Category: History

Hawker Aircraft Ltd took over the lease of Dunsfold Aerodrome in 1950 (41). Hawker Aircraft Ltd went through many new names over the next half century, and as BAe Systems ceased activity at the aerodrome in 2000. The Aerodrome was sold to the Rutland Group in 2002. (42)

By the early 1950s, Hawker’s were developing jets for which the short, grass landing strips then available to them, were not sufficient. They needed long, hard-surfaced runways, which was what Dunsfold could provide. (43)

On taking over the Aerodrome, Hawker Aircraft Ltd “built up a final assembly and experimental test facility in the two T-2 hangars as a basis for expansion (44). Dunsfold is associated with several types of aircraft including Hunters and Hawks, but the Aerodrome is best associated with the Harrier. We now look at each of these in turn.

The Hunter

The Hunter could be regarded as the beginning of Dunsfold Aerodrome’s role at the cutting edge of military jet aircraft development. Hunters were early jet fighter aircraft: the first flew in 1951. (45)

In 1953, Dunsfold was the base for important speed tests. In January of that year the speed of sound was achieved and on 7 September a Hunter, piloted by Squadron Leader Neville Duke, broke the world air speed record off Littlehampton achieving 727.6 m.p.h. Later the same month, the 100km world record — 709.2 m.p.h — was established from Dunsfold by Duke. (46) The plane is on display at Tangmere Military Aviation Museum. (47)

The record-breaking Hunter .

As a result, complaints about the noise started; test pilot Neville Duke reported “At Dunsfold we hear tales of people being flung off bicycles by the bangs—but I don’t believe them”. (49)     By 1954, the noise issue had become serious. A local farmer, Col. du Boulay, issued a writ, but was persuaded to withdraw it by assurance that the nuisance would be abated by technical means. However, the Ministry of Civil Aviation immediately took action to prevent any future writs so as to protect the production of military aircraft. (50)

Hunters were put into service by the RAF in 1954 and were used until the 1990s. They were employed in the 1956 Suez Crisis and numerous other conflicts. (51) As well as being used by the RAF and the Royal Navy, they saw service in Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Netherlands, Oman, Peru, Qatar, Rhodesia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sweden and Switzerland. (52) In fact they were in military use somewhere in the world until 2014. (53)

The Hunter continued in production, or refurbishment, until 1980 by which time almost 2,000 had been produced. It is reported that “the Hunter cost £100,000 in 1956, which is not far off £450,000 in 1974 money” (54) ; and about £16,000,000 when estimated at 2011 prices. (55) That clearly represents a great deal of money!

The Harrier: the “Jump Jet”

“Jump jets” are, technically speaking, vertical (or short) take-off and landing (VTOL or V/STOL) aircraft that can also be used on short runways. They can operate from clearings in forests and small aircraft carriers. The Harrier is unique in that it is the only aircraft using vectored thrust so that it can take off, fly and land either vertically or conventionally. BAe proudly says “The Harrier was the only true STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft in the world.” (56)

In October 1960, the Hawker Siddeley Group’s P.1127, “the world’s first operational vertical take-off strike aircraft, made its first tethered flight at Dunsfold Aerodrome” which led to the Daily Express running the front-page headline “The Jumping Jet” (57). The plane is now on display at the Science Museum in London. (58)

The first P.1127 in “free hovering flight” at Dunsfold Aerodrome (59)
The P.1127 evolved into the Kestrel and then the Harrier. (60)  In 1967, Flight International announced “HARRIER World’s first fixed-wing V/STOL weapons system”, with a nine-page article describing its history and novelty. (61)  By 1969, the RAF was using Harriers. (62) The potential for use at sea was recognised from the start with the Hawker Siddeley P.1127 landing on HMS Ark Royal in 1963. (63) However, it was not until 1978 that the prototype “Navalised-Harrier” took to the air over Dunsfold. The first Sea Harrier joined the Royal Navy in 1980. (64)

Military impact

The Falklands War started on 2 April 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory some 300 miles off its east coast and some 8,000 miles from the UK. The British Government dispatched a Task Force on 5 April. The resulting conflict ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control.

Dunsfold Aerodrome immediately went on to a war-footing. The three Harriers based at Dunsfold for trails were commandeered and one was to be seen on HMS Hermes ski-jump as it sailed from Portsmouth. (65)  Dunsfold went on to double-shift working to modify Harriers and Sea Harriers for air combat and ground attack roles in the South Atlantic and played a crucial role in ensuring that the Royal Navy was in a position to send a second Sea Harrier- equipped carrier to the Falklands, though the conflict ended before this was necessary. (66)  Dunsfold test pilot Taylor Scott volunteered to return to the Royal Navy to help form and train an additional Sea Harrier squadron, 809. (67) It is reported that 42 Harriers and Sea Harriers were deployed. (68)  BAe comments “The usage in the Falklands was probably the most high profile and important success recorded” as “it was the only fixed-wing fighter available to protect the British Task Force.”(69) Sea Harriers shot down at least 28 Argentinian aircraft, without loss in air-to-air combat (although there were losses on the ground). The Harrier was vital in winning this conflict.(70)  When reporter Brian Hanrahan worked around the reporting restrictions by saying, “I counted them all out, and I counted them all back”, he was counting Harriers. (71) As a result of this success, the British Government immediately ordered more Sea Harriers.(72)

