This page is intended to provide news of activities at Flixton for non-members. It is written by the Chairman - Ian Hancock - and will be updated at least annually
Despite huge investment in publicity by bodies promoting tourism, forecasts of an increased flow of visitors to the Eastern Counties on the back of the Diamond Jubilee and London Games did not materialise - at least, not in the Waveney Valley. These celebrations and spectacles, plus some prolonged poor weather, also interrupted the usual domestic holiday traffic and, for the first time, we experienced a drop in our customary circa 40,000 visitors during 2012. Consequently, we also suffered a reduction in income which we could ill-afford since we do not charge admission. We enter this our 40th year, however, with an optimistic view and feel confident that the norm will return as our events calendar starts to fill up.
During the year, donated artefacts continued to arrive at a fast pace - usually anything from an aero engine to a uniform button - and we were very grateful to receive the generous gift of a Boeing Stearman PT-27 Kaydet from Paul Bennett and Bob Sage of Black Barn Aviation at Tibenham - the well-known restorers of the type. The totally dismantled aircraft is based around the fuselage of RAF/RCAF FJ801 (later USAAF 42-15662) and it is gradually taking shape in our Restoration Area. Trips to Tibenham usually produce time-expired components we can use when found to be missing, but some small items will be made by members. The damaged wings have been repaired and are now stored for fabric at some future point; they came from two other aircraft that have been restored at Tibenham in past years. When completed and space allows, the aircraft will be a static exhibit; the engine is a non-runner. Our rare WWII Civil Air Patrol veteran of Base 17 at Riverhead, Long Island - the oldest Fairchild F.24 C8F - also came as a donation from Tibenham some years ago.
The Trustees of the Imperial War Museum were also generous in gifting the replica Colditz Glider (BGA4757) that had been on loan to us for a number of years, a dismantled Austin Champ (85BE29), and a 1942 Morris Mk1 Light Reconnaissance Car (No.982/4751176). This will be repainted as an RAF Regiment airfield defence vehicle. We have a photograph of such a vehicle on Bungay/Flixton airfield when the 446 BG USAAF was resident but we haven’t pinned down the background history to this as yet. The interior equipment will eventually be sourced and armament added. Whilst we have a BREN light machine gun for the turret, the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle is now rare so one is being replicated. Apparently, this vehicle was brought back to the UK from Portugal and may have served with the Portuguese Army; certainly some interior modifications indicate different weapons were fitted at some stage The Champ needs a lot of work before full assembly but is progressing well and will likely end up painted with airborne markings. We also purchased the MiG-15bis (Czech S-103) that had been on loan to us from the IWM. We do not often accept items on loan but were pleased to collect a 1,000kg Hermann bomb from storage in Norfolk - it had been dropped on Great Yarmouth during WWII and failed to explode.
Wing Commander Ken Wallis, our President since 1976, will celebrate his 97th birthday in April. Ken continues to attend functions and entertain occasional visitor groups to his hangar collection at Reymerston Hall but the two “Little Nellie” autogyros from the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” are elsewhere. G-ARZB - the one he flew in the film - is on loan to the National Motorcar Museum at Beaulieu for its James Bond Exhibition, whereas the identical studio example (actually G-AVDH) in which Sean Connery sat (to be stirred but not shaken by a large fan to emulate being airborne) is displayed at Flixton, alongside his replica of the family Wallbro Monoplane of 1910. Ken’s formidable collection of World Records and other honours continue, with the Award of Honour from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators last October, and another is due from the Royal Aero Club in April.
Owning an 8-acre rural site produces all sorts of pressures and requirements, especially trying to keep appearances high in poor weather but our members did an excellent job in all conditions. Our raised boardwalk to the river Waveney - The Adair Walk - is always a popular diversion but has to be managed to help support the diverse flora and fauna which live in this area of a Willow plantation. The avenue of memorial trees planted by relatives of past visitors and members along the Walk adds to the attraction.
Interest in our exhibits and displays produces a regular flow of enquiries and research requests from far and wide. We do our very best to help and answer all manner of questions that often go beyond the collection itself. Our web pages on subjects such as Joe Kennedy, Operation Anvil and RAF Decoy Crews receive a good deal of interest. The art of deception continues to this day in armed conflicts around the world, and new ways of deceiving the eyes of the enemy are still sought. I have to wonder if future developments might include the projection of holographic images or similar, rather than the need to construct replicas or employ other trickery; perhaps the means already exist beyond episodes of Star Trek! The growing deployment of unmanned “vehicles” of various types and sizes certainly produce impressive results without endangering the lives of the operators.
Whilst adult visitors are very likely to find something of interest in our very broad collection of aircraft and smaller artefacts, children can easily get bored and distracted. We don’t have a large budget for educational or fun items but do allocate resources to creating hands-on equipment for them to sit in and use their imagination, attempt to solve problems, or show their pilot skills. Admittedly, if it can be pulled, twisted or bent then it needs to be very robust as a 5-year old seems more able to cause terminal damage than an adult! “Flights” in the Link Trainers are very popular when a member is on hand to operate them, and floor-based units fitted with flightsim programs provide static alternatives for those with dickey tummies.
We have also constructed a similar unit for the convenience of wheelchair users. Smaller items demonstrate such things as the principles of flight and a steady hand to land a helicopter, whilst a Sycamore cockpit can also offer a start-up sequence with turning rotors. Outdoors, members have now built a small ASR launch to set alongside a similar scale wooden aircraft to sit and play in.
Much effort has gone into digitising several banks of photographs and presenting them on screens with a “rolling archive” for visitors to watch. We have achieved this inexpensively so far in respect of the 446 BG and 56 FG, RAF Coltishall, and Ipswich Airport where our 1937 Boulton & Paul Hangar came from in 2000. We are now looking at doing the same with our Boulton & Paul Norwich archive, other local WWI aircraft manufacturers and Pulham airships. This would create some much needed space for display cases to house some new WWI artefacts, and an exhibition recording the Berlin Airlift. The 65th anniversary of this event will be celebrated in August at Flixton in conjunction with the British Berlin Airlift Association and the London-based company Legasee, which has been undertaking research with veterans so that a sound archive can be created. Donated artefacts will be incorporated in a permanent display at Flixton.
Since the 1940s, the buildings of the Ditchingham Maltings on the edge of Bungay have contained a small relic of WWII not known about by many people. Our Curator (Huby Fairhead), however, has maintained a watchful eye on things over the years, especially when developers showed fresh interest in the site. Occupation in WWII, from July 1944 to January 1945 as Station Q-104, was by the 2212th Quartermaster Truck Co. Aviation of the 1578th QM Battalion Mobile Aviation with Medical, Combat Support Wing. Personnel amused themselves by etching their personal details into brickwork of an exterior wall. Thanks to the generous cooperation of the developer (P J Livesey), the bricks were carefully removed and are now mounted in a display on view in our 446 BG collection building, and contact is in hand with families of some of those named. A BBC television documentary was filmed at Flixton and featured in the “Inside Out” regional programme during early March.
In the 446 BG building, several large cabinets have also been made by members. Objects were cleaned and fresh captions created for display, along with some interesting additions from storage. All of this has greatly improved the visitor’s experience, and follows similar lengthy activities in the buildings housing our Royal Observer Corps and RAF Bomber Command collections. Our RAF Air-Sea Rescue collection also received some new large-scale high-speed launch models. All areas feature in our range of school visit programmes.
I mentioned earlier that we are now into our 40th year, and some of our members were there on day one. The early 1970s were very much a different kettle of fish to now and so much less dominated by Health & Safety and other “restrictions”. Services were cheaper or willingly provided for free, aircraft could be purchased for a few hundred pounds, and delivery was often provided by the military as an “exercise”. Our Valetta was delivered from Norwich by a RAF Chinook helicopter - I hate to think the cost these days even if it could be arranged, which I doubt. The RAF Museum was just opening and Duxford emerging I recall, so preserving the nation’s aviation heritage was mostly in the hands of small groups of enthusiasts up and down the country, having to dig deep into their own pockets to fund the purchase, transportation and restoration of aircraft. Sometimes such groups are criticised because their facilities were/are limited but it must never be forgotten that without their hard work and personal sacrifices we would have lost many examples of aircraft types, and some very rare ones. This story is similar to that of steam enthusiasts who managed to save many unique locomotives from Woodham’s scrapyard in Barry after the Beeching axe fell in the 1960s; officialdom failed to care about preserving sufficient examples of our rail transport history and, again, it was down to private individuals to do the job without much help.
The lack of sufficient covered display facilities affects virtually all aviation museums, although much has been done to improve the situation in recent years through grants. Unlike many museums, aviation and others, our members bit the bullet back in the 1980s and purchased our 8-acre site so we have greater security and freedom than most. The picturesque Waveney Valley is not a perfect location in some ways for our home, but we have expanded considerably - especially during the last 20 years - and there is still some room for new buildings. With a river behind us, a wood on one side, and a designated flood plain on another, however, we are restricted and will reach capacity at some point. Ironically, the need to provide car-parking space for visitors prevents greater use of the remaining open land for more display buildings.
What of Flixton itself? Our site is within this small village and parish, once famous as the family home of the Tasburghs, followed by the Adairs in 1753. Sadly, their Flixton Hall no longer exists but some of the mid-18th Century weapons from its impressive armoury reside in Williamsburg, Virginia, having been sold by General Sir Allan Adair Bt in the early 1950s when disposing of the Hall and contents. Although a long-existing church is mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086, little of the original remains as St Mary’s Church was largely reconstructed in the 1800s but is worthy of a visit. Gravestones commence from 1266 and several members of both families are buried there. Close-by, archaeological excavations at Flixton Park Quarry have been going on for several years and recently a new publication on
an early Anglo-Saxon settlement and burial finds - possibly from the time of the Lords known as the Wuffins in the 6th Century - was announced and published by Suffolk County Council.
