Frank Togher and Mike Kerr sample the Surrey airshow scene. Pictures by the authors and Bob Franklin
This was the third year of the Dunsfold 'Wings and Wheels Show' at the former BAE Systems facility near Guildford, tucked away in a quiet corner of Surrey supporting, as many air shows do, a number of local charities and hospitals. Held on Sunday 26 August, it was on the receiving end of some hot and sunny weather - not something we have seen much of this summer! Wing and Wheels '07 consisted of a morning fly-in of visiting aircraft and an afternoon flying display, split by two motoring demonstrations.
Dunsfold airfield is laid out on an approximately east-west axis with, it seems, a permanent display height restriction of about 2,000ft due to the proximity of Gatwick airport. Whilst this imposed a flat display routine, it did give the display pilots the opportunity, with a little imagination, to do something slightly different with their routines. It also kept the aircraft close to the crowd and provided a good opportunity for photography with the sun behind photographers virtually all day.
Dominating the static park was the converted 'Casino Royale' Boeing 747, towering over a Sea Harrier, with an earlier Boeing product in the shape of some DC-3s nearby. Civilian light aircraft were arriving every few minutes throughout the morning, with a Miles Hawk Speed V1 and a C182 Amphibian being particularly unusual.
A first for Dunsfold was the first public outing of an ex-Danish Air Force Merlin, an airframe that was destined diverted to the RAF due to an acute shortage in the helicopter fleet. Externally the different shaped nose and the almost metallic green paint scheme set it apart from the HC3 main fleet.
In terms of the flying programme, the organisers tried to demonstrate some of the history of the airfield by inviting relevant participating aircraft, such the Red Arrows and RAF solo Hawks and Second World War warbirds such as the Mustang, Spitfire and B-25. In addition a Spitfire/Hunter duo, flown by Charlie Brown and Jonathan Whaley, paid tribute to the late Neville Duke, who established one of a number of world air speed records whilst operating out of Dunsfold from 1951 onwards - they showed absolute skill and airmanship as they flew in close formation in a fitting finale.
Unfortunately one obvious link, the Harrier, was unable to be represented in the flying, although a static example was on display. The display started with the arrival of the Tigers freefall parachute display team jumping from the Chinook and, after a precision landing, the team were greeted by Dame Vera Lynn, a guest of honour.
The Blades, led by Andy Offer, cut a UK first at the show by entering directly from behind the crowd to commence their aerobatic display. The ex-Red Arrows in their Extra 300 LPs are the first and only UK display allowed to do so by the CAA. Could this be a precedent for other performers in the future?
The height restriction did seem to bring the best out of all of the displays on the day as the pilots strove to fly a more energetic and imaginative flat display than usual. Special mention must go to the solo RAF Hawk and Tucano flown by Flt Lts Mike Child and Bobby Moore respectively, who gave probably the best displays in these types for some years.
Now in their forty-second display year, show regulars the Red Arrows once again brought the crowd to its feet with yet another exciting and flawless display - made all the more interesting as a flat display in the sun. A Dutch Air Force Bell AB412 simulated a SAR mission, providing a continental flavour with its downed pilot rescue routine entertaining the crowds with close passes up and down the display line, whilst later in the day a 'Hawker duo' of Hurricane and Nimrod in formation was of note.
Worthy of praise were the commentary team, led by Brendan O'Brien, the whole crowd being kept informed and amused by their witty comments. At other shows the commentary is often something subconsciously listened to whilst watching the displays, but this was on another level, showing that a good commentator can really link you to the display item and enhance the experience.
All in all a great day out, the intimate surroundings of this smaller event made all the better with fine weather and a varied, interesting display programme. Well worth a visit next year, though be prepared for some long queue times getting into and out of the show.