Hunter Production at Dunsfold

A number of interesting images from the early 1950’s has been recovered recently. Many thanks for the contribution by Russell Powell.

Hunter 1. Hunter Erection Line No. 2 Bay Left hand view, neg number H2453 21-06-1954.
Hunter 2. Hunter Erection Line No. 2 Bay Right hand view, neg number H2452 21-06-1954.
Hunter 3. Hunter Erection Line No. 1 Bay, neg number H2451 21-06-1954.
Hunter 4. Hunter Aircraft cleared Flight line preparing for Delivery, neg number H2454 21-06-1954.
Hunter 5. Production Apron aircraft preparation for flight tests, neg number H2450 21-06 -1954.

 

In this last photo it looks like WT591. Aircraft on charge of the RAF DFLS (Day Fighter Leader’s Squadron). It skidded on ice on landing on 24/1/1957 at RAF West Raynham, Norfolk. Aircraft overshot and hit the boundary fence, shearing off the starboard undercarriage leg.

Struck off charge as Cat5(G/I): Allocated to Ground Instructional Airframe use as 7411M at 1 SoTT at RAF Halton on 23/4/1957. Not used as such, instead re-classified as Cat.5(c) at 19 MU RAF St. Athan on 26/4/1957. Re-classified Cat.5(scrap) struck off charge and moved to fire dump 17/5/1957.

WT581 is at the back left. A tragic story is associated with this aircraft. It ran out of fuel at the end of an air test including aerobatics and manual landings. Crashed 1 mile west north west of Leuchars after the engine cut on final approach. Pilot – Flying Officer Alan MacKillop-Watkinson – ejected too low (at 250 – 500 feet) did not separate from the seat, and was killed.

Control Tower (1970’s)

The replacement Control Tower installed in the 70’s. Photo taken 1979
Brick built with a concrete slab roof that was asphalted.
Internally the floors were concrete with a tiled finish
It originally had the air traffic equipment, a boiler house (oil fired), radar and radio workshops. All covered an area 2400 sq ft.
The Radar installation was an ex-RAF AR1 system, later removed when BAe left the airfield.

Canadian War Memorial – Listed Grade II

The monument stands in front of the Watch Office/control tower that is located to the north of the main runway in the centre of the WWII and latter aircraft development industrial sector.   It was Listed by Historic England in December 2017. 

Dunsfold Monument

A large six sided memorial carved with 3 maple leaves, 3 regimental insignia and an inscription:-  Opened by Lieutenant AGL McNaughton GOC of First Canadian Army and handed over to Air Marshall H Edwards Air Officer Commanding in Chief RCAE overseas for the use of the royal Canadian Air Force 16 Oct 1942.

These were the Royal Canadian Royal Airforce , Royal Canadian Engineers, Canadian Forestry Corps and First Canadian Army.

Other monuments by the sculptor Stephen Trenka include one at Young Street (Leatherhead Bypass) and at Young Street in Toronto, Canada. (Trenka was a designer of coins including the reverse of the Canadian Dollar).

1986 Dunsfold Control Tower with memorial in front

Since application for a Conservation Area and Waverley Borough Council’s rejection there have been a number of assets considered for Listed Building Status.  Historic England have since designated 5 Listed Structures on the Airfield site:

Primemeads Farm – Grade II

VTO Blast Pads – Grade II

Engine Running Pens – Grade II

Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post – Grade II

Canadian War Memorial – Grade II

Grade II Listing for VTO Pads and Engine Running Pens

Engine running pens and VTO blast grid at Dunsfold Airfield, Cranleigh, Surrey – Awarded Listed Building Status

The latest news from Historic England is published here:

Following the application to add the above building to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, we have now considered all the representations made and completed our assessment of the building. Having considered our recommendation, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has decided to add the Engine running pens and VTO blast grid at Dunsfold Airfield to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. They are now listed at Grade II.