The popular Buck Inn adjacent to our site was once owned by Alan Breeze the well-known singer with the Billy Cotton Band and visitors of a certain age often express fond memories of the radio broadcasts. Bungay, 2 miles to the East, is a thriving and historic market town.
To the West we have the Bressingham Steam collection near Diss, and the East Anglian Transport Museum in the opposite direction towards the coast so the area is a mecca for transport buffs. It abounds with all manner of other attractions and leads directly to the inland waterways of the Broads. Sadly, little is left of the old airfield, all of which is now privately-owned land but we maintain a memorial there to 446 BG personnel.
I close on a sad note. Our established Archivist Paddy Potter died peacefully on the 18th March having suffered a heart attack two weeks earlier. We also lost Dr Ray Seel a helper in the Archive a few weeks back. For a volunteer organisation, the loss of friends and the skills of enthusiastic colleagues are always hard to accept.
There are great expectations that the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, followed by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, will create a major boost in tourism for the UK this year. The Eastern counties of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk are easily in reach for daytrips or longer stays by visitors so should benefit in particular. Certainly, this part of the country has a great deal to offer, with stunning countryside; the magnificent waterways of the Broads; thousands of historic buildings, sites and castles; hundreds of ancient market towns; attractive coastal resorts with long stretches of sandy beaches, and a plethora of museums and collections to satisfy every possible interest.
The Games are all about competing on land and water but not in the air unfortunately. Possibly the fate of Icarus set the seal on such activities in ancient minds but one day perhaps an organisation might address this omission at a special gathering. In the meantime, those with an interest in man’s endeavours in the air must turn to the superb aviation museums and collections to be found within easy reach of London. Needless to say, we would recommend heading into East Anglia and a visit to Flixton to quench this thirst as it is only a little over a couple of hours by road from the capital. Visitors generally need 2-3 hours minimum to look around our collection of 60 aircraft and almost 30,000 artefacts, displayed in two hangars and eight themed buildings, but it is easy to spend the whole day absorbing what we have to offer. The Buck Inn is located next door and offers fine ale and good food beyond our own light refreshments, and Bungay town is only two miles to the east where there are antique shops, a castle ruin, historic buildings and country walks. From 1st April we go over to Summer opening times: Sunday to Thursday 10.00 - 5.00.
One important advantage for the visitor to Flixton is that we are situated in the picturesque Waveney Valley, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, where an abundance of attractive market towns sit within glorious countryside, en route to the fabulous waterways of the Broads and their unique wildlife. For lovers of historic transport, we are conveniently located between the Bressingham Steam Museum a few miles to the west near Diss, and the East Anglia Transport Museum to the east at Carlton Colville. The coast is a little more than half an hour away with exceptional beaches. Plentiful overnight or longer stay accommodation is within easy reach.
We again welcomed around 40,000 visitors to Flixton during the last twelve months, including large attendances at special event days to showcase numerous vintage/classic vehicle clubs, bygone collections, and ex-Service organisations. Several events included aircraft flypasts. Our very active schools’ programme saw the highest number of group visits, plus growth in demand from schools for our loan boxes full of aviation and WWII Home Front artefacts. Members’ visits to residential care homes, taking similar artefacts to promote conversation and rekindle memories, were very well received; in fact it is difficult to meet demand.
Each year we receive a large number of donated artefacts, and 2011 was quite demanding to allocate space. The display of model high speed launches now exceeds 30 in our Air-Sea Rescue building and every class of wood-hull craft is now represented; we think this may be the largest collection of ASR craft models on display in the UK. In recent months, the contents of our Royal Observer Corps building have been re-arranged, with new display cabinets and a greatly expanded selection of artefacts. Several WWII exhibits relating to the USAAF, and the local 446th Bomb Group in particular, have been acquired but as our 446th BG display building is presently lacking adequate space, we have placed them in the extension to the new Ken Wallis Hall rather than in storage. The growth in artefacts reflecting local civil and military aviation also required us to re-arrange displays and make larger cabinets in other buildings.
The 446th BG building is in the queue to be enlarged when funds permit but new cabinets will help to create some extra space later this year. Fortunately, we have members with the skills to make cabinets in wood to fit any need and team members have been fully occupied all the year in several of our buildings. The RAF Bomber Command collection received such benefit during 2011 and the number of artefacts on display has increased as a result. Needless to say, space is our greatest need and while there is some remaining to erect more buildings, we have to ensure there is sufficient left for car parking. Fortunately, we own our land but there isn’t more adjacent to it that we can purchase. The rear section is a designated flood plain so a raised boardwalk was built some years ago to provide a stroll through a Willow plantation to the River Waveney - the boundary with Norfolk. We hear of several museums that face possible closure at the moment so we are grateful our 7.5 acres were purchased by members back in the 1980s.
Our President, Wing Commander Ken Wallis MBE, will be 96 in April and has been an active supporter since 1976. My popular biography of Ken (The Lives of Ken Wallis - ISBN 97809541239-6-3) is now in its 5th Edition and takes his story up to mid-2011; it is available from our on-line shop. The Civil Aviation Authority has recently given him permission to exceed the current maximum speed limit imposed should he wish to attempt to beat his World Speed Record of 129 mph set in 2002. Ken may be tempted later in the year but it must be his decision alone. The new Ken Wallis Hall at Flixton presently displays some of Ken’s collection from Reymerston Hall, including his 1910 Wallbro Monoplane replica, which he flew in 1978, and autogyro “Little Nellie” (G-AVDH). Sean Connery was filmed sitting in its cockpit in the studio, shooting down the SPECTRE baddies in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice”. Ken did all the actual flying and combat scenes in G-ARZB of course, and the fascinating story is fully covered in my book.
Incidentally, Ken would be very grateful to receive a copy of any photograph taken of him flying an autogyro alongside the ill-fated Fairey Rotodyne (XE521) on 14 September 1961 when both flew from Boscombe Down to the RMCS at Shrivenham. Ken was then stationed at Boscombe Down as Officer Commanding the Tactical Weapons Group. Perhaps a reader might be able to help.
During the year we followed a programme of upgrading or replacing storage buildings and improving workshop areas at Flixton. This included a new roof for the ROC building, and new external wall cladding for the woodworkers’ building. Our member and “resident artist” John Constable Reeve kindly produced several large-size paintings of aircraft for display outdoors on buildings but concluded that weather conditions would not be kind to them so they will now adorn the inside of the doors to No.1 hangar. John has also painted several backdrops for us to enhance cabinet displays to good effect, in between meeting several commissions.
Our database has now logged almost 30,000 artefacts and only a small fraction of these are not on display. We believe it is important to let donors see that gifts are appreciated and put to proper use. Sadly, we had to turn down the offer of several aircraft as there is little space left in the hangars. In addition to an extension to the 446th BG building, we are keen to erect a new, two-story building for multi-use within the next five years. It would provide more comfortable surroundings for meetings, lectures, school group activities, educational displays, and perhaps some extra object display space. It might also offer an extension to our archive and library as the present building is very cramped. Such a venture will depend upon our finances and the availability of grants, so we hope the funding climate will improve in the future.
We are sure that 2012 will be a terrific year to showcase the UK, its culture and traditions, as a desirable holiday destination for both home and overseas visitors, and not just to watch the Games. Importantly, we hope that a short stay will encourage a longer return visit, for we believe we can satisfy every interest, pursuit and taste, and even stimulate new ones - particularly so within the picturesque Waveney Valley and the eastern counties.
With Spring 2011 very close, there are signs that the temperature might rise, with less periods of rain. It was officially the coldest December for 100 years so other months must have been close - we believe it was even colder in the hangars – but members still managed a lot of outdoor work on maintenance tasks. We also undertook a conservation audit, to examine internal display areas and identify possible improvements or the need for remedies.
The most important event of the year was the opening of the Ken Wallis Hall on the 4th July 2010. Ken, our President, performed the deed and we linked it to celebrating the Centenary of the first flight of the Wallbro Monoplane. He captivated his audience as usual with information about the aircraft built by his father and uncle between 1908 and 1910 - being revolutionary for its time; the task of creating the replica with only contemporary photographs and newspaper reports to go on; and stories about his life. He has since brought along some items from his collection at Reymerston Hall to populate the area near the aircraft and, around April/May, his James Bond “Little Nellie” autogyro G-AVDH will arrive after being on loan to the London Film Museum for a year. This aircraft was used for studio shots with Sean Connery aboard, being shaken and stirred by a large fan whilst Ken flew the identical G-ARZB and dispatched the SPECTRE baddies in “You Only Live Twice”. Despite the importance of the aerial scenes, Ken was not mentioned in the film credits.
The adjacent new display space then received some of the artefacts previously viewed in cramped conditions around the Museum. This area now includes a variety of artefacts: the restored WWII Mk1a Airborne Lifeboat, flown beneath Vickers Warwick aircraft, our early air-transportable Snowcat vehicle, a collection of Victor wind tunnel models, the beginnings of an in-flight refuelling display, a Redifon simulator (under restoration), two microlights, a manufacturer’s half-scale military communications satellite, a restored U.S. Clarkat tug, an early Mercury tug (in need of a Ford engine), two Lovegrove autogyros, and a Thunder balloon (Greenpeace).
We shall never have enough indoor display space but whilst we often have to turn down the offer of aircraft, we try not to reject smaller and personal items. Our Forward Plan takes account of possible future building developments around our site as and when finances permit the outlay. Outdoor space for building, however, is not in abundance as car-parking areas for example are essential; we have a rural location and visitors nearly topped 40,000 last year. The winter weather and vehicle traffic has damaged our central road and presently we are undertaking repairs. This is an annual task so a hand-steered mechanical roller would be useful; to be used also to repair grass areas damaged by moles, as hoards of them appear to migrate to our site each year!