Harriers were also important in the 1990-91 Gulf War and in NATO’s action in Kosovo in 1999 and elsewhere.(73)

Economic impact

 The Harrier – technically the AV-8A – made export history when 112 were sold to the US Marine Corps (USMC) in 1971. (This was the first time the US had bought a foreign built military aircraft since the First World War.) They had to be freighted to the US, which meant that large cargo carriers had to land at Dunsfold. (74)

The Harrier II, a follow-on to the AV-8A, was designed by McDonnell-Douglas in St Louis USA with Hawker Siddeley Aviation/BAe, and was built on a roughly 50-50 work share basis by the two companies. Dunsfold built the centre and rear fuselages and reaction control systems for all the aircraft delivered, and McDonald-Douglas built all the wings and front fuselages. These items were shipped across the Atlantic for final assembly as the RAF Harrier GR5/7 at Dunsfold and as the AV-8B for the USMC at St Louis. (75)

Manufacturing of the Sea Harrier ceased in 1998 with the last aircraft retiring from the Royal Navy in 2006 and from the RAF in 2011 (76).The Sea Harrier was in service with the Indian Navy until 2016 and the AV-8B remains in service in the USMC; and in the Spanish and Italian navies in 2017 (77).

AV8B

It is claimed that 278 Hawker Siddeley Harriers (78) were produced, plus 111 Sea Harriers79, 347 AV-8As80, and 143 Harrier IIs (81). That comes to 879. Costs are difficult to come by but it is suggested it could be of the order of $24-30 million (£19,000,000 – 24,000,000) each. (82)

Summary

In 1985, Ashworth reported that, “Starting with the P.1127’s first tentative hover on October 21 1960 up to the current Sea Harrier, all British development, assembly and testing of this family of vertical take-off aircraft has been at Dunsfold”. (83) However, the technical legacy of the Harrier lives on today in the F-35 Lightning II STOVL variant. (84) Delve wrote: “This fantastic British aircraft is enough for Dunsfold to have a place in aviation history”. (85)

The Hawk

 The Hawk started life as the HS 1182, “intended to replace the Gnat, Jet Provost and Hunter as the RAF’s jet trainer”. It is also used as a low-cost combat aircraft. In 1971, the cost was put at £450,000 each.86

In 1972, the RAF “ordered 176 to be assembled and test flown from Dunsfold”. 87 The first Hawk flew from Dunsfold Aerodrome in 1974, piloted by Duncan Simpson.88

Hawk 200 in Engine Running Pen (1980s) (courtesy Brooklands Museum archive)

An important derivative of the Hawk was the T-45 Goshawk, produced jointly with McDonald Douglas, starting in 1981. The T-45 Goshawk was designed by BAe and McDonald Douglas in California. British designed components were shipped across the Atlantic for final assembly for the US Navy. When production ceased in 2009, 221 had been delivered. It is still in use as a carrier-capable advanced trainer. (89)

Most famously, these are the planes used by the Red Arrows. From their inauguration in 1964, the Red Arrows had flown Gnats.90 But the last Gnat to go to the RAF was delivered from Dunsfold in 1965. In the winter of 1979/80, the Red Arrows graduated to Hawks. (91)

Some 1,000 Hawks have been produced and they have been delivered to 18 countries. 93 They are still in production. (94) It is reported that they cost £18,000,000 each in 2003. (95)


39 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War 40 McCue, 1991: p213.
41 Ashworth, 1985: p85.
42 Dunsfold Park, 2017.
43 McCue, 1991: pp 213. 44 Ashworth, 1985: p85.
45 BAe, 2017a.
46 Flight, 1953b; Daily Telegraph, 2007.
47 See http://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/museum-aircraft/hawker-hunter-mk3 48 Flight, 1953b.
49 Flight, 1952.
50 Flight, 1954.
51 BAe, 2017a and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_Hunter#Royal_Air_Force 52 McCue, 1991: p254-255.
53 BAe, 2017a.
54 Flight International, 1971a. 55 Fighter Aircraft, 2017a.
56 BAe, 2017b.
57 Flight, 1960b.
58 See http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/plan_your_visit/exhibitions/flight 59 BAe, 2017b.
60 BAe, 2017b.
61 Flight International, 1967.
62 BAe, 2017b.
63 McCue, 1991: p 238: BAe, 2017b.
64 BAe, 2017.
65 McCue, 1991: p260; Lawson, 2002.
66 Lawson, 2002.
67 McCue, 1991: p261: Flight International, 1987.
68 globalsecurity.org (2017)
69 BAe, 2017b.
70 BBC, 2010.
71 Guardian, 2010.
72 McCue, 1991: p260-261: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_air_services_in_the_Falklands_War and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Aerospace_Harrier_II [Accessed 25 January 2017]
73 globalsecurity.org (2017)
74 Flight International, 1971b, McCue, 1991: p245. 75 Private communication and McCue, 1991: p245. 76 BAe, 2017b.
77 Private communication.
78 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_Siddeley_Harrier [Accessed 25 January 2017]
79 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Aerospace_Sea_Harrier [Accessed 25 January 2017]
80 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_AV-8B_Harrier_II [Accessed 25 January 2017] 81 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Aerospace_Harrier_II [Accessed 25 January 2017]
82 Fighter Aircraft, 2017b.
83 Ashworth, 1985: p85.
84 BAe, 2017c.
85 Delve, 2005: p81.
86 Flight International, 1971a.
87 McCue, 1991: p248.
88 Flight International, 1974; McCue, 1991: p248.
89 Boeing, 2017.: McCue, 1991: p259: private correspondence.
90 BAe, 2017e.
91 McCue, 1991: p258.
93 BAe, 2017d.
94 BAe, 2017d.
95 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAE_Systems_Hawk [Accessed 25 January 2017]

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RAF 1943-1944

August 1943 – October 1944: Royal Air Force

During this period, Dunsfold Aerodrome was HQ for the Medium Bomber No 139 Wing, RAF, comprising 98, 180, 320 (Netherlands) Squadrons, part of the Second Tactical Airforce.