VTO Tethering Pad during the early development tests of vertical take off and landing
Engine running pens

Please click on the link below to download a copy of Historic England’s advice report, which gives the principal reasons for this decision. The List entry for this building, together with a map, has now been published on the National Heritage List for England, and will be available for public access from tomorrow. This List can be accessed through the Historic England website.

http://services.historicengland.org.uk/webfiles/GetFiles.aspx?av=57C7E905-875A-49E1-A270-FFAC5B70BDE6&cn=06233F8A-F95E-43A7-81CC-09EBF700A043

The local planning authority will now be preparing the statutory notices required under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

DAHS Editor’s note:  This brings the total of Listed Structures on the Airfield site to 5:

Primemeads Farm – Grade II

VTO Blast Pads – Grade II

Engine Running Pens – Grade II

Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post – Grade II

Canadian War Memorial – Grade II

CONSERVATION AREA STATUS TURNED DOWN

Press Release:

Waverley Borough Council’s Executive decided at its meeting on Tuesday 6th June that it was ‘not suitable’ to establish a Conservation Area at the historic Dunsfold WW2 Airfield site, the birthplace of the Harrier Jump Jet, and now used among other things for filming TV’s Top Gear.

The proposal to consider the site for conservation on the basis of its heritage value and the history associated with it, had come from local residents in late 2016 and the Council carried out a public consultation which ended in April this year.

87 responses were received, including support from 3 Parish Councils, and a letter from Historic England. The report presented to the Council on Tuesday explained that 84 were in favour and only 1 response was against the proposal, but went on to summarise that objection and agreed with several of its assertions.

One of the key supporters of the idea of a Conservation Area is the Dunsfold Airfield History Society (DAHS). A spokesperson for DAHS said; ‘This decision by Waverley is hugely disappointing and clearly flies against the overwhelming views of the local population, and people interested in the proper conservation and celebration of the heritage of this unique site’.
While the Council pointed out that there are no set criteria for assessing the merits of a Conservation Area, they did cite the extensive guidance provided by Historic England. In their report, Council Officers agreed that the site is of historic importance and that it is already an Undesignated Heritage Asset. ‘The problem with that’, said the DAHS spokesperson, ‘ is that it adds absolutely no level of protection.

We asked that question of the Executive in writing but our question was not read out and no answer given at the meeting’. Council Officers had visited the site for one day to assess the heritage assets, and concluded that the condition of the majority of them was ‘poor’.

Historic England has recently listed Primemeads Farm within the site and is still separately assessing several other structures for potential listing. According to Historic England ‘another mechanism by which the significance of an airfield can be highlighted, as a historic landscape, is through conservation area status’.

Making former military airfields into conservation areas does not stop development and change but adds a level of protection and control for the local authority when changes happen.  There are 9 other former military airfields across the country that do have conservation area status, and DAHS said ‘It seems a no brainer that Dunsfold, now under threat of complete demolition, should be afforded at least the same level of protection that these other airfields have’.

Detail of DAHS proposal for designation

History:
Dunsfold Aerodrome was built in 1942 by the First Canadian Army as a temporary airfield for use by the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. The site was completed in just 20 weeks. The layout of the airfield consisted of three standard runways (one 2,000 yards and the other two 1,400 yards), laid out in a triangular pattern with a perimeter track surrounding it. Dispersal sites clustered off to the south and east and a main technical area was located to the north. The airfield was opened on 16 October 1942 by Lieutenant General A.G.L McNaughton of the First Canadian Army with a commemorative stone placed in front of the control tower that still exists. The first arrivals were three Mustang squadrons from the RCAF in December 1942. They mainly carried out reconnaissance as part of the army cooperation.In June 1943, Army Co-operation command was disbanded and the airfield became a fighter station allocated to the new 2nd Tactical Air Force.

Dunsfold was one of five airfields used by No.2 group and was home to three Mitchell II squadrons. These squadrons were part of bombing missions aimed at the Germans’ long range weapons sites, and, in the months prior to D-Day, aimed at sites which could reinforce German positions after the invasion. By the end of October 1944, the Mitchell squadrons had left and Dunsfold was placed on care and maintenance.

After the war when the airfield was used as a landing ground for DC3 Dakotas bringing back over 47,000 prisoners of war. In August 1946, the Aerodrome was declared inactive and the airfield was leased to Skyways Ltd, a charter airline. Skyways used the airfield to refurbish, test fly and deliver Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft for the Portuguese Air Force, it also played a Major part in the Berlin Airlift between 1948 and 1949, making 2,730 of the total 21,785 flights to Berlin.