There is always a steady flow of donated objects and it is our policy not to place them into storage if at all possible. Certainly donors prefer their gifts to be displayed and not stored away, as often this can mean that they will never be seen publicly. Consequently, we might appear crowded to some visitors but the majority tell us that they prefer this; giving them good reasons to return when there was insufficient time to view the entire collection. Our database has logged over 28,000 items and few are not on display. Fortunately, we have an expert team of volunteer carpenters so new display cases are regularly made to fit the spaces available. The layout of our Bomber Command building has been re-organised over winter months by our Curator Huby Fairhead, with many fresh objects to view in new cabinets. The contents of our Royal Observer Corps and 446th Bomb Group USAAF buildings will be tackled over the next year or so to “maximise the visitor’s experience”, as they say in tourism circles. We hope at some point in the future to expand the latter building to take objects presently on view elsewhere. We have also improved the décor of some public facilities.
Work has continued on making cockpit exhibits such as the Sycamore and the Canberra PR.3 recreation suitable for visitor entry, with some “live” aspects to provide interest. The Redifon simulator already mentioned is a long-term project in view of its condition on arrival, but our Link Trainers continue to provide much pleasure for visitors when we have members present to safely operate them. The experience is particularly enjoyed by our many school parties on organised trips who come to learn more about World War II within the National Curriculum, having already explored the contents of our Loan Boxes of artefacts. Each child has a “flight” and receives a signed-off small map, generated by the pen-carrying, linked “crab” navigating a large map on the operator’s desk - often the pen prescribes a line seemingly by a tipsy spider but it still pleases the young “pilot”.
Our small team of members who work under our Education Officer, Pam Veale, greatly enjoy taking part in our Reminiscence Programme of visits to residential care homes and the like, with selected memorabilia to rekindle memories and promote conversation. It could easily be a full-time job, from the grateful responses received and the number of requests that come in all year round.
Following on from the success of members Colin Breach and Ray Kidd restoring the cockpit of our Avro Anson, the fuselage interior was gutted and all new fabric purchased for a complete refit. This is a daunting task being undertaken by member David Dawson, which includes restoration work on the structure, replacing missing items, and totally recovering the interior with material as per the original style; albeit not with a perfect match to the old fabric. The warmer weather will improve working conditions and completion might be achieved by the end of the year but we need some internal fittings including seat covers. Member Al Forman has steadily toiled to return the Canberra B(I).8 nose to external completeness by making missing hatch covers, repairing the main door, and properly fixing the Perspex nose. We hope to turn our attention to the interior later on, and source/fit missing components. The engineer from Hornby Airfix took photos and measurements a couple of years ago to assist with its new model kit of the type, being that it is now very rare.
We shall shortly start the annual wash-down of aircraft outdoors and select those for painting under our three-year repaint cycle; the Canberra T.4 is a likely candidate for one. During last year, several aircraft were repainted by Peter Nobb’s team including the Javelin, Hunter and Trojan. We tend to keep schemes original rather than experiment with different styles/identities. One or two new aircraft arrivals are a possibility for outdoor display, but most of the remaining grass areas need to be retained as numerous events take place each year and many involve exhibitors with vehicles, engines, tents, stalls, etc. These occasions are an important part of our links with the local community and preservation groups – they also help to raise funds.
Storage and work areas require suitable buildings and when it is not possible to build for new, it usually means buying materials to refurbish existing structures or try to purchase something nearly the right size and shape. The Restoration Area was created when the 1937 Boulton & Paul Hangar was moved from the defunct Ipswich Airport, and we already had a large workshop on site but last year we invested in four metal-clad transportable buildings to replace slightly smaller ones in wood as they were near the end of their life. We now have a neat line of matching buildings that meet all our storage needs and require little maintenance. We have identified the need for a future development in the shape of a two-story and multi-use building for display, archives, and provisions of a meeting/education room as our current office is small.
We now look forward to a more relaxed year in order to draw breath and build up the coffers!
It is now February 2010 with rain sometimes replacing snow but the warm and sunny weather seems far away. Looking back, activities during the year varied greatly owing to the wide variation in our weather, and the demands of running a museum occupying a large rural site, (where trimming the grass and scrub is as important as attending to exhibits) but our stalwart volunteers persevered with outdoor and indoor tasks. Visitors were also undeterred and we saw a 10% increase over 2008 to exceed 35,000. The Buck Inn next to our front gate enjoyed the growth in trade on these occasions but a couple of times had to turn away disappointed customers. Many visitors to the museum plan for a whole day and it is very convenient to have the public house on our doorstep for a nice lunch and/or dinner; local bed-and-breakfast venues also do well. For those of a certain age it might be of interest that Alan Breeze, the singer in the Billy Cotton Band, owned the pub from 1959 to 1975. His daughter Michele has just written a fascinating biography of her father (The Singer In The Band), including their life in Flixton, and this private publication is on sale from the museum shop at £8.99 plus UK postage of £2.
The major project of the year was the construction of a new display hall - named the Ken Wallis Hall in honour of our President of 34 years - which provides almost an extra 5,000 sq. feet. 50% of the funding came from museum reserves, adding to grants from several bodies including Suffolk County Council, plus donations from visitors and members. The final fitting out was achieved just before the Christmas break. We are now moving exhibits around to relieve congestion in the two hangars and leaving sufficient space for future exhibits we know about, including a Battle of Britain Hurricane fuselage. The most important entrant so far is the restored Wallbro Monoplane replica - the original was built Ken’s father and uncle between 1908 and 1910 and flew near Cambridge. This building work also provided the opportunity to create two new parking areas, the main one being adjacent to the Adair Walk entrance; this is our raised boardwalk through a Willow plantation down to the river Waveney and named after the Adair family. (The magnificent Flixton Hall was the Adair Family Seat until it was demolished in the 1950s - nowadays it would have been preserved.) The first section of the walk is an “avenue of remembrance” for members and visitors who have lost loved-ones and like to plant memorial trees.
A much smaller extension was built next to the shop. Previously a parking spot for the Mercury aircraft tug, the area was boarded up and roofed to create a new display area and it houses an impressive “Modeller’s Room” - contents circa 1950/1960s - plus there are large displays of aviation badges and patches. The room will be very familiar to visitors who are of the age to have enjoyed such activities during those years as it contains a large selection of aircraft kits and many types of aircraft models to illustrate how materials and construction methods have changed. Shelves and the floor are crammed with the stuff that young boys collected and treasured during these times. Not an iPod or Wii in sight and young visitors can sometimes be heard to wonder how children survived in those days without them! The room compliments the 1940s cottage interior and WWII Home Front display area that were constructed last year, and received very imaginative displays by Huby Fairhead. Much of the space in the new extension to our Air-Sea Rescue building is already taken up with a large collection of models of ASR high speed launches, and another extension is not beyond possibility in time.
A team spent most of the year working on the exterior of our Vickers Valetta to combat some corrosion, and to repaint the aircraft. Research produced details of the emergency/first aid contents of the compartment in the main door; we are grateful to RAF Museum Cosford, plus visitors Graham Seymour and Stan Dixon for their help. Many years ago we acquired an undercarriage leg and tyre from the North East Aircraft Museum (NEAM) when their Valetta example was vandalised so were pleased to offer it to the Vintage Aircraft Club at Basle Airport, Switzerland, so that their impressive restoration of Vickers Viking G-AIVG could, literally, get off the ground! The aircraft lost both undercarriage legs in a landing accident in 1953 and the search for the ultra rare replacement components had been abandoned. A member of the group made contact and asked if we could identify an engineer who might undertake the difficult task of making a new set so I was happy to declare what we had in storage. NEAM has agreed to release the leg and, once this is delivered to us at Flixton, transportation to Basle will be organised. Needless to say, our new friends in Basle are very excited at the prospect of the aircraft supporting itself again in the near future after so many years, and the world will gain a fine example of a rare breed thanks to their superb efforts.
It has been our pleasure to provide assistance overseas in other ways in recent months. Ray Kidd, our Link Trainer guru has provided technical help to the new Sri Lanka Air Force Museum to enable their D4 variant of this early pilot training aid to function. He also provided similar guidance to several UK collections, along with some components. An unusual example of the Link Trainer was offered to us by a person in Argentina but transportation would be too costly for us to consider. We were also approached by the FWA at Fort Rinella in Malta for a Royal Observer Corps plotting instrument and table, an urgent need to complete a new display on the RAF/Observer Corps activities in Malta during WWII. Ray Allard the Keeper of our ROC collection (and ex-ROC member) was pleased to gift a complete example he owned and will be a guest in Malta later in the year.
During the warmer months, members took on the regular task of repainting several aircraft presently outdoors, having attended to any deterioration beforehand, and the V-bomber trio of cockpits received attention. The Vulcan main door was repaired, damaged glazing replaced, then the nose stripped, repaired and repainted. Both the Victor and Valiant noses gained wheeled stands for better access and viewing. Much needs to be done with the latter, which is more or less only a flight deck, but all three will ultimately regain equipment and fittings presently in store. The cockpit of the Avro Anson was emptied so that a thorough inspection could take place. Non-relevant instruments and equipment were removed and authentic replacements sourced. Sections of the wooden interior required replacement as they were of inferior quality from a very early restoration attempt, although the best that could be achieved some 30 years ago when the derelict/damaged airframe was rescued from Norwich Airport. Work will continue this year by member Colin Breach - resting from working on the Link Trainers - and we look forward to the cockpit being restored to its original layout.
Member David Dawson stripped the replica Wallbro Monoplane, replaced damaged fabric and fittings where necessary, repainted it Cambridge Blue as per the original and re-assembled it. I am grateful to Mike Petty who carefully researched copies of Cambridge newspapers from 1908 (when the brothers started on their quest) for reports on the original Wallbro Monoplane and several were found in 1909 and 1910. From one extract I was able to pin down the first flight (albeit un-intentioned it seems!) to 4 July 1910 so we plan to celebrate the centenary this year with input from the builder/pilot of the superb replica, Wing Commander Ken Wallis. The loss of the flying machine, due to a fierce storm that demolished the hangar and contents, was probably the one reported in December of that year. The design was unusual and perhaps the first in the UK to employing steel tube (the material used by the builders for their flourishing motorcycle business) for the fuselage, and the wings incorporate ailerons, when wing-warping was much more the norm.
