February 8th 1963. Here is XP831 on the deck of HMS Ark Royal after Hawker Test Pilot Bill Bedford had completed the deck landing. This was the first ever vertical landing of a fixed wing aircraft on an aircraft carrier and the last of significant milestones in the proving the prototype’s potential. 3 months later XP831 would crash at the Paris Airshow.
Simpson joined Hawker in 1954 and became Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot in 1970. He flew the P.1127 as well as making the first flight in a Hawk. In 2011, the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators awarded him the Guild Award of Honour in recognition of his outstanding lifetime contribution to aviation: “for his long record as a particularly accomplished pilot, his outstanding contribution to experimental test flying, his intimate involvement in bringing three iconic British Fighters – the Hunter, Harrier and Hawk – into service and his exemplary commitment to British aviation generally”.
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 in 1941 the cottage was lifted in whole and winched half a mile on rollers to the otherside of the airfield.
Dunsfold in 1942 immediately after construction
Top Gear Track on original runway in 1943
Track layout on current runway - note VTOL tethering pads next to "Hammerhead"
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. Historical significance is for the development of the ‘jump jet’, P1127 through to the Harrier.
Three engine running or detuning pens were originally built in the early 1950’s to test the aircraft engines for the Hunter prior to delivery. By 1960 the Eastern-most of the three pens was modified specifically for engine testing of the P.1127 and later the Harrier. This pen was modified and excavated to form a void which was fitted with a blast grid to diffuse vertical thrust. At the rear of the pen, a new diffuser was fitted to contain thrust when the engines were vectored to the rear. At the same time, a second control room was added and the inside of the pen was fitted out with metal covered insulation. A double-depth metal sliding door was also installed at the entrance so that when closed, noise and debris were suppressed.
As CTP Bill Bedford recounted, in 1960 when undertaking the first testing of the engine for the prototype P.1127 there was an engine fire. The “elephant ears” noise baffles either side of the aircraft had to be rapidly moved out of the way to allow fire crew to access the exhaust to dowse the fire.
The main runway has the unique Vertical Take Off Grids (VTO Grids or Hover Grids) – used for the tethering of jump jets such as the Harrier whilst hovering. These are located on aprons that adjacent the main runway and are within the Operational Readiness Platform [ORP]. Beneath these gratings is a large void chamber to take the hot air, condensation and gases from the downdraft of the jet engines of the aircraft. Within the eastern Engine Testing Pen there is a similar arrangement that is a unique feature to Dunsfold.