Mark Burrell visits Newark's Air Museum on its first Enthusiasts' Day, gaining more access to the exhibits and a look behind the scenes
An idea first mooted several years ago, but only recently organised into a workable programme, the first day was arranged for Tuesday 30 August 2005. Places on the Enthusiasts' Days are strictly limited to twelve per tour and are available only by pre-booking, so when a day’s holiday came up I was pleased to find that there was still a place available.
Arriving at about 10:00 I was greeted at the museum shop and directed towards the ‘Dambusters’ hut, a building with a history of its own, having been relocated from RAF Scampton and renovated at Winthorpe in 1996. Following a welcome snack, our guides for the day, Bill and Ian, introduced themselves, outlining the programme for the day involving three main areas - ‘behind the scenes’, simulators, access to the larger exhibits, and explaining any Health & Safety issues involved with gaining access to areas not usually available to the general public.
After being given a pass and complimentary guidebook we started our tour in the main workshop building, currently home to Folland Gnat T1 XR534. Being a volunteer managed museum, Bill explained that some of the restorations can take a number of years to complete, as many volunteers may only have the odd weekend to donate to the museum. Also housed in this building are the remains of Slingsby Cadet TX1 RA897 waiting its turn for restoration and a strange contraption called the Luscombe P3 Rattler Strike (G-BKPG). Modified from a lightweight ‘sporting’ aircraft, this version was designed to provide quick reaction close military support for the British Army, although it is not known if it was ever tested with any of the proposed weapon systems.
Moving around the site the various buildings and storage units revealed many more aircraft in various states of restoration or storage. What was immediately evident was the vast array of skills required by the volunteers. The Mooney M20A G-APVV consists of an all-metal fuselage with a wooden one-piece wing in an advanced state of repair, Link D2 Trainer with its beautifully shaped woodwork, and the DH Chipmunk T10 WB624 with its all-metal construction. Waiting in the wings are an ex-Army Auster and Harvard cockpit section, which will hopefully see some form of restoration in the not too distant future.
The simulator and procedures trainer section of the tour started with the simple but effective Link Trainers, of which the museum currently has two. In hangar one we were given exclusive access to the Jet Provost procedures trainer and F-4M Phantom simulator, which enjoyed a twenty-three year service career of its own at RAF Coningsby and Wattisham. A rare look inside the cockpit of MIG-23ML ‘07’ showed the different environment of one of the Phantom’s Cold War adversaries. Completing the theme was a look at the procedure trainer constructed from the cockpit section of Argosy C1 XN819, last used at RAF Finningley in 1984.
Finally the part of the tour I was most looking forward to, access to the exhibits. The unique smell of an old aircraft frequently serves to remind the enthusiast of the time they first became interested in aviation, and this tour was no exception, with many memories brought back to life. The first stop was a favourite of mine, Hastings T5 TG517, an aircraft that started life as a C1 variant involved with the Berlin Airlift, before being modified to MET.1 standard. Later as a T5 it contained radar bombsight equipment and was allocated to the RAF Bombing School. Despite its many years sitting on grass in the open air, a tour of the inside revealed how well looked after she really is. Moving on to the Avro Shackleton Mk3 Phase 3 WR977 gave me my first experience of the cramped conditions of the type - climbing over the main spar I was just glad this was a nose-wheel equipped version and not a tail dragger. Even more cramped was the cockpit of EE Canberra T19 WH904, and that of Avro Vulcan B2 XM594, the largest aircraft ever to land on Winthorpe’s wartime vintage runways. Although not a 'Black Buck' aircraft, she still had a long and varied career, almost ending her days at Goose Bay in Canada following an incident with contaminated fuel. Fortunately, after repair she was returned to the UK.
The final aspects of the tour involved a look at Westland Wessex HC2 XV728, discussing the versatility of the type during service in many areas including Germany and Northern Ireland and then another of my favourites, the venerable Varsity. Newark Air Museum may be unique in the respect that their new hangar was actually designed with access to enable Vickers Varsity T1 WF369 to be placed under cover. Starting its service life several miles up the A46 at RAF Swinderby, it finally flew into Winthorpe in 1976. With its move indoors, restoration is now taking place under Alan’s direction.
The tour took a little over two and a half hours, after which we were free to continue looking around the exhibits at our leisure. The universal consensus amongst the enthusiasts taking part was that it was a worthwhile and enjoyable day. The format was well thought out, with the themed aspects and an interesting insight into running of a volunteer organisation, particularly the funding of new exhibits. Praise must be given to Bill and Alan for the informal yet informative style adopted throughout the day, recognising that the enthusiasts come with a fair bit of knowledge of their own, they were keen to answer any questions, and accommodate the wishes of those on the tour wherever possible.
Further tours take place on 13 and 27 September although further dates should be confirmed later, and are priced at £15 per person. Contact Newark Air Museum for a booking form on email@example.com or telephone 01636 707170.