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The Hawker Hunter is a transonic British jet-powered fighter aircraft that was developed by Hawker Aircraft for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was designed to take advantage of the newly developed Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet engine and the swept wing, and was the first jet-powered aircraft produced by Hawker to be procured by the RAF. On 7 September 1953, the modified first prototype broke the world air speed record for jet-powered aircraft, achieving a speed of 727.63 mph (1,171.01 km/h; 632.29 kn).
The Hunter flying from Dunsfold
The Hunter in use with the RAF
The RAF Black Arrows formation team, 111 Squadron:
The single-seat Hunter was introduced to service in 1954 as a manoeuvrable day interceptor aircraft, quickly succeeding first-generation jet fighters in RAF service such as the Gloster Meteor and the de Havilland Venom. The all-weather/night fighter role was filled by the Gloster Javelin. Successively improved variants of the type were produced, adopting increasingly more capable engine models and expanding its fuel capacity amongst other modifications being implemented. Hunters were also used by two RAF display teams: the “Black Arrows”, who on one occasion looped a record-breaking 24 Hunters in formation, and later the “Blue Diamonds”, who flew 16 aircraft. The Hunter was also widely exported, serving with a total of 21 overseas air forces.
During the 1960s, following the introduction of the supersonic English Electric Lightning in the interceptor role, the Hunter transitioned to being operated as a fighter-bomber and for aerial reconnaissance missions, using dedicated variants for these purposes. Two-seat variants remained in use for training and secondary roles with the RAF and the Royal Navy until the early 1990s. Sixty years after its original introduction it was still in active service, being operated by the Lebanese Air Force until 2014.
The Hunter saw combat service in a range of conflicts with several operators, including the Suez Crisis, the Aden Emergency, the Sino-Indian War, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Rhodesian Bush War, the Second Congo War, the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War, and the 2007 Lebanon conflict. Overall, 1,972 Hunters were manufactured by Hawker Aircraft and its successor, Hawker Siddeley, as well as being produced under licence overseas. In British service, the Hunter was replaced in its principal roles by the Lightning, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.
How to fly a Hunter:
For a comprehensive history of the Hunter.
The North American B-25 Mitchell is an American twin-engine, medium bomber manufactured by North American Aviation (NAA). It was named in honour of Major General William “Billy” Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. Used by many Allied air forces, the B-25 served in every theatre of World War II and after the war ended many remained in service, operating across four decades. Produced in numerous variants, nearly 10,000 Mitchells rolled from NAA factories.
At Dunsfold three RAF squadrons operated Mitchells – 98, 180 and 320 Squadrons. They were initially equipped with Mitchell II’s ( equivalent to the variant that the Americans used, the Mitchell B25 C ) and in 1944 were upgraded with Mitchell III’s (B25 J).
The evolution in the European theatre showed that the ventral positioned remote turret was not popular and later removed. The majority of Dunsfold based operations were utilising the Mitchell II. Later, repositioning of the top turret and the addition of waist gun positions was the primary change seen in the later Mitchell III.
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.
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.
Dunsfold Site Timeline
|1942||Dunsfold Aerdrome established for use by Royal Canadian Air Force.|
|1943||RAF operations as fighter base and latterly a medium bomber base.|
|1944||Runways and major T-2 and Blister Hangars completed.|
|1945||Operation Exodus repatriates 47,000 through Dunsfold.|
|1948||Skyways employ over 1,300 at the Service and Repair Centre.|
|1950||Dunsfold Aerodrome purchased by Hawker Aircraft Ltd.|
|1951||Avro 707 and the prototype Hawker Hunter flies at Dunsfold.|
|1953||Neville Duke breaks the Air Speed Record.|
|1960||First ‘tethered’ flight of the P1127.|
|1971||Harrier AV-8A’s are produced for the US Marine Corps.|
|1974||Hawker Siddeley HS1182 Hawk prototype (XX154) flies at Dunsfold|
|1977||Hawker Siddeley Aviation merge with BAC and become British Aerospace.|
|1982||Dunsfold activity increases with the Falkland Crisis.|
|1985||Harrier II flies for the first time.|
|1988||The first true Sea Harrier (ZA195) flies at Dunsfold|
|1999||With the end of the Harrier Program, British Aerospace announce the closure of Dunsfold.|
|2002||BAE Systems sells the Aerodrome to Royal Bank of Scotland|
|2018||Green light to re-development of airfield to a new Garden Village of 2600+ homes|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Broadmead Cottage, Rose Cottage, Canada House, Murphy’s Cottage
Work on the airfield started 11th may 1942 with a bold estimate that work would be completed in 18 weeks. This was a challenge that the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers, 2nd Road Construction Company & the Canadian Forestry Corps were capable of meeting using 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 Broadmead 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.