David Dawson also took on the task of completing the build, and painting of “161” - the prototype amphibian home-build aircraft created by the late Bill Goldfinch (of Colditz Glider design fame) and taxied just before is death. The British Aviation Preservation Council registered it as BAPC 302 during the year. In accordance with Bill’s recorded wishes, it is now painted silver and blue, and the stylised badge of the 69th Infantry Division US Army is on the fin (? also television’s Sgt Bilko’s shoulder patch) - they liberated Colditz Castle in April 1945. There are more details in earlier reports but this number was simply adopted from the numbered plans Bill had obtained for making the Jodel-style wings. The fuselage and float designs owe much to the Loening OA-1 and Grumman Duck. His daughter Susan and some old friends hope to visit this year to view it.
Bill was not one to talk about “the war” so his personal details are scarce but he was made a prisoner-of-war after his Sunderland flying boat crashed off Greece. He was in numerous German camps before Colditz, including Stalag Luft III (featured in the film “The Great Escape”) and I hope to research information. We have a large collection of photographs taken in several camps, mostly concert parties and sporting events in Stalag Luft III, so he may be present. Something of Bill’s story was featured in Wingspan International No.1 (July/August 2000) and we hope to acquire a copy.
Pucara A-528 Toto Juan also received a lot of attention to remove corrosion still active from the sea passage as deck cargo from the Falklands back in 1982. Some skin panels have been replaced, and member Al Forman has almost completely rebuilt the rudder. It is a very striking aeroplane and we have tried to retain an authentic camouflage scheme from photographs taken on capture, except that a couple of small areas on the tail and rudder, that had been missed by the Argentine AF during the conflict, have been painted by us for protection. Thanks to John Allen of Poole for pictures of the aircraft on board.
Ken Huckle has now almost completed his recreation of the cockpit/nose of Canberra PR3 WE168, installing all the original equipment and instruments salvage by the previous owner when his cherished possession was vandalised some years ago. This is on a wheeled frame and has been built as a walk/sit-in exhibit for visitors. We are grateful to Doug J Smith who sent photographs showing the sad destruction of this gate-guardian aircraft at Manston in March 1990.
Work on some of our vehicles commenced late in the year and will last for a few more months. Our second Mercury tug (Chassis number 5045 and circa early 1950s) possibly used for airport baggage trains, and a heavy version of the Clarkat (ex WWII USAAF) are presently in bits for complete restoration; the latter will certainly be back in running order. Most of the work is split between David Dawson, Terry Elvy, Bob Palfreman and Roger Hellen. Our early example of the heli-portable Aktiv Snowtrack FFR ST4 tracked cargo vehicle was also given a run to keep it in trim. This was fully restored for us a few years back by Philip Chatfield and re-painted in original Arctic 45 Commando livery – his father had been responsible in the Royal Marines for developing transport and general hardware for the Corps from the 50s to the 70s and had much to do with such vehicles.
Events during the year were very well attended, with one or two at full capacity for car parking. A growing number of car clubs are attracted to our site and what it offers, with their vehicles being admired by visitors. Club members can also enjoy the surroundings plus a full lunch in the Buck Inn. Our biggest annual event is RAFA Day – see events page – with up to 4,000 people attending. The ROC “At Home” Day in September runs a close second. We have never charged admission to the museum or events but do encourage donations.
Pam Veale our Education Officer has roped in colleagues to help with the growing number of school visits, usually following receipt of a Loan Box from us full of WWII memorabilia. Children follow a set programme that includes entry to the Valetta (rear facing seats always confuses them!) and Sea Prince for presentations, ending with a “flight” in a Link Trainer. They cherish the authenticated map we give them afterwards, showing the route of their “flight” as recorded by the “crab”; often similar to the track of a tipsy spider! Being asked to lead a workshop at Duxford this month shows that Pam’s efforts are worthwhile and can encourage growing interest by other museums in adopting such activities. Our visits to residential care homes take place whenever possible and the feedback from them shows that the few hours spent by members with a selection of WWII Home Front and personal artefacts generate interest and conversation for days after we have left. All very rewarding.
Member Telford Thompson set about acquiring flying club/unit badges and patches from around the world, and concentrated upon the Civil Air Patrol in the U.S. As the museum possesses a rare Fairchild F.24 C8F that served on Base 17 of the CAP during WWII on East Coast protection duties, and has restored it as such, perhaps this helped because the interest shown by the CAP has been truly phenomenal. We are extremely grateful for this support and the background display to accompany the aircraft will be magnificent - thus educating visitors on the heroic role performed by the volunteer civilian pilots in the early days that laid the foundation for the impressive national organisation that exists today.
Whilst comments so far have been positive and on a high note, it is sad to record the passing of Alan Hague, our Curator for many years. Alan was one of our earliest members and made a considerable contribution over the years that followed. His very great interest was the history of the 446th Bomb Group USAAF, one-time residents in WWII of the local Flixton/Bungay airfield - his knowledge of the subject was formidable - and he continued to care for the artefacts in our 446th BG Museum building up to his last visit late in the year. He will be greatly missed by us all. Huby Fairhead is now our museum Curator, and Lester Curtis dons the role of being the main contact for the 446th BG Association across the pond, representing us at their annual reunions each May.
A disappointing occasion in 2010 will be the demise of the excellent courses provided under the British Aviation Preservation Council banner. The Lottery-funded National Aviation Heritage Skills Initiative team, generously
accommodated on Duxford airfield by the IWM, expects to fold around mid-year if a new funding source (or sources) cannot be found soon. These City & Guilds accredited courses cover a vast range of aviation subjects, including Metal Skin Repairs, Fabric Repairs, Wooden Aircraft Repairs, Aircraft Structures, Dismantling & Assembly, Jacking/Lifting & Towing. Nowhere else can the aviation museum volunteer (often enthusiastic but unskilled) gain such knowledge (safely) outside of the Services or the aircraft industry. Several of our members have achieved 10 City & Guilds passes as a result and many others a lesser number. Should an aviation-minded benefactor read this plea, who can spare £100k-200k over the next 5 years or so and would wish to help improve the skills of the many unpaid volunteers who give vital support to museums/collections that preserve this country’s rich aviation heritage, then please step forward as soon as possible before all is lost!
Finally, we were awarded full Museum Accredited status by the Museums Libraries Archives Council late in the year and this national mark of excellence was received with great satisfaction.
2008 turned out to be yet another difficult year for outdoor projects but volunteers have become acclimatised and persevered by adding another layer of clothing! The climate did not deter visitors, however, and a total of 35,000 came through the gates - the highest annual figure to-date. Our website has always been popular and our IT manager Lester Curtis adds pages as we find time to produce new material. In 2008 it received over 1 million “hits” for the first time.
Aircraft on display outdoors normally receive a clean and wash down at least once a year, and a repaint every three. Washing was not a problem but the weather did reduce the amount of painting and other work that could be undertaken. It was decided that the FMA Pucara A-528 (Toto Juan) would be tackled but not before re-skinning the under-surface of the forward fuselage and wings.
Some areas had been tackled in earlier years but there remained large sections that were steadily getting worse. The damage was caused by seawater exposure on the voyage from the Falklands as open deck cargo. Peter Nobbs, Gwen Jackson and David Dawson set about the task over several weeks before the first primer could be applied. Painting then took place on the better workdays that followed well into the Autumn, whilst Alan Haynes re-painted the Super Sabre. Al Forman is presently rebuilding the Pucara rudder following Winter storm damage. The Czech MiG-15bis (S-103 - 623794/5630022) has been painted silver to protect the natural surface whilst on open display, and the missing radio aerial pylon, pitot and intake blanks have been replicated as originals were not likely to be found; mock cannon barrels will follow. The aircraft served with 1.slp (1 Fighter Air Regiment) and we are not aware that it carried a unit badge on the nose. The starboard side is painted in its original Czech Air Force markings but the port side now carries Polish national markings and the fictitious number 1972. (This is simply the year the Museum was formed). This aircraft acts as a memorial to those personnel killed from both countries whilst serving with the RAF in World War II.
The major rewiring exercise throughout the site is nearing completion for our electricians Brian, John, Norman and David, led by Ivan Last but new jobs are keeping the team very busy. The extension mentioned last year, between the two display buildings beyond the Shop, was completed by Spring and now houses a large collection of WWII Home Front memorabilia, including examples of Anderson and Morrison shelters, plus a display of 1940s household/personal items and workshop tools. This area has been a great attraction for children on school visits, and also those old enough to be familiar with the items in real life; this display was the inspiration of our Company Secretary: Huby Fairhead and follows on from others he has done such as RAF Decoy Crews. The objects on view promote a lot of discussion by both groups; one not believing it was possible to exist without running hot water, iPods and mobile phones - the other remembering wartime life as full of hardships and heartbreaks and surviving enemy bombs and rockets.
As soon as this extension was completed, Ken Huckle and David Hardisty set about constructing an annex to the RAF Coastal Command & Air-Sea Rescue building. Keeper David Wright had expressed the need for urgent expansion of display space as artefacts were being donated on a regular basis, including many superb models of marine craft in service. The room is now complete and display cabinets built to fit by the “chippy” duo of Ron Ward and Tony Roberts are filling up. The building has gone from an “L” shape to a “T”, and there is space for another extension in due time. During the Summer we were approached by regional officials of the Air-Sea Rescue & Marine Craft Club with the offer of a story-board about the origin and history of the service. A brief presentation ceremony took place in September and we received a superb display board for mounting outdoors on a special stand near to the entrance to the ASR collection. It provides visitors with a pocket history of ASR activities, and illustrates the high-speed boats used.