No. 98 Squadron RAF

Dunsfold, Surrey  between 18 Aug 43  –  26 Mar 44
Dunsfold, Surrey between  10 Apr 44 –  16 Oct 44

Commanding Officers No. 98 Squadron:

Wg Cdr A. M. Phillips             18 Aug 43
Wg Cdr R. K. F. Bell-Irving    9 Apr 44
Wg Cdr J. G. C. Paul, DFC    15 May 44
Wg Cdr L. G. Hamer 16 Sep 44

Squadrons 98 and 180 arrived in August 1943, and 320 arrived six months later. All three squadrons flew Mitchell bombers; “They took part in a large number of bombing missions over Europe, attacking a wide variety of targets and establishing a reputation for highly accurate attacks”. (12) They were at the forefront of the Allied offensive against the V-1 sites in northern France, and. 13 (The V-1s – also called “buzz bombs” or “doodlebugs” – were flying bombs, and could be described as early guided or cruise missiles, and were aimed from the continent towards London. (14)

No. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF

In 1940 no. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF was formed by members of the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service, who had flown from the Netherlands when it was invaded. On 12 June 1944 Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands visited Dunsfold to award medals  (15). In all, 320 Squadron were awarded the Dutch Military Order of William four times and the Dutch Airman’s Cross, 176 times. (16)

ROYAL AIR FORCE: FIGHTER COMMAND, TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943. (CH 11040) North American Mitchell Mark IIs (FL707 ‘EV-Z’ nearest) of No. 180 Squadron RAF, taxiing along the perimeter track at Dunsford, Surrey, for take off on a cross-Channel bombing sortie in support of Operation STARKEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210444
ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 13734) Ground personnel of No. 98 Squadron RAF, who serviced North American Mitchell Mark III, HD372 ‘VO-B’ Grumpy, during its record operational career, gather at the aircraft’s nose at Dunsfold, Surrey, as Corporal V Feast paints the 102nd bomb symbol onto its tally of operations. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210585
AMERICAN AIRCRAFT IN RAF SERVICE 1939-1945: NORTH AMERICAN NA-82 MITCHELL. (CH 20592) Mitchell Mark II, FV985 ?VO-S?, of No. 98 Squadron RAF based at Dunsfold, Surrey, approaches the English Channel south of Etaples while returning from a ‘Noball’ operation over northern France. Note the deployed ventral turret. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210536

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 12862) North American Mitchell Mark IIs of No. 98 Squadron RAF taxying along the perimeter track at Dunsfold, Surrey, for a morning raid on targets in northern France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210539

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 11991) North American Mitchell Mark II, FV929 ‘VO-D’, of No. 98 Squadron RAF landing at Dunsfold, Surrey, after a daylight raid over northern France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210480
19 July 1944: Informal group portrait of RAF ground staff with RAAF and Royal New Zealand Air Force air crew of a Mitchell bomber squadron, 180 Squadron RAF with the Second Tactical Air Force. Left to right: two RAF ground crew, Jock (Fitter) and Alf (Rigger); 422248 Flying Officer (FO) Jack B O’Halloran, pilot of Sydney, NSW, (later Flight Lieutenant and DFC); 417379 Pilot Officer James Crosby (Jim) Jennison (later Flying Officer and DFC) of Adelaide, SA; 422175 FO Reg J Hansen of Sydney, NSW; FO Harry M Hawthorn, RNZAF of Hastings, NZ. Named ‘Daily Delivery’ https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C263114


The RAF 320 (Dutch) Squadron October 1943 – flying Mitchells from the UK

General Eisenhower addressing Airmen of 320 Squadron prior to D-Day in 1943 in the T2 Hangar at Dunsfold

Shortly before D-Day, on 18 April 1944, General Eisenhower, then Allied Supreme Commander, visited Dunsfold, presumably to give a pre-D-Day morale talk. (17)   The D-Day orders for Dunsfold were issued on 3 June: “to cause maximum delay to the movement by road and rail, by enemy forces at night”. 18The action started early in the morning of 6 June when all three Squadrons were in action to support the D-Day landing.

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 13809) Squadron Leader K Eager (centre), an experienced flight commander of No. 98 Squadron RAF, discusses a model of a flying bomb launch site with two newcomers to the unit at Dunsfold, Surrey; Squadron Leader R Wood (left) and a Canadian pilot, Pilot Officer Freeman (right). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212762

News correspondents had been frequent visitors to Dunsfold in the build up to D-Day and Ronald Walker from the News Chronicle flew in one of the Mitchell bombers from Dunsfold, his report appearing in the newspaper the next day. He wrote:

“The crews of three Mitchell bomber squadrons of this station who were sent on bombing missions to France in the early hours of this morning did not know that they were taking part in the invasion of Europe.” (19)

The next night, 60 Mitchell bombers were dispatched against the enemy. (20)

Following D-Day, in September 1944, all three squadrons of Dunsfold bombers were also involved in the unsuccessful Operation Market Garden, best known for the bitter battle for the bridge at Arnhem. 139 Wing lost several aircraft to enemy flak and fighters in these operations. (21)

By the end of the war “at least 1/3 of all crew lost their lives, and 40% of all Mitchells were lost” (22). During the six months 320 Squadron was at Dunsfold, it is reported that 156 members died and 57 were lost. (23) The casualty rate amongst airmen was generally very high: “Half of all aircrew were lost before they had even completed ten missions”. (24) Not all losses were due to enemy action and there were many accidents).
Link to record of crashes.