Dunsfold: 'Before the war it was the most remote village in Surrey: now, well hidden, an airfield tests jet fighters.'
Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England: Surrey
Historic England explains that Local Planning Authorities are obliged to designate as conservation areas any parts of their own area that are of special architectural or historic interest, the character and appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. Waverley Borough Council Planning Department are considering an application for designation of Dunsfold Aerodrome as a Conservation Area. There is a consultation process concluding on April 28th 2017. Please read what follows and look at the references to Historic England’s documents. Then if you want to support DAHS and make comments about the designation you can make them on the Waverley website. It is a simple questionnaire.
You may be surprised to know that former military airfields can – and do – become designated as Conservation Areas. This is because conservation areas are not just about ‘old buildings’. They have a much wider role to play than that. In the words of Historic England (formerly English Heritage);
‘The totality of an aerodrome cannot be captured through statutory designation alone, and other approaches such as conservation area protection….. have been shown to be appropriate’ (Historic England (4))
In respect of Dunsfold Aerodrome, the case for establishing a Conservation Area is very much about the historical context, the people, and the events (of national and international importance) that are inextricably linked to the site. But it is also about the appropriate management and preservation of the large number of heritage buildings still existing, the future of which is currently uncertain. Most members of the public are unaware of the existence of these structures as the site is still private and largely ‘hidden’. It is not coincidental that at this point in time Historic England is considering the designation of at least 10 structures on Dunsfold Aerodrome – in other words ‘listing’ them. This would have an important bearing on the designation of the site as a Conservation Area.
Plan of Dunsfold Heritage Assets click to expand:
‘The vast majority of nationally significant airfield structures will be most appropriately protected through listing…..Another mechanism by which the significance of an airfield can be highlighted as a historic landscape, is through conservation area status.’ (Historic England (5)).
Conservation of a special place such as Dunsfold Aerodrome is about the complex processes through which we as individuals or as groups define ourselves and our relationships with the natural and cultural aspects of the airfield. It is about a sense of place – profoundly important for individual and community identity, and the ‘significance’ of this airfield as a heritage asset. Currently, Historic England recognises Dunsfold Aerodrome as an Undesignated Heritage Asset; if it were to be granted conservation area status this would raise it to Designated Heritage Asset status.
There is a recognised procedure for appraisal, designation and management of a Conservation Area (Historic England (6)). Appraisal of an area for conservation can include establishing its significance for a number of reasons:-
- History, Landscape and Identities
- Rural Sense of Place
- Urban Sense of Place
- Cultural Landscapes
- Conservation, Biodiversity and Tourism
DAHS exists to research and make public all of the history of what has been called ‘Surrey’s most secret airfield’*, to celebrate historical achievements, and preserve precious assets and memories for the benefit of current and future generations. We believe that the right and proper way of doing that is for all statutory bodies, local councils and stakeholders to work together to establish a robust framework for the airfield that will inform and guide its future management and development, recognising its heritage value. A conservation area covering the site would be an ideal means of achieving this.
What makes Dunsfold Airfield special?
- The relatively ‘untouched’ nature of the 1942-built airfield
- The survival of a large number of key physical assets, including the runways, in their original form
- Home to the development of a number of iconic British military aircraft; including the Hunter, the Hawk and the Harrier ‘jump jet’ – world class technology that led to military and economic success.
- Berlin Airlift – Dunsfold Airfield helped to avert what would probably have been a humanitarian disaster.
- 3 permanent runways designed for the WWII bombers and latter used to test new aviation technology.
- Wings and Wheels – major air show and motorsport event attracting 25,000 visitors and over 1000 participants.
- Home to the BBCs Top Gear programme watched in 214 territories worldwide and has an estimated global audience of 350 million
Examples of former military airfields that have been given Conservation Area status include;