Later in the year we may well start an extension to the 446th Bomb Group USAAF building - the unit based on the Bungay/Flixton airfield nearby during WWII (followed in turn by units of the Fleet Air Arm and the RAF). Again, the need for more display room is the reason and our Curator (Alan Hague) has now exhausted what was available despite imaginative use of space. During the year, Alan co-produced a new soft-cover book on the 446th (ISBN 0-9551916-8-8) which is packed with photographs and most have not been in print before. The Royal Observer Corps collection has managed to expand slightly and this was achieved for Keeper Ray Allard by cabinets being carefully made to fit space available by the “chippy” team. Porches have also been added to most buildings to protect entrance doors from rain. David Hardisty and Alan Parker have spent recent weeks replacing the units and counters in the “NAAFI” cafeteria area in readiness for a new season.
The open storage area between the Shop and the first display building is now being roofed over to create another small display room to gain more space; part of it was a corridor link between buildings and the rest had been parking space for the aircraft tug. The major building work this year, however, will be the Ken Wallis Hall and this will start during February on land between the two hangars, so a great deal of tidying up has taken place. We are very grateful for support, in the form of donations and grants amounting to 50% of project costs, from Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Environmental Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, EON Productions, the Mercers’ Charitable Foundation, plus members and visitors. (And a “raspberry” to those un-named organisations who turned us down!) This L-shaped building will provide much needed space for larger exhibits presently in cramped space, and a future home for Ken’s aviation collection and inventions.
Since buying our 8-acre site in the early 1980s, the Museum has added buildings every couple of years because of the rate at which artefacts have been donated and aircraft acquired, coupled with the policy not to place items in storage if it can be avoided. According to Museum Archivist Paddy Potter, ably assisted by Dr Ray Seel, the Museum database has just clocked up details of 60 aircraft and 25,000 artefacts on display. Research is undertaken by them to answer visitors questions and website enquirers when possible, using the contents of the Museum’s library and archives, or are passed to other members such as Val Grimble who additionally refer to their personal data collections.
Copies of the 4th Edition of my biography of our President, Wing Commander Ken Wallis MBE DEng PhD(hc) CEng FRAeS FSETP FInsTA(hc) RAF (Ret’d) -The Lives of Ken Wallis – Engineer And Aviator Extraordinaire - ISBN 978-0-954123-4-9 - sold out early in the year so I was able to update it and the 4th Revised Edition became available mid-year. I have now just about covered Ken’s very eventful life story (I prefer to refer to his “lives” as there seems far to much for one person to have achieved!) but there is always something to add as he never relaxes so each edition grows by a few pages. If you haven’t got the book yet then do buy a copy in support of Museum funds (see our SHOP page) and read about this extraordinary man, described by many in very affectionate terms, including: a local hero; a national treasure; an inspiration; a great role model; a true English gentleman. Knighthoods have been awarded to much less deserving men. As a great ambassador for this country, and setting a total of 34 World Records in two classes of autogyro, I have to wonder what it will take for him to be properly recognised by the State and am not alone in pursuing the relevant department.
Ken is most famous for his autogyro invention, and his “Little Nellie” aerial action scenes as James Bond in “You Only Live Twice” are always exciting to watch. He has worked on other feature films and undertaken considerable film and television documentary work, plus many assignments both here and overseas with aircraft from his fleet of autogyros, selected for the array of special equipment each one carries. The range of tasks undertaken is very broad and include assisting the Home Office, Police, participating in military exercises, landing aircraft on marine craft, surveillance, archaeological research, aerial photography, detection of underground oil/water pipe leaks/the Lock Ness monster/buried bodies. As a schoolboy, Ken built motorcycles in his father’s workshop but progressed onto building powerboats in his teens where he gained some notoriety for his powerful boats and racing skills; designing, building and converting different types of sports cars followed before he was attracted by the “lure of the air”, starting with a Flying Flea - or “non-flying” as it turned out! He flew many different aircraft in the RAF during and post-WWII, particularly the Wellington bomber when he served in Bomber command, and more types during a two-year posting to the US Strategic Air Command - the giant B-36 for example with an atom bomb on board during the Cold War era. He served on the first Canberra bomber station and had to develop aspects of the aircraft arming procedures to make it properly operational. Post-war enemy armament testing and weapons development tied in nicely with his pre-war competition shooting interests until he decided to retire from the RAF in 1964 to develop his autogyro invention which he first flew in 1959.
Several of his other inventions can still be seen in his hangar at Reymerston Hall, including miniature cameras and the first slot-car racing track with front-steering, electric-motor racing cars. He built his first track and cars in 1942, using the blackout board from the window of his billet as the track base, and it became a very popular off-duty pursuit for him and his squadron colleagues during the latter part of WWII - he will happily demonstrate these front-wheel steering cars to visitors on an old track in his hangar. When he returned in 1957 from a two-year posting to the SAC in the US, he found that earlier arrangements he had made with a friend and proposed business partner, for Patents to be applied for, had not been properly followed through and his system had been publicised in his absence. He promptly submitted a Provisional Application to the Patent Office but did not pursue the venture as he was busy with other things. It is interesting to note that the “Scalextric” slot-car racing game appeared at the 1957 Toy Fair and soon became an international, commercial success, although the cars not as controllable as Ken’s design.
Our restored WWII Mk1a RAF Airborne Lifeboat (number MKVIII) is now on display, correctly painted two-tone blue, and David Dawson has gone as far as he can at the moment. It is minus the protective covers fore and aft as these would obscure most of the deck and fittings. Our professional “artist on call” member, John Constable Reeve, kindly painted a scene in oils of a Warwick aircraft in flight with such a boat attached to the fuselage so that visitors can understand how it all worked. Dummy rockets, lockers and equipment on deck provide a good illustration of fittings and purpose. We are not aware of another example displayed in WWII operational finish. David has continued restoring our Luton Major and instruments and fittings are being added for completeness. He has also constructed engine bearers and cowling so we are on the look-out for a non-running Walter Mikron I or II engine. In between these, two new microlight acquisitions received his attention: he repaired the canard nose of the Goldwing - given to us following a prang - and tidied up the Skycraft Scout 2 once Colin Pearce had cleaned and re-assembled the engine. Neither aircraft can be displayed fully-assembled at the moment owing to the lack of space.
We were very pleased to be given the Goldfinch Amphibian “161”, built by the late Bill Goldfinch with assistance from Tony Butler down at Old Sarum. Bill’s thinking was greatly influenced by the US Loening aircraft of the 1920s and the Grumman Duck.
He saw a gap in the homebuild market and hoped that his design would be the basis for a commercial venture one day. Sadly, Bill died after its first taxi and before it was completely finished. We intend to complete “161” in the near future and then it can be fully assembled for display in Bill’s memory. Bill was captured in WWII when his RAF Sunderland flying boat crashed off Greece and the hospital he was in fell into enemy hands. An avid escaper, he was moved from Stalag Luft I to Stalag Luft III, and then to Colditz Castle where he designed the famous “Colditz Cock” two-seat glider. We have an airworthy replica of this at Flixton.
Ken Huckle has made great progress with his construction from scratch of a PR3 Canberra nose/cockpit to provide a visitor walk/sit-in exhibit. We had most of the cockpit equipment/instrumentation from WE168 in store so it will be nice to bring it all together again.
Terry Elvy, Bob Palfreman, Roger Hellen and Vic Banham were very active making/welding an assortment of metal frames to support various exhibits, cockpit access stairs, replacement axle stands for several aircraft, and reassembling the restored Pundit Light. Arthur Banyard and Brian McKenzie battled the elements (and moles) to keep all the grass areas trimmed and the Adair Walk neat and tidy, and now they are both equipped with ride-on mowers. Arthur also writes up the Risk Assessments for all major tasks undertaken on site by members, and adds to the list as required. Brian Staff cleaned and re-stained all the outdoor seats, and painted several of the single-story buildings.
Morris Jackman helped on many displays and exhibits to improve their appearance, and Les Wright spent much of the year tidying and repainting the large, mobile Bloodhound radar unit for visitors to enter once it is moved into position. Ray Kidd and Colin Breach, our radar/radio/electronics gurus regularly instruct and maintain the Link Trainers, clean/assemble technical display equipment and fill any gaps found in aircraft cockpit fittings. The Anson C.19, Valetta and Sea Prince in particular have received a lot of attention of late. A visitor from RAF Cosford was able to identify our Nubian Foam Tender with a Rolls-Royce engine as a fairly rare Mk.7, which was tested by the RAF in the 1960s but rejected, so we shall return the vehicle to its red paint scheme (still evident in places) and attempt to trace the registration. Two civilian fire engines are parked on site as the owners have no display facilities, and a third is expected.
Our schools’ activities programme saw a very good take-up from both counties during the year and groups stay for up to a whole day.
Members guide groups of children through a range of WWII and aviation-related subjects and activities, using the larger aircraft (such as the Valetta and Sea Prince) as classrooms, the hangars and the Home Front exhibits - with the children hiding in the Anderson Shelter during a mock air raid. Visits usually end up with “flights” on the Link Trainers. Loan Boxes full of aviation/WWII artefacts are also popular for in-class discussion, including WWII childhood memories written by members; they can then meet some of the authors on a visit and ply them with questions. Some of the children are surprised to find that the authors are now in their 70s and 80s. In view of the enthusiastic response, Pam Veale our Education Officer arranged for over 30 personal stories to be published in book-form with contemporary photographs (Wartime Childhood Memories 1939-1945 - ISBN 978-0-9541239-5-6 at £9.99) for sale in the Shop and elsewhere.
The positive feedback from schools on our Loan Boxes generated the idea for similar artefacts to be taken by members to residential care homes and hospices for the residents to handle. The contents help stimulate discussion and offer a brief diversion for those who perhaps have little opportunity to vary their daily routine. Nostalgia is a great “key” to opening up locked-away memories. Grants from MLA and Suffolk County Council support the scheme and allowed for the purchase of examples of some personal items and replica gas masks. For some years now, Beaver and Cub Scouts have been invited to the museum when members of the public are not admitted to spend a day exploring aircraft, to learn about aviation generally and complete a quiz. They also use the day to qualify for their air experience badge, and over 200 attended during the year.