The three squadrons — 98, 180 and 320 — departed for the continent in October 1944 (25)

There are two plaques in Dunsfold commemorating the presence:

For 98 Squadron: on Rose Cottage (now Canada House):

  • “From its wartime headquarters in this cottage in 1944. No.98 Squadron, RAF was launched the invasion of Europe led by Wg Cdr G J C Paul”.

For 320 Squadron: a plaque in Dunsfold church along with its colours. (26)


 

Operation Exodus

Operation Exodus was the repatriation of British Prisoners of War (POWs) from the continent. Dunsfold Aerodrome was designated an “Air Arrival Centre” where No. 2 Hangar was decorated with flowers to welcome the troops home and a medical inspection tent was set up. Between the 15 April 1945 and 25 June 1945, 47,529 ex POWs passed through Dunsfold Aerodrome. This accounted for 85% of the POWs repatriated by the RAF. On one day alone – 9 May – 160 aircraft delivered 3,953 personnel: just 24 per aircraft, in accordance with Bomber Commands’ Operation instructions. But the daily count was often over 100 flights. As can easily be imagined, there were emotional scenes, with men falling to their knees to kiss the ground.(27)


References:


10 Delve, 1985: p81; McCue, 1991: p289. But the details given differ. 11 McCue, 1991: pp33-62.
12 Delve, 1985: p79.
13 McCue, 1991: p73.
14 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-1_flying_bomb
15 Manschot, 2016: p27.; McCue, 1991: pp128-129.
16 Wings & Wheels, 2016. For a film of Squadron 320 at Dunsfold in 1944, see Imperial war Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060021111 [Accessed 31 January 2017].
17 Wings & Wheels, 2016; Delve, 2005: p79.; McCue, 10992: p107. There is film of his visit in the Imperial War Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060019799 .
18 McCue, 1991: p117.
19 McCue, 1991: p121-125.
20 Ashworth, 1985: p83. McCue, 1991: pp125-126. For other details of action from Dunsfold, see Jacobs, 2009: pp195-198.
21 Jacobs, 2009: p198. McCue, 1991: pp160-169.
22 Manschot, 2016: p27.
23 Wings & Wheels, 2016. 24 BBC, 2011.
25 Delve, 2005, p79.
26 Delve, 2005: p81.
27 Clutton-Brock, 2003: pp 149-150; McCue, 1991: pp 190-194; Ashworth, 1985: p83.

 

 

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RCAF 1942-1943

December 1942 – August 1943: Royal Canadian Air Force Dunsfold

Aerodrome was HQ for four squadrons of RCAF: 168, 400, 414, 430, together known as No.39 (RCAF) Wing. They were flying Tomahawks initially, superseded by Mustangs. Their activities were largely training and reconnaissance. But Dunsfold also acted as an emergency landing place for damaged aircraft returning from the continent (11). There were many accidents ( see Appendices).

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Skyways

In August 1946, the Dunsfold Aerodrome was leased to air charter company Skyways Ltd, who used it as their main operating base. By 1947, Skyways was reported to be the largest air charter company in Europe. It employed “1,300 staff at Dunsfold”, mostly involved in maintaining the aircraft. “A large proportion” were accommodated on the aerodrome which operated 24 hours a day. In addition, there were about 350 aircrew. Its principal contract work was to transport oil company staff to and from Basra. A trip to Basra and back then took about 35 flying hours over our days.

Avro York Sky Courier at Dunsfold
Avro Lancastrian Sky Lane at Skyways operations at Dunsfold
Avro Lancastrian similar to those employed by Skyways. Photo from kitchener.lord
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The men who built Dunsfold

The land to build Dunsfold Aerodrome was requisitioned in 1942 and work started almost immediately, mostly undertaken by the Royal Canadian Engineers. It was one of the very few airfields they built in England (4). Set a target by their commanding General, the Canadian sappers completed construction of the aerodrome in 18 weeks, against a quote of 18 months by civilian contractors on behalf of the British War Office. The Canadians did, however, have the advantage of large American earth-moving equipment

Download the PDF file .

The 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers, 2nd Road Construction Company & the Canadian Forestry Corps used explosives and some of the heavy machinery supplied from the USA under the lease lend arrangements. Tree stumps were blasted and from May 27th concrete was being poured in two shifts 18 hours a day.

One of the obstacles encountered in the construction of the 45ft wide 3 mile perimeter road was Broadmeads Cottage. It straddled the route to be taken and a swift demolition was required to keep construction within the tight timeframe. Sergeant Fred Kreugar realised special skills were required to deal with the building so ordered Sergeant Whidden to deal with the issue.

