trees over the far side, before menacingly re-appearing a few seconds later. Beat that Airwolf! Sunday’s routine featured a possible first time formation as the Apache appeared in concert with Gordon Brander’s Sopwith Triplane. Sadly the weather struck yet again, as the Sopwith had to beat the rain back to its home base on Monday so departed off slot after its opening, and a very lively, dogfight with John Day’s Fokker DR.1.

Wings and Wheels also scores highly with its aerobatic and civilian content and once again, featured a dynamic cross-section of some of the UK’s top performers. You know what you’re getting with the likes of The Blades, The Matadors and Gerald Cooper’s eye-popping gyroscopics in his SBach 300. Barnstorming fun came courtesy of the ever popular Breitling Wingwalkers (Danielle and Freya looking particularly fetching in their Union Jack inspired outfits), Turbulent Team and O’Brien’s Flying Circus. Yes, aviator extraordinaire Brendan O’Brien appropriately ended the day on a high note by successfully negotiating his Piper Cub onto the moving trailer. He then outdid that by applying full power and lifting off again.

Static-wise, Dunsfold can never compete with the large military events. That said, they did offer several historic gems such as the resident C-47 Dakota from Aces High, Richie Piper’s Harvard and the Brooklands Museum’s Sopwith Camel replica which underwent a ground run in the morning. The Gnat Display Team also had a Gnat T.1 on static, offering the audience a chance to sit in the cockpit for a photo opportunity.

Team Merlin are regular supporters of Wings and Wheels and once again provided their Merlin HC.3 from RAF Benson. Always popular, the crowd was able to chat to the crew and get a close look at one of the RAF’s support helicopters. Appropriately, a number of Hawks were also on show including T.1s from 100 and 208(R) Squadrons, a T.1 spare ship from the Red Arrows, and a very rare appearance from a new T.2 from IV(R) Squadron at RAF Valley.

Sunday’s event suffered from some unfortunate traffic tailbacks post show, with many visitors having to wait several hours before exiting the site. Thankfully Monday fared better, probably thanks to the smaller crowd.

In all, I have to think that Dunsfold offers very good value for money, especially if you are both an aviation and motoring buff. It may showcase some of the most familiar items in the country, but you can’t complain when they are of the highest quality and set against a picturesque backdrop.

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