I realise that not all activities or all volunteers have been mentioned in this short report but their support is none the less vital to our success and therefore much appreciated. We have a great bunch of volunteers who staff the NAAFI, fundraising bricabrac stalls, sales points on event days and the shop - our main sources of income - and help around the site in different ways. Maurice Hammond also kindly provided flypasts in one of his Mustangs on several event days. We are naturally grateful to members of the public who donate artefacts or contribute items for fundraising. We even have support from a resident of Ashgrove, Queensland in Australia (Joyce Murray, a family friend) who has visited a couple of times. Joyce collects stamps from friends, seals them in packets and sends them to us for sale in the Shop. Good on yer, sport!
We may be an aviation museum but our chores and needs go far beyond simply displaying aircraft and aviation artefacts - many different skills are called upon. It is sometimes hard for people to believe that we have only one employee and do not charge admission but we are certainly not alone in what we do. Other regional collections and museums, not just in aviation, are very numerous throughout the UK and greatly outnumber the government-supported National Collections. They reflect something perhaps special about this country and the selfless determination of its people to preserve their rich and diverse heritage, often without any financial support from official bodies.
2007 was one of the worst years to-date for outdoor working, owing to rain very often on the days most of our volunteers’ regularly attend. The new entrance road bridge was completed early in the year but general site maintenance was a headache with a lot of wet grass around, and work on those of our aircraft displayed outdoors was greatly reduced. Fortunately, the minority of our airframes reside there, although they tend to be the larger ones. Our Javelin FAW.9R did receive a lot of attention and a repaint, and over the Winter months the Sea Vixen FAW.1 was moved forward onto new concrete pads, and raised up on new axle stands. The resident rabbit and mole population had caused the original pads to sink slightly after many years but the move provides a better view of this important type. Similar work was carried out for the Super Sabre and both aircraft are on the list for repainting; the Mystere and T-33 have both been fitted with new nosewheel stands. We are looking around for some working platforms to provide better access to the larger airframes, particularly the Valetta, plus perhaps a second-hand “cherrypicker” of sorts if in good order and not too expensive.
Our Guide Book is presently being updated by Bob Cossey for Easter - after only two years it is very out-of-date about our collection and what we are doing at Flixton. Certainly our Archivist, Paddy Potter, has recorded a significant growth over this period in the number of items donated and aircraft acquired (total artefacts on display now top 23,000 and airframes total 60 including cockpits). The full list of aircraft held is produced elsewhere in the website but 2007 saw the following arrive: a Belgian Hunter F6 cockpit; a Jet Provost T.3A, a MiG-15bis (Czech C-103), plus microlights: Eurowing Goldwing and Skycraft/Flylite Super Scout 250. Owing to space restrictions we had to turn down some other offers. We plan to repaint the MiG-15bis in dual Czech and Polish markings as a memorial to aircrew from these nations who escaped from enemy occupation but lost their lives serving with the RAF in WWII; the general public seems largely unaware of these sacrifices. We are in need of a radio aerial pylon and a pitot to make the airframe look more complete - an engine would be nice too. We also gained a Redifon Jet Provost simulator but will have to make up power packs.
Owing to leaks, it became necessary for Ken Huckle to design and construct a new roof for our old steel-framed workshop, which is around 10m square, plus install a new floor. This gave the impetus for a thorough sort of items held under the heading of “it might come in handy” and several skips were filled as a result. Spare aircraft components are now being examined and identified, to be held in a single storage building. A major rewiring exercise has been going on in several buildings over several months by our “sparks” team led by Ivan Last. Preparations for the proposed Ken Wallis Hall have been making steady progress since the design was changed so that a much larger structure is now possible. Several generous donations have been received and, whilst grants are being pursued, we are having discussions with contractors for a mid-year start.
The larger building will also house some of our larger non-aircraft exhibits, including perhaps the JP simulator, wind tunnel models, Shackleton Ward Room section, several Tornado fault-finding computer training screens, air transportable over-snow tracked vehicle, a missile display, the walk-in Canberra PR.3 cockpit reproduction presently under construction, and a WWII Mk1a Airborne Lifeboat (number MKVIII) flown by Warwicks. We acquired the boat (a hull shell) from a Norfolk collector during the year, in derelict condition, and after due consideration set a budget for restoration work. Our own collection of ASR drawings did not extend to providing information on a rebuild but, thanks to copies from the RAF Museum, very good results have been achieved by David Dawson. Whilst original materials could not always be used, it now has a deck, gunwales, lockers, fittings and a mast; other missing components are being sourced or replicated. Few of these early boats exist these days so it is pleasing to have one for display to illustrate another important section of RAF history. Unfortunately, it is too big to place inside our ASR display building, which is already bursting at the seams with artefacts; we hope to extend this building this year to accommodate more small items and boat models.
The annual visitor total for the year was again just over 30,000, and special events during the year were well attended. We run a number of annual events so these dates are pre-set for 2008 but we are happy to be approached by organisations interested in using our site especially on a Sunday - see the Events page on this site. Vintage/veteran vehicle gatherings are particularly popular - having the Buck Inn next door is attractive for its good menu. Flypasts by member Maurice Hammond in his Mustang, plus others, provide very welcome added attractions and demonstrate aircraft in their natural element - in the air. Our President, Wing Commander Ken Wallis, often over-flies in one of his autogyros and undertakes aerial photography for us. On event days he is usually surrounded by enthusiastic visitors, often viewing his James Bond “Little Nellie” example. She is to be placed on loan, for a year from April, to the Imperial War Museum in London for static display within the proposed Ian Fleming exhibition - the creator of James Bond.
My biography of Ken (“The Lives Of Ken Wallis”), the enlarged 4th Edition published in 2007, is on sale in our Shop and already heading for a reprint - there are a few copies left of a special “flown & signed” Limited Edition. Ken was the subject of a documentary by NTV Moscow in October and we entertained a camera crew and reporter for a day. Most of the filming took place in and above (using a helmet camera) Ken’s hangar at Reymerston Hall in Norfolk, with some footage at Flixton, and I provided some commentary on our Colditz glider for a different episode of the series. They plan to return to feature the museum in a future episode of this aviation series. We display Ken’s flyable replica of the “Wallbro” Monoplane, which he built in the 1970s, so this was of interest to them, plus our large collection generally. The original “Wallbro” was constructed between 1908 and 1910 near Cambridge by his father and uncle. It made a few hops before a storm wrecked its hangar and contents. Sugg’s weekly ITV London programme also featured Ken early in February but reference to him surviving a parachute jump from a Wellington crash-landing in WWII brought a smile to Ken’s lips. An official from Slovenia came to see us earlier in the year to gather information to aid the creation of a national aviation collection in his own country. The value of volunteers’ support was emphasised!
Our Education Officer - Pam Veale - has been particularly busy over recent months compiling Loan Boxes, filled with interesting and educational aviation items for local schools to examine, and organising their structured visits to the museum to study WWII artefacts. Numerous hands-on gadgets have been made by Ray Kidd to help explain things such as Morse Code, Field telephones and airborne radios; the contents of a survival pack always fascinates the pupils. Several members talk of their personal experiences as civilians surviving enemy bombs, and others of flying operations - we use the Valetta as a classroom for added interest. Ray Allard explains the role of the ROC, David Wright speaks on the work of the ASR, and Alan Hague recalls the operations undertaken by the local 446th Bomb Group USAAF. Our Link Trainer team led by Ray Kidd is on duty these days as a “flight” by the children is seen as the climax of the visit. For the less adventurous, we have converted our fourth Link - a static ANT-18 - to take a computer screen with a flight simulation program.
The Link units are located in our Link Room, which is intended to reflect Service training. It is full of WWII and later items, many sectioned components, aerial targets, large-scale models of RAF training aircraft, plus a large collection of working gun sights for visitors to line up on aircraft silhouettes. A display of Queen Bee components is being assembled at the moment and light entertainment is provided by a wartime R1155. There was not enough room for our K Type Camera Training Gun so it is now sited near the Morse Key table in No.1 Hangar - blasting a plastic aircraft high in the roof via our laser sight modification attracts not just children; the fathers have to thoroughly test it first! A very popular exercise has been to gather childhood memories of World War II from members and visitors for children to read - some of the authors are then on site to answer their questions. We think that it is worthy of publication and this may happen later in the year. Our website is regularly updated with new information by Lester Curtis, who also arranges dedicated Cub Scout days for them to gain their Air Activity badge.
Our new and large display of bombsights is an added attraction in the Bomber Command building, plus there has been an expansion of exhibits in the 446th Bomb Group building. The ROC collection has also seen a modest increase in artefacts, and the planned expansion of the ASR collection is covered above. A permanent task for some of us is to keep up with researching visitors’ queries, and the identification and captioning of artefacts for display. Visitors appreciate being able to read about an item, and ask questions of members. Very occasionally we learn that our information is incomplete and it is good to talk to someone with first-hand knowledge. We find it very valuable to have a permanent “artist in residence” and our Joint Hon. Vice President - John Constable Reeve - performs this role to perfection. If we need an oil or watercolour depicting an aircraft or event, a backdrop to a display, or an heraldic design applied, John can provide it at short notice if he is not undertaking a commission. The aviation wall decorations in our ladies’ toilet are unique, albeit unsigned!
Display space is always a problem owing to the growth of our collection but owning our 7.5-acre site does make things easier when new buildings are called for. Apart from what has been mentioned above, and other long-term development thoughts, we have nearly finished extending an area between two existing display rooms beyond the Shop - originally a linking corridor - to full building width. Part of this new area will show Anderson and Morrison shelters, plus contemporary Home Front items, to cater for school visits in particular. Huby Fairhead has already assembled a large display of household items relevant to a 1940s cottage and these bygones promote a lot of interest with children and adults alike. Remember the tin bath on a Friday night? Our site is not all dedicated to aviation - a couple of acres is a Willow plantation and a raised boardwalk provides a pleasant stroll down to the river Waveney. Huby keeps an eye on this and provides identification of small plants that spring up in addition to the main caption boards covering birds, reptiles, etc.