Fred Kreugar’s words on the solution:

We had lots of beech logs that had been removed so we undermined the structure one log at a time , the major problem proving to be a fireplace in the middle which appeared to tie the building together. While the cottage was resting on the logs, we then rigged a cable , pulley and eveners. The idea was to work with 3 large D8 Caterpillar tractors pulling side by side and in preparation for the move we graded, or flattened , the terrain for probably half a mile or more.

First of all the three tractor operators practiced responding to signals so that they would move their machines in unison. At the first attempt however, the three tractors would not move it, so we then used five, again with cables and pulleys. Shortly after we started, the weight of the fireplace on on the logs created so much friction that fires started squirting out on all sides of the logs. So, we then took up some of the floor and put men in the house with Carbon Tetrachloride and told them to watch the fire so it did not catch the floorboards. Fortunately the freshly felled beech logs were very green and wouldn’t support a flame. A BBC news crew did film some of the move and interviewed myself and Sergeant Whidden. I remember that only Whidden came out on the news later. I was told my name was too Germanic for the BBC’s liking.

Extracted text from Paul McCue’s definitive 2014 book Dunsfold: Surrey’s Most Secret Airfield

As well as moving earth and buildings, the main Guildford-Horsham road had to be diverted. The job was complete in 20 weeks. (6)

More Aerodromes for RAF (1941) showing similar heavy equipment as used by the Canadian Engineers and contractors at Dunsfold

By the control tower, there is a plinth inscribed:

This aerodrome was built by the Royal Canadian Engineers assisted by Canadian Forestry Corps, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and Ordnance Corps, 1942. It was handed over for the use of the RCAF in October 1942.”

Unveiling of the memorial with Watch Office behind (courtesy of Reg Day Museum). & the plinth in 2016 (private archive)
  • Aerial photograph 2013
Dunsfold 1944 (private archive) and 2013
1942 WWII Airfield Sites


Dunsfold was one of only two airfields in Britain to be granted to the Royal Canadian Air Force and, as such, was titled RCAF Dunsfold. This was in exchange for the many training airfields that the Royal Air Force was permitted to establish in Canada.

In December 1944, Dunsfold Aerodrome comprised:

Three runways, all 50 yards (46m) wide: one 2,000 yards (over a mile or 1,830m) and two, each 1,400 yards (1,280m), in the typical “A” shape

12 Blister hangars, 2 T-2 hangars: on the north of the site

Dispersals: 38 100 feet (30m) “frying pans”: on the south and east of the site.  “Dispersals” were parking areas for aircraft and distributed to minimise damage in the event of an attack. They could accommodate 50 aircraft.

Perimeter road

Accommodation for 1,241 people

2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers:

Excerpt:

Towards May 1942  the sappers’ lines began to agitate with rumours of a new job, a large job, an airport, no less. As the rumours originated with the sappers, credence was promptly given to them by the officers and sergeants, and we prepared for the move. Dunsfold!!

Tractor similar to those used by Canadian Engineers

When we arrived there, it consisted of acres of beautiful crop and pasture land, broken at intervals by groves of staunch blue and red oak trees. It was one of the grandest pastoral scenes in the whole of England. With the Forestry Corps, R.CA.S.C, 2nd Road.  Construction Cby details who were attached to us, the Battalion descended on the areas natural loveliness like a swarm of locusts. Regiments of trees disappeared in a dav at the behest of the Foresters, carry-alls moved mountains of earth, mechanical ditchers dug deep to provide drainage.  Fleets of trucks hauled “hogging” from Ewhurst and gravel from Hungry Hill. Fourteen ton capacity trailers towed bulk cement from Shoreham. For eighteen hours a day there was a pandemonium of sound and movement, and during the other six hours the camp’s rest was uneasy, as, during the night, vague groups of men wandered about ensuring that the machinery would be in order to resume its labour the following day. Gradually the runways were levelled off and finegraded to the point where concrete could be poured. A huge double barrelled cement mixer was put to work, and competition between shifts which had previously been very keen, now reached fever point. For some days the mixer was allowed to work as it’s manufacturers intended it should, squatting at the side of the strip to be poured, and depositing the wet cement in any place desired by means of a boom and a bucket, which were soon found to be the weakest part of the machine’s construction and subject to frequent break- downs. Within a week the boom and bucket had been abolished, the mixer placed squarely in the centre of the strip to be poured, and the concrete allowed to fall out of it into heaps from whence it was industriously shovelled into its required position by a group of sappers whose enthusiasm was beyond praise.

Of the central mixing plant, the saw mill, the drainage crews, the work of transport and Q.M. etc., there is not room here for more than passing notice, but, when in September, the first ‘plane landed, and in October, when the Airport was officially opened and handed over to the Air Force by General McNaughton, the Battalion was rightly proud. A difficult job had been com-pleted in record time. It had thereby justified itself, and felt confident of being able to give a creditable account of itself in any work the future might hold.

Dunsfold too holds memories of a lighter type, as when a certain red-headed A.T.S., decided she was going to make her residence in the camp. The R.S.M. decided not and the whole camp held its breath whilst she defied him and passed four nights quite pleasantly in certain tents the morning after the fourth night however, she was caught and hauled off to “pokey”, much to the indignation of several individuals.

