For 15 years, Dunsfold Park has hosted one of the most colourful and entertaining air displays on the UK Circuit. Wings and Wheels had become an annual fixture for many from Surrey, Sussex and beyond thanks to eclectic mix of aviation and motoring. However, as Dunsfold Park prepares for its own future, 2019 saw the final Wings and Wheels. The show went out in style with its much loved mix of flying displays from civilian and military operators.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
In 2005, some five years after BAE Systems had moved out of Dunsfold, a new event appeared on the UK air display calendar. Dubbed ‘Wings and Wheels’ the event saw the new airfield owners combine forces with Brooklands Museum to produce one of the surprises of season. As well as motoring and motorsport, the show celebrated much of Surrey’s aviation history and in particular that of the Hawker Aviation which had links to both Brooklands and Dunsfold. 2005 was also the first season for Peter Vacher’s Battle of Britain veteran Hawker Hurricane I R4118 since it emerged from restoration. It was one of the stars of the first Wings and Wheels and the show hosted one of the first formation appearances alongside the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Supermarine Spitfire IIa P7350 which was also a veteran of the battle. R4118 also flew a rare formation display with the then Fighter Collection owned Hawker Hurricane IV.
Those memorable formations set a precedent for subsequent editions of Wings and Wheels that nearly all featured a formation that was out of the ordinary. Hawker heritage was mark by combinations of Sea Fury & Hunter plus Sea Hawk & Hunter. Other formation celebrated some of Dunsfold’s most famous test pilots and Neville Duke’s contribution to RAF Service and test flying was remembered with a combination of Supermarine Spitfire Vb and Hawker Hunter. The airfield’s Second World War history has also often been remembered with combinations with the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight’s North American B-25 Mitchell and Boeing B-17G Sally-B. Perhaps the most memorable formations were brought together in 2014 when the event marked the 70th Anniversary of D-Day with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the touring Canadian Avro Lancaster leading a four-ship of C-47A Skytrain, B-25 Mitchell, Spitfire MH434 and P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie. Then there were the unusual formations. 2014 also saw Avro Vulcan XH558 arrive in company with three Folland Gnat T1s from the Gnat Display Team while a year earlier the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury and Fairey Swordfish were joined by the Breitling Wingwalkers.
But perhaps the biggest appeal of Wings and Wheels was always the atmosphere. The show was always very professional, but the event has always had a sense of fun that so many other events fail to capture. The Dunsfold Park staff and their supporting troop of volunteers were always cheerful whatever the weather working some very long hours to stage the event. That sense of fun was carried over into the flying displays by the aviation commentary team of Melvyn Hiscock and Brendan O’Brien who supported all fifteen events. Their narration of the flying was always informative, but also highly entertaining often lifting audience spirits even on the dampest and greyest of days.
Wings and Wheels also faced its fair share of challenges along the way too. The weather of course was an issue at times but Wings and Wheels found itself the first major event following the loss of Flt Lt Jon Egging in 2011 and the Shoreham tragedy in 2015. In both cases, the organisers handled the situation with great sensitivity and respect.
It is therefore very sad that 2019 would see the final Dunsfold Wings and Wheels. However, Dunsfold Park were determined that the show should continue in the vein set by previous shows and end the series of events on a high.
Over 15 years, Dunsfold have always given equal billing to the motoring side of the event. 2019 once again saw a number of different car clubs display their vehicles in the showground amongst the motoring and military zones. There were also parades down the crowd-line and the usual high speed demonstrations on Dunsfold’s runway which still includes the Top Gear test track.
The aviation displays retained their usual eclectic mix of aircraft from both civilian and military operators. The flying displays saw several old favourites back for one final time at Dunsfold with the likes of The Blades and the four Extra 300LPs, Rich Goodwin in his Pitts S-2S Special and the FireFlies in their pair of Vans RV4s.
A new display to Dunsfold was the Little and Large duo from G-Force Aerobatics. Chris Burkett and Mike Williams have put on some superb displays up and down the country with their combination of fullp-sized and radio controlled model Extra 300S winning plaudits wherever they have appeared. They were very well received at Dunsfold thanks to some superb flying on both days and particularly on the Saturday when they displayed in the rain!
