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Best of British at CoventryMidland Air Museum, Coventry

Dave Eade visits one of the Midlands' top aviation attractions

Now over thirty years old, the collection, situated on the edge of Coventry airport, has excellent examples of ex-test airframes such as the Boulton Paul P111a (VT935) and Meteor NF14 (WS838) from the RAE. Unusual shapes such as the Kaman Huskie (24535 - under restoration) add to some of the best examples of UK and US ex-service types to be found.

We were greeted with a tremendous welcome from Barry James, the Chairman of the Trustees of MAM. Eager to show us the collection, while explaining at length just how hard it is to maintain one such as this, Barry accompanied us for the first half of the visit before opening up the Vulcan to others visitors arriving.Kaman Husky under restoration

Coventry classics
F-100
F-101 Voodoo
F-4 Phantom
Javelin
Lightnings

Opening the cockpit is very much a theme at Coventry, with most exhibits having a step-ladder for close inspection of the 'office'. Barry explained just how long it takes for a simple paint job to be applied - it taking sometimes years to get an airframe to exhibit standard. A tour of the workshop was on the list and pride of place there must go to the Mig-21 PFM 'Red 959', recently acquired from the OFMC at Duxford. Resplendent in her East German colour scheme she sits beside the Gnat F1 (XK741) which is also under restoration. When finished, the Mig-21 will sit comfortably amongst the other relics of the sixties, the Hunter FGA9 (XG154), Javelin FAW 5 (XA699), Lightnings F6 (XR771) and T55 (55-713) and Vulcan B2 (XL360).

For me, pride of place went to the examples from the USAF. With the closure of the USAFE bases in the UK came the opportunity to acquire superb examples of the F-100, F-101 and F-4. The opportunity to restore one of two examples of the F-4C Phantom (37699) and Super Sabre (54-2174) has been taken and both are resplendent in their Vietnam era colour schemes. Hopefully shortly will come the Voodoo, which unfortunately is a B variant (56-0312) and therefore not representative of the version seen in UK skies, but surely deserves to be repainted 'as is' in the colours of the 60 FIS ANG unit from which it came.

Indoors, one has a chance to see the collection in the Sir Frank Whittle Jet Heritage Centre where, amongst memorabilia from Sir Frank's era, are to be found the ex-Southend SAAB J-29, beautifully restored, an early Vampire F1 and a T-33 - all powered by engines descended from Whittle's designs. Another prize to be savoured is the Mk 4 Meteor (EE531) which, like its compatriot at Tangmere, is in full racing trim. A 'cunning plan' that never 'took off' in the commercial sense is the Fairey Ultra Light helicopter planned for the Army. Beautifully restored by the Museum this utility helicopter always struck your scribe as an idea that should have worked!

Engines retrieved from the exhibits outside are also to be found in the form of the Vulcan's Olympus and the Spey. Cockpits from Vulcan looking in good shapethe Meteor F8, Sea Vixen, and Canberra are available for inspection, while space is also allocated to tell the story of the Armstrong Whitworth AW52 flying wing project. Appropriately placed at Coventry, this section and the gallery of paintings shows the history of Armstrong Whitworth, a local firm, whose production at Coventry included Sea Hawks, Javelins, Meteors and Hunters sub-contracted from their makers. Outside is an example of one of the largest - being the Argosy freighter, sadly not a military example but in the Elan parcels livery.

This year will see Air Atlantique's Airshow highlight events at Coventry Airport - don't forget to visit this excellent museum too! Meanwhile, for more info visit their website.

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