Dunsfold runways 1950’s

It was here too that the famous and notorious chicken incident occured.  Close to the camp resided a widow with two daughters, whose livelihood, to a great extent, depended upon the well being, happiness and egg producing capacity of some half a dozen hens. One dread night all six of them disappeared. The local constabulary was hot on the trail next morning, and, noses close to earth, sniffed their way along a morbid trail of blood and feathers into the middle of our camp. Here the trail ended. The incriminating facts were reported to the Colonel, and he, in his wisdom, ruled that unless the birds were returned to their rightful owner that very night, the whole camp would be C.B’d for one month. The next morning the widow found herself to be the somewhat perplexed owner of 186 chickens.

Then there was the night of the fire in the ammunition tent, when a certain C.S.M. awakened to the sound of exploding bullets and decided that Hitler himself was leading a personal invasion of Dunsfold. He leaped from his tent clothed in underwear and a bandoleer, his rifle at the “on guard” and shouting,

“Invasion”, as only a C.S.M. could. Then there were the dances in the Auxiliary Services blister hut and what dances. Dances at which, after they were over, lovelorn sappers endeavoured to smuggle themselves aboard the trucks taking the girls back to Guildford.

4 Delve, 2005: p78.
5 McCue, 1991: p16.
6 McCue, 1991: p16, p28.

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Primemeads Farm – Listed Grade II

Primemeads is an early 17th century oak timberframed farmhouse, with a possible smoke hood and early diamond mullioned window.  Brick house with decorative dentil course shows the house built in two phases. It was Listed by Historic England in April 2017.  Home to the test pilot Neville Duke – in 1955 Duke set the world air speed record of 727.63mph flying the Hunter WB188.

1685 Primemeads Farm

 

2017 Primemeads

1984 Primemeads

1940 Squardon office then at Primemeads

Primemeads Farm 1970’s

WB188, the first P.1067 and Neville Duke’s record breaking aircraft


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.

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History of Aerodrome

Dunsfold Site Timeline

1942Dunsfold Aerdrome established for use by Royal Canadian Air Force.                                      
1943RAF operations as fighter base and latterly a medium bomber base.
1944Runways and major T-2 and Blister Hangars completed.
1945Operation Exodus repatriates 47,000 through Dunsfold.
1948Skyways employ over 1,300 at the Service and Repair Centre.
1950Dunsfold Aerodrome purchased by Hawker Aircraft Ltd.
1951Avro 707 and the prototype Hawker Hunter flies at Dunsfold.
1953Neville Duke breaks the Air Speed Record.
1960First ‘tethered’ flight of the P1127.
1971Harrier AV-8A’s are produced for the US Marine Corps.
1974Hawker Siddeley HS1182 Hawk prototype (XX154) flies at Dunsfold
1977Hawker Siddeley Aviation merge with BAC and become British Aerospace.
1982Dunsfold activity increases with the Falkland Crisis.
1985Harrier II flies for the first time.
1988The first true Sea Harrier (ZA195) flies at Dunsfold
1999With the end of the Harrier Program, British Aerospace announce the closure of Dunsfold.
2002BAE Systems sells the Aerodrome to Royal Bank of Scotland
2018Green light to re-development of airfield to a new Garden Village of 2600+ homes
  • 1913

Dunsfold Airfield was cleared of woodland, farmland and buildings to form the Canadian Air Force airbase in 1942. Units of Canadian troops cleared land requisitioned from the people to form runways, perimeter roads and after little more than one month the first aircraft had landed. The old Brighton Road from Godalming was relocated so that it no longer ran through the site at Pains Hill. The old cast iron milestones were amended by one mile to reflect the additional mileage diversion. Most farm buildings and farm houses were removed with the exception of the Chiddingfold Kennels (now Honey Mead), Primemeads Farmhouse (originally Stillwells Farm) and Broadmeads Cottage (now referred to as Canada House). The latter was moved to the southern perimeter and now stands alongside Benbow Lane.

  • Aerial photograph 1942

1940’s

Numerous military units operated from Dunsfold including 168, 400, 414 and 430 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, operationally using the Curtis Tomahawk and the North American Mustang. These were later followed by the North-American Mitchell Medium Bomber with the arrival of 139 Wing RAF comprising 98, 180 and 320 Squadrons . When 139 Wing transferred to the continent in 1944, 83 Group Support arrived with their De Havilland Mosquitos, Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Typhoons and Tempests.

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 20598) North American Mitchell Mark IIs of No. 320 (Dutch) Squadron RAF lined up at Dunsfold, Surrey, during an inspection of No. 139 Wing by the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force, General Dwight D Eisenhower. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210861

As of December 1944, Dunsfold Aerodrome comprised of 3 runways, all 50 yards (46m) wide: one 2,000 yards (over a mile or 1,830m) and two, each 1,400 yards (1,280m), in the typical “A” shape. Buildings included 12 Blister hangars, 2 T-2 hangars (all on the north side of the site) with 38 dispersal areas of 100 feet (30m) described as ‘frying pans’ to the south and east sides of the site. ‘Dispersals’ are aircraft parking areas distributed around the airfield to minimise potential damage in the event of an air attack – Some dispersals could accommodate as many as 50 aircraft.  There were a multitude of brick buildings and temporary huts (mostly wooden) to provide accommodation for the 1,241 people employed or ‘billeted’ at Dunsfold. Earlier in 1944, Allied Supreme Commander General Eisenhower paid a visit to Dunsfold to inspect the assembed Mitchell Bombers, and to boost the morale of their Air Crews who would be acting in support of the D-Day invasion.

US President Einsenhower addressing troops in the hangar to the north of the Dunsfold Runway.

