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Hawker's Secret Cold War Airfield

...Dunsfold, from Pen & Sword

Title: Hawker's Secret Cold War Airfield
Author: Christopher Budgen
Publisher: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-1-52677-175-9

Dunsfold in Surrey is perhaps better known these days for being host to BBC's 'Top Gear' but for many years it was one of the significant production centres for Hawker Aircraft( later British Aerospace). The work within the airfield was once highly secret, though of course it is difficult to make an airfield really 'secret' as the aircraft flying in and out are a bit of a giveaway. I for one remember driving down a road adjacent to Dunsfold one day many years ago and I could hear a jet engine but was still surprised when a Harrier rose up over the hedge beside me, and 'hopped' across to the other side!
A 303-page hardback book, the story is split across 13 chapters plus 4 appendices. There is both a beginning and an end to the story, starting with how, after WW2, Hawker came to move in to Dunsfold where they worked on their early jets. It also includes the hurdles they faced, the influence of government departments (and their conflicting interests), getting the operations permissions from the local councils and the impact of noise complaints from some of their new neighbours. As well as their work on the Sea Hawk and the piston engines Sea Fury, it also details the development stories of 2 of their most famous aircraft, the Hunter and the Harrier. The challenges each project presented and how they were tackled, the changes made to the airfield to accommodate the testing requirements, attracting customers both at home and abroad. Even the storage of older airframes they bought back with a view to refurbishment/upgrading for export customers and of course their work to attract the high profile customer, the US Marines who wanted the Harrier, and later the US Navy for their Hawk. At the end, with amalgamation into British Aerospace, work at Dunsfold closed down, and a workforce that was re-deployed or laid off.
Dunsfold was an important military aircraft development and production centre for many years, covering the whole period of the Cold War. These days the airfield is unlicensed for general operational flying, but still holds aircraft such as (now) two examples of the Boeing 747, used for film projects and of course the Top Gear studio and test track. It's history however is one with a prominent place in British military aircraft production during the Cold War. A really interesting read for any aviation historian.
Thanks to Pen & Sword for our review copy.


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