Following the liquidation of Skyways in 1950, the lease was acquired by the Hawker Siddeley Group. The company used the airfield for final assembly work and flight testing of its Sea Hawks, Hunters, Sea Furies, Gnats, Harriers and Hawks. From the 1960s, the company became involved in developing Vertical/Short Take-off and Landing (VSTOL) planes (Harriers). Much of the work was carried out at Dunsfold and some of the engine testing bays still survive. It is around this time that the runways were lengthened/widened to allow for testing. On 21 October 1960, the first P1127 (the forerunner of the Harrier Jump jet) made its first tethered flight at Dunsfold, which led to its first conventional flight in November of the same year.

In 1969, the Harrier was introduced into the RAF Service with the ground training phase taking place at Dunsfold. Until 2000, when BAe Systems ceased activity at the aerodrome, all derivatives of the Harrier family of aircraft evolved from Dunsfold. The airfield was also used by the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). A monitoring post was constructed in 1961, in the south western corner of the airfield for nuclear reporting during the Cold War. The post was closed in 1991 following the break-up of the Communist Bloc.

 

Mitchell Bomber flying over Dunsfold in 1944. Source; Public Archives Canada

Top Gear

The real history of the Top Gear Track

  • 1938

The BBC Top Gear track has been laid out on the main runway of the former WWII RAF and RCAF air base.   The perimeter roads used for Gambon and the finish line were laid over the route of original B-Roads that were ripped up when the airfield was constructed in 1941.  One cottage, Broadmead, was situated where the TopGear FollowThrough is now, but the cottage was lifted whole and winched half a mile on rollers to the otherside of the airfield.

Broadmead cottage original location in 1942 now at FollowThrough of Top Gear track

Continue reading “Top Gear”

Type T2 Hangars

T2 “Black” Hangers 1980s

By 1940 with the rapidly increasing development of large-span bomber aircraft, it became obvious that the pre-war standard RAF transportable hangar known as the Bellman Shed was rapidly becoming obsolete. As a result, the Air Ministry in collaboration with Teesside Bridge & Engineering Ltd, developed a series of end-opening hangars known as Type ‘T’. The first design was the T2 and like the others in this family it is built of a series of standard steel-fabricated lattice wall and roof units of welded-and-bolted construction. The complete framework is clad with galvanised corrugated iron, 22-gauge for the roof and 24-gauge for the walls. T2 were designed by the architect AE Cotton.

General Eisenhower addressing Airmen of 320 Squadron in 1944 in the T2 Hangar at Dunsfold

Additional knee bracing and wind loading braces appear to be contemporary modification using T2 components. The doors have six leaves either side that open the full width.

T2 Hanger with Skyways operations 1948
Folland Gnat in T2 Hangar Dunsfold possibly around 1967
T2 Hanger 2016
Top Gear Studio 2016

There are two T2 Hangers on the Dunsfold site.  The western end of the westernmost “black hangar” (that is actually green) is the current venue for the BBC Top Gear studio.

T2 Hanger 2016
T2 Hanger 2016
T2 Hanger 2016
T2 Hanger 2016

 


Please note: The aerodrome is private land and an active airfield. Access is not permitted to some of the buildings and features and we strongly discourage access without permission.

Engine running pens – Listed Grade II

The engine running or detuning pens were originally built to test the aircraft engines for the Hunter.

Three pens were arranged in a curve. One has been completely removed.

Of the two remaining; the unique example survives that was used to test all ‘jump jets’ or VTOL. The VTOL pen is lined with metal sheeting and sound absorption. Channels below ground take extract for the jets nozzles. Historical significance is for the development of the ‘jump jet’, P1127 through to the Harrier. All aircraft engines were tested and run here before being assembled and shipped worldwide.

The two engine running pens were given Grade II Listed Building status in December 2017.  Historic England’s detailed Listing report

The first P.1127, XP831, in the ground running pen at Dunsfold with Rolls-Royce representative John Vowles in the cockpit.  Photo courtesy BAE Systems via Brooklands Museum
Pen Construction 1960’s: BAE Systems via Brooklands Museum
Hawk 200 in Engine Running Pen (1980s) (courtesy Brooklands Museum archive)

Engine running pens

 

Continue reading “Engine running pens – Listed Grade II”