At the end of the War, Dunsfold was further used as a destination airfield for returning Prisoners of War as part of ‘Operation Exodus’ with some 47,000 detainees being flown back into Dunsfold. Once all the repatriation had ceased, the aerodrome was declared inactive once more and from August 1946 it was leased for use as the engineering base of Skyways Ltd

Skyways operations at Dunsfold

In their time, Skyways employed over 1,300 people at Dunsfold, mostly resident in the vacated accommodation buildings whilst their 350-strong aircrew either lived, or operated from, the airfield flying civilian Avro Lancastrian and York aircraft among other types. Skyways provided vital support during the ‘Berlin Airlift’ over the summer of 1948 and it also carried out repairs and refurbishments of Spitfires and Hurricanes for the Portuguese Air Force. During Skyway’s operations at Dunsfold, the company published a series of advertisements based upon evocative Terence Cuneo sketches. One of the most attractive (from April 1948) was entitled ‘Night Shift at Dunsfold – Skyways Maintenance Organisation at your service’. Others in this series, as if vying for the title of least romantic artwork of all time, were entitled ‘The Sheet Metal Shop at Dunsfold’ and ‘The Hydraulics Shop at Dunsfold’.

1950’s

Skyways were operating 24 Avro York and 5 Handley Page Halifax aircraft from Dunsfold when they unexpectedly went into liquidation in March 1950.  A new company soon emerged however (using the same name) although it gradually transferred all its operations to Stanstead. Silence fell over this leafy part of Surrey until Hawker Aircraft Ltd acquired the tenancy of Dunsfold in 1950. Their Langley Factory had become increasingly unsuitable with the growing popularity for jet aircraft, especially being constantly overshadowed by the fast growing amount traffic at nearby Heathrow. 

New hangarage was erected during 1951 and as part of the Hawker family, the new Avro 707 undertook over 1,000 hours of flight testing at Dunsfold which was ideally placed given its proximity to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough and the National Gas Turbine Establishment (NGTE) next door. 

Avro 707B research aircraft during trials at Dunsfold, landing at the Eastern end of the main runway.

The Dunsfold T2 hangars were also used for the flight test of the initial batch of 35 (Hawker built) Sea Hawk aircraft and these were followed by the new Hawker Hunter

The first Hawker Hunter had flown in July 1951 at Boscombe Down, with the first production aircraft (WT555) flying from Dunsfold on 16th May 1953. A Sapphire-powered development aircraft (WB202) flew from Dunsfold in November 1952 and the two-seat Hunter T.7 prototype (XJ615), developed as a private venture at Dunsfold, flying for the first time on 8th July 1955. The 3 Type T1 hangars were constructed in 1953 and Dunsfold became the base for some important speed tests. 

Neville Duke’s record breaking Hunter

In January of that year, the speed of sound was achieved and on 7th September, a Hunter (piloted by Squadron Leader Neville Duke) broke the World Air Speed Record off Littlehampton, achieving 727.6 m.p.h. Later the same month, the 100km world record (709.2 mph) was established from Dunsfold, again by Neville Duke. 

A total of 1,985 Hunter aircraft were built (some sources claim 1,972) including some 460 built overseas and under licence. Several ex-RAF aircraft were also converted for export at Dunsfold including some aircraft for Peru in 1956. A number of RAF aircraft were also modified to later specifications such as from F.6 to the new FGA.9 and GA.11 specification. In March 1958, Hawker were advertising vacancies for machinists, toolmakers, inspectors, pre-production staff and process and planning engineers with the following strap-line: ‘HAWKER HUNTER – THE WORLD’S MOST SUCCESSFUL AIRCRAFT. Big Export Orders – Many Good Jobs.’ 

Hunters at Dunsfold

1960’s

Probably the most exciting development carried out by Hawker at Dunsfold was the pioneering of the first British vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft in the form of the P.1127 and subsequently the Kestrel.

P.1127 on tethering pad

The first ‘tethered hover’ by the prototype Hawker P.1127 (XP831) was achieved on 21st October 1960 whilst the first ‘free hover’ was on 19th November 1960, just less than one month later. A unique set of Vertical Take-off Pads were constructed, adjacent to the end of the main runway in an area now more famously known as the ‘Hammerhead’ in the BBC Top Gear programmes. This was to be followed by ‘conventional’ take-off and landings on 13th March 1961 at RAE Bedford with ‘full transitions’ (Vertical take-off followed by forward flight) on 12th September 1961. The six P.1127 prototypes were later joined by nine Kestrel FGA.1 for Tripartite evaluation. The first (XS688) was first flown at Dunsfold on 7th March 1964 with the Tripartite Squadron becoming operational from 15th October 1964 to 30th November 1965. 

THE ROYAL AIR FORCE, 1950-1969 (RAF-T 6800) A Hawker Siddeley P.1127 ‘Kestrel’ after landing vertically on the test pad at Dunsfold. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205215020

Under Hawker Siddeley Aviation Ltd, Dunsfold was mainly used as the Flight Test Centre for the Harrier and the Hawk although Folland Aircraft also utilised their expertise for the testing the Folland Gnat T.1. after they closed their operations at Chilbolton Airfield.  Folland would be later absorbed into the Hawker Group and whilst the Gnat was produced at The Hamble Works, it was transported by lorry to Dunsfold for final assembly and flight test before onward delivery. 