Our Spitfire XVI fuselage, recreated from the original skin panels/components of TD248 when being returned to flying condition, is an ongoing project. Whilst the cockpit interior is slowly gaining original instruments, a control column is being assembled by Ken Huckle from original and new components; rarity and cost prohibits this being entirely original. If there is a generous person out there, however, ……….! The wings and tail feathers of our restored Luton Major (G-APUG) are presently being cleaned and varnished by Derek Small in readiness for mounting in un-covered condition to show the method of construction - something few museums think of doing but is of great interest to visitors. The missing undercarriage will be constructed from GA drawings in due course. The Civil Air Patrol, Fairchild F24 C8F (NC16676) has not been advanced further apart from re-covering and painting both wings. Re-stocking the cockpit of Lightning DB/F1 (XG329) is progressing and we are sticking to its one-time F.1 configuration as near as possible. Missing instrument panels need to be remade and cockpit photographs were kindly supplied by RAF Cosford of the only other Development Batch complete example surviving in the UK (XG337); it is now suspended on high in the Cold War Exhibition.
Our restored Pundit Light has almost gained back all its components, and new mudguards have been sourced. The Civil Defence Signal Office (Small) has been inside for the Winter and retains much of its original interior. This acts as a base for amateur radio activities, plus the annual gathering of VMARS members in May. We have mounted it on a wheeled chassis for towing in the absence of a Thames Fordson lorry body being available.
The three V-bomber cockpits on loan have not received much attention but our members have made new door-lock components for the Vulcan so that security can be restored and all equipment moved back inside. Wheeled stands have been acquired by the owners of the Victor and Valiant, and the task of converting them to receive the cockpits is in our queue of jobs. The Valiant will require a lot of work to seal the rear of the flight deck to make it secure and a walk-in exhibit. All three cockpits are intended to be accessible by visitors at some future date.
Whilst we can boast a large range of skills within our volunteers, there is always room to gain knowledge and the BAPC’s National Aviation Heritage Skills Initiative, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has produced an invaluable range of one-day courses; 24 of our volunteers had attended between one and six by the year-end. These courses are accredited by City & Guilds and, whilst sitting a test paper is voluntary, 16 members gained a total of 51 Certificates between them. The NAHSI team is quartered at Duxford. We have a lot of contact with Duxford’s permanent staff and are always grateful for their willing support. We are happy to reciprocate when called upon.
The year ahead should see the usual hive of activity, including a catch-up on aircraft painting, with us gaining both an enlarged display area and a large new display building, improved exhibit layouts, more exhibits, and a tidier site. The jobs list doesn’t seem to reduce.
Entering a new year always provokes a mixture of enthusiasm and mild panic - the latter as a result of wondering where the last few months have gone and a winter jobs’ list that hasn’t shrunk by much! Having said that, through a period of both very cold and exceptionally mild weather a full team of volunteers has been attending. The doors of the blister hangar have been stripped, primed and painted, most of the internal wiring in this and the seven display buildings has been replaced - over a hundred light fittings had been modernised earlier on - a 25ft run of new shelving has been made, installed and painted in the hangar sales area (an important fundraiser), the rebuild of the incomplete Bygraves-Taylor G-BABY completed, and several metal stands made for large exhibits. The badly damaged fuselage of the incomplete Luton Major (G-APUG), a fairly new acquisition, has been expertly rebuilt. We plan to display the aircraft with wings, tailplane, etc., devoid of fabric to illustrate the method of construction. A very mixed bag which illustrates the skills and versatility of our members. Running an aviation museum isn’t just about aircraft!
The most important project, however, was to replace the road bridge over a stream at the entrance to our site. A member, who is a qualified structural engineer, provided the design, specifications and drawings for the builder. He also led a small team to construct handrails, gates, and the decorative infill panels; our paint team finished them off. We now have a greatly improved “front of house” image and a bridge much wider and stronger than before. Our Forward Plan identifies the next major project as erecting a display building, measuring around 50 feet square to our own design, between the two hangars so grant-chasing is on the horizon. In years to come, this building will display the aviation collection presently at Reymerston Hall of our long-serving President, Wing Commander Ken Wallis, and it will bear his name.
The recent gales did little damage fortunately - having a wooded area on our southerly border helps - but a section of tail fabric was stripped from the Canberra T.4, and some fencing went down. The latter was damaged earlier when a herd of cattle grazing next door managed to pick the lock and escape onto the main road. Following the scent to the adjacent pub, a few then decided to explore our front aircraft park and didn’t let a fence deter them. The farmer immediately delivered a quantity of wood and top soil - the latter to fill in the divots, which should please the resident moles - and we took the opportunity to replace some sections and add new runs around aircraft.
The restored Sycamore HR.14 (XG518) resides back in RAF Air-Sea Rescue yellow, and the missing tail- rotors and stabiliser were expertly replicated by members. One main rotor blade had been cut down to six feet but the missing section was fabricated and easily passes inspection from the visitors’ walkway. New nose glazing was produced off site but the remainder of the cockpit Perspex was cut and fixed in place by members. Most of the missing instrumentation has been fitted but no luck so far in locating a winch, a pair of H aerials, and Perspex casevac doors. A surprised visitor, living only a few miles away, found he had been a member of her ground crew for two years in Aden and provided several fascinating photographs. These include one of him changing the nosewheel the easy way - with the aircraft hovering just off the ground! We had to fit a new leg the hard way.
The other Sycamore exhibit (XG523), purchased as a derelict cockpit, has received similar treatment and may provide visitors with the chance to operate controls. In the meantime, the cut-down main rotor blades turn noisily for 20 seconds or so when young visitors press a button, as the rotor head is now connected to a geared electric motor. A photo of the aircraft in Army camouflage enabled an accurate paint scheme to be applied, and it has been made as complete as possible by using up the components left over from the rebuild of 518. A Leonides engine will be displayed nearby once a frame is made.
The Boulton & Paul hangar erected in 2003/4 is home to the Anson C.19/2, Felixstowe F5 Flying Boat nose section, Fairchild F.24, Flying Flea, Fokker DVIII scale replica, Wallbro Monoplane, Gowland Jenny Wren, Bygraves-Taylor Titch, Tiger Cub microlight, four gliders: Rooster I/Grunau Baby III/Pegasus II/Colditz Cock replica, and three and a half helicopters: Widgeon, the two Sycamore HR.14s and Whirlwind 7. Unfortunately, there was no space for our Whirlwind 10. The Rooster, Grunau Baby, Pegasus and Tiger Cub are suspended in the roof area, and some of the other aircraft have been raised off the ground to enhance viewing and maximise the floor display space. A work area has been left in the middle of the hangar and this has been a useful space for wing repairs and fabric/dope application. Two damaged wings from a Stearman are next and we hope more spare components will come our way.
Our rare 1936 Fairchild F.24 C8F (c/n 3101- NC16676 - and the second of its type and oldest surviving) has been transformed from a skeletal frame to a recognisable aeroplane, resplendent in a red and yellow trim paint scheme. It bears the fuselage emblem of the Civil Air Patrol - minus the central red propeller design as was customary for Coastal Patrol aircraft to avoid the possibility of friendly fire. The nose carries the correct badge for Base 17 where she served, which was at Riverhead, Long Island, and the tailfin also bears the Fairchild logo of its age. Both made possible as a result of the skills of our “resident artist” John Constable Reeve - a long-time member. One wing has been rebuilt, and the other repaired and now receiving fabric. A bombsight was manufactured per a CAP Museum drawing (looking something like a sextant and of similar size) and it is fitted on the outside of the Observer’s door. An authentic bomb shackle mounting was also constructed from a contemporary drawing and fitted in place. The bomb shackle itself and 100lb bomb (inert!) are authentic, having been left behind by the 446th Bomb Group USAAF when they vacated Bungay airfield, adjacent to the museum, in 1943.
We have examined a number of different mountings employed to take the footplates, which were attached to the undercarriage legs, but it is clear that our aircraft has an unconventional undercarriage. We also need photographs of a C8F cabin interior for the period, especially for the rear seat arrangement, fittings, lining, etc., but the metal front seats have been rebuilt and are now leather covered. Information is also needed on the design of the 90-seconds’ flare chute unit that was fitted so that suitable apertures can be made in the fuselage behind the Observer’s door.
We have traced the full history of ownership and from July 1942 the aircraft was owned by CAP 2nd Lt Frederick Stacy Gilley of Madison Avenue; we have a poor print of him wearing his protective “zoot” suit. We would like to trace family members to see if his Log Book still survives as this might identify the number of missions flown - in the early days of CAP such detail was left to be recorded by pilots. We could then reflect these by way of chevrons painted on the port side of the fuselage just behind the door, as was the fashion. In April 1943, the ownership of the aircraft passed to Dr Harvey Lee Casebeer, and he may have left it on the base for CAP pilots to fly on coastal patrols. The history of the CAP in its early days, formed with crystal ball vision just six days before Pearl Harbor was attacked, is quite fascinating and worth reading up on. A copy of From Maine To Mexico by Louis E Keefer is very reasonably priced from the CAP Historical Foundation. To the best of our knowledge, our C8F is the only CAP exhibit outside of the US and we are pleased for it to commemorate the determination and bravery of the CAP Coastal Patrol Pilots and Observers in WWII.
Late in 2005 we were given a damaged example of a 1970s Kiceniuk Icarus II sweptwing, biplane, tail-less hang-glider. We repaired the tubular frame and replaced the fabric following inconsiderate (or possibly amorous) treatment from other residents in the barn where it was kept! We are grateful to Taras Kiceniuk, the US designer, for providing a full set of plans to help us with the restoration. The identity of our small section of a Shackleton “tail-dragger” fuselage, housing the Ward Room bunks and galley, has been traced to WR971. It is gradually being tidied up, including the mass of “black boxes” beneath the lower of the three bunks. The rest of the fuselage resides with collectors in the region.
