More of Roy Evans’s Dunsfold Aerodrome reminiscences.
    In late December 1962 we had a heavy fall of snow over the south of England and many of the local roads were in a terrible state as very few had been treated or ploughed. On the second day a Council lorry managed to get through the road into work from Dunsfold village, and workers in the back threw shovel loads of sand and salt across the surface. That night there was a hard frost and for over a month the surface resembled a ploughed field of solid cross ridges.
    On the airfield there was, initially, only one snow plough available, a large blade fitted on the front of a fuel bowser. By the end of the third day three more bowsers and the two six wheel AECs had large blades, and the two smaller Bedfords had smaller slush blades with a rubber lower edge.

The really heavy snow was tackled by the AECs although they couldn’t cope with ice; it was a case of waiting for a thaw and this proved to be a big problem. The only other bit of snow clearing kit was the ground staff’s Nuffield tractor which, fitted with a front loader bucket, was ideal for clearing up packed snow left on corners by the ploughs; a very time-consuming task and very cold too as there was no cab. Outside factory working hours all the vehicles were at the Fire Service’s disposal as there was nobody else on the airfield!

Although the Company wanted a clear runway and access roads it was not prepared to fund the personnel so the job was on our shoulders. Whatever action we took the chances were that the ‘armchair experts’ threw in their criticisms the following morning or after the weekend.

Dunsfold Aerodrome In The Mid Sixties
The Winter Of (1962-63)

Toptop toptoptoptoptop

    It was decided that following a period of snow the duty watch would decide if it was serious enough to require clearing.

Once the decision was made the first priority was the main access roads into the airfield, then the internal access roads to the car parks to ensure that the workers could at least get in to work. Next access would be cut between the hangars and the taxiway and then on to each end of the runway. The runway was left awaiting a decision from Air Traffic Control and the Pilots’ Office. This was a mammoth task for our limited resources.
    Only two men were allowed out on the ploughs at any one time as we had to maintain some fire cover always. When the two men working got too cold (there was no cab heating in the bowsers) they would return to the Station to be relieved by another two. During factory working hours at least one bowser driver and one Transport driver were delegated to man the bowsers and Ground Staff manned the tractor. During the period which lasted many, many weeks, there were more snow falls and freezing conditions.
    It was at this time that the first P.1127, XP831, took off from a specially cleared section at the west end of the airfield and flew to HMS Ark Royal off Dorset for the first ever jet V/STOL carrier trials whilst most of southern England was covered in snow.
    After that terrible period with snow it was decided that the airfield needed a boost to its snow clearing equipment. The Company would not pay for a dedicated snow plough but agreed to an in-house build (cheaper!) A vehicle was constructed using a small coach chassis minus its engine. Motive power was provided by a small diesel engine which was geared to drive the machine at about 10 mph.

On the chassis was mounted an ex-Hunter Avon jet engine facing backwards and angled upwards at about 15 degrees taking the intake to about eight feet above the ground. The engine and intake were enclosed in a steel cage (dubbed the ‘lion cage’) and a full width cab with soundproofing, was fitted. A large tank for jet fuel was located immediately behind the cab above the engine.

The jet exhaust was directed forward into steel ducting under the cab emerging as a ‘T’ shape close to the ground. At each end of the ‘T’ was on oval port roughly twelve inches by six, facing sideways, and across the width of the ‘T’ was a series of slots facing downwards. The hot exhaust gasses were therefore directed downwards and sideways in front of the slowly moving vehicle.
    There were several months to wait before we had sufficient snow in which to test our blower but eventually it came. It always seemed to snow worse in the night when there was no other help. On this occasion the snow started on a Saturday night and by Monday morning many of the internal roads and the runway had frozen snow on them which is much more difficult to clear. By mid-morning the snow blower was finally driven onto the runway crewed by staff from the Production Hangar, the trip taking over thirty minutes, the Avon was fired up and it started to work.
    Chief Test Pilot Bill Bedford came into the Fire Station and asked to be taken out to observe proceedings. I was detailed to drive him in our short wheelbase Land Rover so I drove to just past the engine running pens and stopped on the taxiway about 200 yards abeam of the blower operating on the runway. The CTP wanted to get closer so I drove onto the grass within 100 yards but he wanted to get closer still and he opened his side window, looking out. He then started giving me hand signals because of the noise and I approached the blower from the rear quarter. Eventually our vehicle was keeping pace parallel with the blower about 30 feet distant; too close, I thought. I held back just behind the snow and mist blast that was shooting across in front of us. The CTP suddenly shut his window and shouted “Forward!”. I said “What?” so he repeated “Forward!” and waved his hand. I hesitated but he repeated the order and hand signal so I gripped the steering wheel tightly and floored the accelerator.
    Almost immediately there was a massive thump on the nearside and several small bangs. I felt sudden pressure on my left side and arm and then we emerged from the cloud of snow and steam into brilliant sunshine with Bill sitting against me. He quickly moved back to his seat beside the window; his face was white and I guess mine was too. I drove back to the taxiway rather hastily then stopped. We both got out and inspected the vehicle’s side; we’d gained a few dents caused by chunks of ice but luckily the nearside window was still intact. I tentatively asked Bill if he’d seen enough and emphasised that there was no need to repeat the sortie! The following day he put out a memo that the snow blower jet engine must not be started until the vehicle was on the main runway and all aircraft and vehicles must be kept well clear of this “infernal machine”.
    Editor’s Note - The Avon’s snow blower ducting was designed by Trevor Jordan of the Project Office. The machine itself is on display at the Brooklands Museum.