XM691 Folland Gnat

It was during this period that Dunsfold forged strong links with the famous RAF Display Team ‘The Red Arrows’ who formed in 1964 using the Gnat before subsequently transferring to Dunsfold built Hawks 15-years later. 

Gnat as used by the Red Arrows

1970’s

The latter part of the 1960s saw Dunsfold fully committed to the development of the Harrier and it was the famous Jump Jet that made export history when 112 (AV-8A) aircraft were sold to the US Marine Corps in 1971. this was the first time the USA had bought a foreign military aircraft since WW1. They had to be air freighted to the US which meant the arrival of large cargo carriers which made quite a sight as they landed over the countryside at Dunsfold. 

Hawker Siddeley Aviation merged with British Aircraft Corporation in 1977 to form British Aerospace and the workload at Dunsfold increased dramatically as it joined forces with other military aircraft facilities around the UK such as Warton, Brough and Woodford.

Sea Harrier first flight Aug 78 Dunsfold
E-421/G-9-443 – Hunter F.51 – ex-Royal Danish Air Force – Dunsfold – 22-Jun-1976
A line of 16 ex-Danish Air Force Hunters purchased by Hawker Siddeley for onward sale or disposal lined up at Dunsfold, headed by E-421. Copyright Phillip Dawe
159367 – AV-8A Harrier – US Marine Corps – Dunsfold – 14-Jun-1975
This aircraft finished service when moved to Davis-Monthan for storage on 21 April 1986 and scrapped. Copyright Phillip Dawe
XX154 – Hawk T.1 – Royal Air Force – Dunsfold – 14-Jun-1975
The prototype Hawk flew for the first time in August 1974 and has only served with the various trials units occupying Boscombe Down. Copyright Phillip Dawe
XW265 – Harrier T.2 – Royal Air Force – Dunsfold – 14-Jun-1975
Subsequently upgraded to T.4A standard before being flown to Cosford for use as an instructional airframe in October 1996. Fuselage later scrapped and the forward section is now resident with an ATC squadron at Leuchars, Fife. Copyright Phillip Dawes

1980’s

In 1980, a new Control Tower was erected whilst in 1982, Dunsfold Aerodrome went on to a war footing with the outbreak of the Falklands Crisis. The three Harriers that were based at Dunsfold for flight trials were immediately commandeered and one of these was clearly seen to be aboard HMS Hermes as she sailed out from Portsmouth. Dunsfold moved onto double-shift working to modify existing RAF Harriers and Sea Harriers ready for air combat and ground attack roles in the South Atlantic.

THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL – JUNE 1982 (FKD 680) A Harrier of No 1 Squadron RAF is prepared for a sortie on the flight deck of HMS HERMES. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205190492

Dunsfold played a crucial role in ensuring that the Royal Navy would be able to send a second Sea Harrier-equipped aircraft carrier to the Falklands although in the event the conflict ended before this was actually necessary. Dunsfold Test Pilot Taylor Scott volunteered to return to the Royal Navy to help form and train an additional Sea Harrier Squadron (809) and in total 42 Harriers and Sea Harriers were deployed during the crisis. 

Hangar crane credit BAe Ron Lawson

The first United Kingdom Harrier II – GR Mk 5 (ZD318) flew from Dunsfold on 30th April 1985 and most GR Mk5 aircraft were later brought up to GR Mk7 standard, this version being first flown on 29th November 1989. 

ZD318 in construction at Dunsfold

The highly successful Hawker Siddeley HS.1182 Hawk Trainer was first flown (XX154) at Dunsfold on 21st August 1974, piloted by the late Duncan Simpson.

Hawk lineup in preparation Farnborough Week 1976 Credit BAe Ron Lawson
Technical Areas in 1989 Credit: BAe
Dunsfold viewed from the North East. Credit BAe Andy Lawson

A single seat version (The Hawk 200) was built as a private venture by BAe with the first example (XG200) flying at Dunsfold on 19th May 1986.

Hawk 200 in Engine Running Pen (1980s) (courtesy Brooklands Museum archive)

1990’s

In the early 1990’s, the Kingston site was being run down and Harrier II fuselage production and final assembly of all United Kingdom aircraft (including Sea Harrier new build and conversions to FA.2 standard) was transferred to Dunsfold. The first navalised Harrier FRS.1 (XZ450) had flown at Dunsfold on 20th August 1978 whilst the first Sea Harrier FRS.2 development aircraft (ZA195) flew on 19th September 1988. As the only western military V/STOL combat aircraft to reach production status (thus far), the Harrier was an extraordinary success and in a programme that ran for over 40 years, nearly 900 aircraft were built.

T2A
FRS.2

In addition to Harrier production work, Dunsfold was contracted to carry out the refurbishment and 2,000-hour major service on 12 Hawk Mk 64 aircraft for the Kuwait Air Force with the first refurbished aircraft being handed over in October 1998. 

Dunsfold also conducted extensive refurbishment of the Royal Navy Historic Flight Fairey Firefly (WB271) and Sea Hawk WV856.

2000’s

 On 24 June 1999, British Aerospace announced that with the completion of the Harrier production programme, it would be closing the Dunsfold site by the end of the year 2000 with its current incarnation (BAE Systems) concentrating military aircraft production at sites at Brough, Samlesbury and Warton. Remaining support for Harrier variants worldwide are based in Frimley with a small team operating alongside remaining operators whilst support for the Hawk is carried out at Brough and Warton.

Research and Sources: British Aerospace

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