The Air Ministry Airfield Identification Beacon (Pundit Light) has left the Restoration Centre following restoration and is almost in full working order, whereas the wood-framed 1950s Civil Defence (Small) Signal Office has been completely restored. In the absence of the Fordson ET6 chassis, it is now trailer-mounted for mobility and we plan to use it as a base for amateur radio activities once an aerial is erected. We have added some internal signal equipment and telephones but need more items. We also have to manage without a contemporary door handle and lock for the “stable” door arrangement.
Our large ejector seat collection has been sorted out and arranged for better viewing with explanatory captions but we could do with a member who has knowledge of their operation to work on them. Now that the fuselage of the Short SB.4 Sherpa is with us on loan, a number of exhibits have been moved to create space. We hope to create walk-in partial cockpit displays for a Canberra PR3 (we have the complete cockpit interior of WE168) and a Vulcan - we have the nose of an RAF wooden simulator.
The E.E. P1.B/DB Lightning (XG329) has gained a pilot’s ladder for an RAF Lightning following conversion to fit, and a ground-running intake. The aircraft is raised on specially-made axle stands to protect the tyres, and the nose on the starboard side has been painted in its original English Electric F.1 marketing colours of the early 1960s. Whilst an instructional airframe at RAF College Cranwell some of the instruments were removed for a classroom rig and then later discarded instead of being returned to the cockpit so we are looking at finding an early column and pedals, to remaking panels and fitting contemporary instruments. Problem is deciding exactly what era to pick as she went through upgrades from a development aeroplane to F.1 and then F.3 so was likely a hybrid internally. We hope that interior photographs might still exist at Cranwell and await a response to enquiries.
The B&P hangar is 90ft wide and the hardwood/Perspex display cabinet built by members, extending the full length of the building, is now full. It is compartmentalised to provide an interesting range of subjects for visitors to view and artefacts include: aircraft radios dating from WWI, radar and airborne electronic counter-measure equipment, ground radio, Women In Uniform, Beccles Heliport, RAFA, ATC, Glider Pilot Regiment/Army Air Corps, RAF Coltishall, RAF Marham, RAF Fire Service, Naval Aviation, several squadrons with whom we have links, a ‘50s model-maker’s den and WWII Home Front 1940s cottage room. Several glass cabinets have come in from other museums and hold a variety of things including aircraft models. The Bungay/Flixton airfield was home to the 446th Bomb Group USAAF, then the Fleet Air Arm and finally RAF Maintenance Units, so our Collection Policy is very broad.
The blister hangar, erected in the 1980s, now provides a permanent home to the Vampire T11, Lightning P1.B/DB, Sea Harrier FA2, Spitfire II Battle of Britain film replica, 695 Squadron Spitfire XVI fuselage, Piston Provost T.1, EoN Primary and Grasshopper gliders, a Bensen B.7, Flexiform Striker microlight, three hang-gliders: Wasp Falcon 4/Antonov C.14/Kiceniuk Icarus II, the Greenpeace Thunder Balloon, and Short SB.4 Sherpa experimental aircraft. The Bensen, the Primary, two hang-gliders and the microlight have been suspended from the hangar roof to provide maximum ground space for our engine and ejector seat collections, assorted ground equipment, and vehicles including a heli-transportable over-snow, Royal Marines vehicle, and FAA aircraft tugs. Our rare FAA torpedo carrier/loader has now gained a torpedo to demonstrate purpose - albeit that it is a WWI German type.
Suspending aircraft and calculating structure loadings are not tasks to be attempted by amateurs, and professionals are expensive. Fortunately, we have members with many different skills and qualifications, including structural engineering, and foundations/building design. Other sizeable displays here include items of wreckology from numerous Luftwaffe aircraft, PI.A/HP88/Victor wind tunnel models and a civil commercial aviation section; there are also several large-scale aircraft models. The front of the hangar includes our “NAAFI” refreshment and bric-a-brac sections (important revenue earners), and retains a stage and open area for seating and/or display stalls to cater for our numerous special events each year. Our small shop (and web shop) has a wide range of items for sale.
The two hangars are linked by building made up from unused, post-war metalwork when re-erecting the B&P hangar - this houses our working Link Trainers and has an RAF training theme. The early WWII ANT18, and the later D4 (Piston Provost), offer exciting and rare “rides” to visitors whenever we can provide supervision. There is also a D4/2 Jet Provost version, presently floor mounted, and components are steadily being returned to life. Another very wood-wormed ANT18 unit was used for spares but its cockpit has now been restored and houses a computer simulator display, which is being finished off. In between activities, the team restored Duxford’s Link table and it has been returned. We would be happy to hear from others who are restoring or operating Link trainers with a view to sharing knowledge and exchanging components – see our separate website page. It is a pity that more of these important training aids are not held in collections. The room also offers a range of training aircraft models, cut-away exhibits and 9 Squadron memorabilia. There is also an extensive collection of aircraft gun-sights, which visitors can power up for a pilot’s eye view - another activity completed over the winter months. A JP simulator may be coming our way.
In 2005, Richard Noble OBE placed on long-loan a Rolls-Royce Spey 205 engine, which is reserved for the ThrustSSC World Land-Speed Record Car. This remarkable vehicle (reminding me when head-on of a Buccaneer minus wings) went supersonic in 1997 and Flt Lt Andy Green captured the World Record for Great Britain at Mach1.2 (763mph), the average speed of two runs over a I mile course. The R-R Spey 202 engines powering it each developed 22,000 lbs static thrust; the specially-tuned Spey 205 will generate 27,000 lbs - fatigue life, however, is reduced to 60 minutes!
Last year, we received on long-loan examples of all three V-Bombers cockpits from a member but before delivery we had to construct a wheeled frame for the Vulcan nose. The collection provides an exciting expansion of our aircraft types but they need a lot of work and the seats and instrumentation re-fitted before being opened up to visitors. We plan to manufacture another two, wheeled support frames, and perhaps a roof structure over them all. The same member delivered his fully restored cockpit of Sea Vixen FAW.2 XN696 early this month to bring our total number of airframes/cockpits to 52. Thanks to the generosity of the Newark Air Museum, we received a Bloodhound Radar Tracking vehicle to compliment our example of this missile and the array is now in place. Early last year we took delivery of a number of components and rare artefacts to create a large display on the history of in-flight refuelling from the 1930s. The display design is being worked on at the moment.
In addition to the above, we have another six, display buildings to maintain - details elsewhere on our website. Each has a specific theme and changes are often made to the exhibits - usually to squeeze in more objects as we are fortunate to receive a constant stream of donations. An example being a extensive collection of WWII (and later) bomb sights/computers/sighting heads now with us, for feeding into the Bomber Command and 446th Bomb Group display buildings. All artefacts are displayed with detailed captions and this is quite a demanding research task that keeps several members occupied. A lot of varied work is required around our 8-acre site, in addition to general maintenance demands, so there are opportunities for volunteers with all manner of skills and levels of knowledge to join in. New faces are always welcome, with the main working day being a Tuesday.
Aircraft still displayed outdoors are washed at least annually and we try to repaint them every three years. The interiors of all metal buildings have received an anti-condensation coating by Grafo Products of Saxmundham as, with this country’s winter climate, this is essential for single-skinned, metal buildings. In 2005 we acquired a 30 feet building and it was refurbished and opened as our Museum Archive & Library. Our extensive records are held there, and new acquisitions are also placed in a room for initial examination and logging in. Our Archivists can now accommodate visiting researchers in reasonable surroundings, and it has freed-up much needed space in the office building for equipment and meetings, etc. We also research and respond to a large number of queries from members of the public. As mentioned earlier, the museum database has just exceeded 21,000 objects, and all but a few are on display in the various buildings so we are always grateful for display cases and mannequin models.
Recruitment has been steady for years and some volunteer their services to actively support the museum in a practical way. Consequently, we seem able to tackle most tasks that come along these days. Gaining knowledge and skills as volunteers in our particular field, however, is not always easy but this has now been greatly helped by the British Aviation Preservation Council securing Lottery funding for the creation of courses under the National Aviation Heritage Skills Initiative. A wide range of subjects is available to members and these are also City & Guilds accredited - an extra benefit. 25 members attended between one and four modules on a range of subjects last year and new courses are planned. Members have also received tuition from other bodies on subjects such as First Aid, protecting archive material, and providing education facilities for schools. We must soon also face the rigours of the new accreditation scheme designed for registered museums.
With over 50 aircraft there is always a “wants” list. Our income is regular from a number of sources but, with a “no admission charge” policy from day one in 1972, we do not have a large budget for purchases. We hope that people will donate items, or accept modest payment in recognition of what we do and the public service we provide. In some instances a desirable item appears on eBay but the final bid is often ridiculous and we have to decline; no doubt we are not alone in this. The rebuilt Spitfire XVI fuselage using original components of TD248, for example, required numerous cockpit fittings. Some we have replicated, purchased others and a few original items have come from the ever-helpful Ralph Hull of Hull Aero. With the pilot’s door open, the main item seen to be missing by visitors is a control column - this is now being replicated by a member following installation of rudder pedals and linkage.
To complete the Sycamore HR.14, we need a rescue winch, a pair of H aerials and the two Perspex rear doors. Some instrumentation is required for the pupil stations in our Sea Prince, plus some contemporary instruments for the Fokker Friendship 200 cockpit. Also needed are complete lens units for the landing lights on the Piston Provost legs, plus wingtip navigation light covers for both the Anson C.19/2 and Hunter FGA.9 to replace mock-ups. “Sabrinas” for the latter would also be nice.
2006 turned out to be the busiest year to-date, with the highest number of visitors - over 30,000 - and as we are in our 35th anniversary year we hope to build on this.