As always, there were also a good selection of displays from the UK armed forces. The Tigers Army Parachute Display Team have supported all of the Wings and Wheels events despite the tight airspace that Dunsfold sits in. Their efforts in jumping in less than ideal conditions over the weekend were greatly appreciated by the crowds this year.
The Royal Air Force has also supported the event well over the course of its history. This year saw solo displays from the Grob Tutor T1, Shorts Tucano T1 and Boeing Chinook HC6A. Flt Lt Andy Preece put on a superb solo display in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX making full use of the fairly short crowd-line to present some lovely curved passes for the photographers.
Where possible, the Royal Air Force has always tried to send aircraft related to Dunsfold history. In 2019, the static park saw a pair of BAE Systems Hawk T2s on display wearing the markings of both IV(R) and XXV Squadrons. These aircraft represent the latest incarnation of the famous British jet trainer which first flew and was developed at Dunsfold. In the air, the Red Arrows appeared on both days and some, if not all, of their Hawks have Dunsfold history having been built in the hangars that still stand at the airfield.
Many of the highlights from the final show came from the historic contingent. Mark Petrie and Ollie Suckling displayed the pair of BAC Strikemaster Mk82as operated by North Wales Military Aviation Services. Due to the airspace above Dunsfold they could not perform a full display but instead flew a very eye-catching airfield attack sequence complete with pyrotechnics. Andy Durston also flew a wonderfully smooth solo display in Fighter Aviation Engineering’s Republic P-47D Thunderbolt which was another type new to Wings and Wheels.
As with many previous editions of Dunsfold, there was also a special formation in the flying. This time the formation brought together Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B and the Dunsfold based Douglas C-47A Skytrain of Aces High to mark the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. B-17s were engaged in countless operations to soften up defences in Normandy and of course C-47s played a huge role supporting airborne forces during the invasion itself.
Dunsfold Aerodrome’s own history was reflected with the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Westland Lysander IIIa which was making one its first public appearances. A Lysander was the first type to land at Dunsfold Aerodrome which was constructed as an emergency airfield by the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers in 1942. The Lysander was flown solo by David Ratcliffe and was a very fitting addition to the final show.
Dunsfold’s operational role was remembered by the North American P-51D Mustang from the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation and flown by Cliff Spink. Mustangs were amongst the types to fly from the Surrey airfield between 1942 to 1945 which also included Spitfires, Typhoons and B-25 Mitchells.
The emotional finale to Sunday’s display was a beautiful aerial ballet by Stu Goldspink and Jon Gowdy flying a pair of Hawker Hurricane Mk1s from Bygone Aviation and Anglia Aircraft Restorations. Hawker Hurricane displays have always been a part of Wings and Wheels as the type is closely associated with Brooklands and Dunsfold. The Hawker Hurricane was born at Brooklands and first flew from that aerodrome in November 1935. Dunsfold’s association with the Hurricane was post war when one aircraft, PZ865, was retained by Hawkers for various tasks. Perhaps its most famous role was as the chase aircraft for the testing of the Hawker P1127 which went on to be developed into the Harrier. The Hurricane was the only aircraft that had the speed range to match the Harrier. As the sun lowered, the crowd fell silent as the two early Hurricanes displayed together with just the smooth sound of early Merlin engines hanging in the sky. Jamie McAllister, Event Director, Wings & Wheels reflected: “From humble beginnings in 2005 and 10,000 visitors to its heyday in 2015 and 40,000 visitors, Wings & Wheels has been a privilege to direct. Over 15 shows the event has evolved into five hour air displays, two hour motoring demonstrations, an arena full of attractions and zones, stunt shows, theatre shows, military re-enactors, tanks and tours of iconic aircraft and so much more.
It is something we are truly very proud of. The event this weekend was enjoyed, despite the variable weather, by over 28,000 visitors and showcased the very best of what Wings & Wheels is about. We were, and continue to be, humbled by the outpouring of love for the event and CREW. The final display from two hurricanes on Sunday couldn’t have been more fitting and, as the audience fell silent to watch them, it was a truly emotional close to the Show.”
All at Dunsfold indeed should be very proud of Wings and Wheels. I will miss the event greatly but will always have some very fond memories of the show. I am sure there are plenty out there who feel the same.