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RAF Manston History Museum

Buccaneer fuselageDave Eade reports from deepest Kent

Whether it’s a museum of the stature of Duxford, or a tiny private collection in the hall of somebody’s house, it only looks good with a lot of tender loving care! That care comes from the enthusiasm of many helpers, volunteers and the odd military helping hand – but its that enthusiasm that makes it all happen, often in the face of great adversity.

Air-Scene UK was recently invited to view the collection of the RAF Manston History Museum, and it was easy to see all that I speak of above – in the flesh so to speak. The museum is situated on the outskirts of, what is now, London Airport (Manston) in buildings that, until recently, formed the MT section of the now defunct RAF station at Manston. It is not to be confused with the nearby Royal Air Force Manston Hurricane & Spitfire Memorial Building, which is a separate entity altogether.

We were greeted on arrival by Jack MacFarlane and Nigel Hodgson, who are chairman and joint trustee of the RAF Manston History group with responsibility for the museum. With quiet glowing pride, they showed us around their charges. Centre of the indoor exhibition is the AW (Gloster) Meteor TT20 (WD646) which is squeezed into a small room – formerly a servicing bay, but none-the-less immaculately displayed in the colours of an 85 Squadron machine. Airborne against the far wall is Cadet (XA312 although marked VM791). Around the walls were various items illustrating the long aviation history of Manston. A photographic record of the Meteor’s recovery and renovation is accompanied by flying records of the airframe, a pictorial history of the USAF era, when F84s of both F and G marks and F86s were the planes of the day here.

Victor cockpitTo attract Joe Public, museums like Manston have to do things a bit differently. Nigel was at pains to explain that, unlike so many military shows and exhibitions, they wanted the public to "feel what it was like" by getting into and involved with exhibits like a working Link Trainer, and a superb display of ejector seats and cockpits. An interesting aside is literally a "hole in the wall" view called the "Home Front" – paying respect to those that saw the blitz out from their homes in those dark days of the Second World War. Dioramas of models show Manston in many of its guises including USAF and SAR days. Manston is well remembered as one of the Master Diversion Airfields that could lay a foam carpet, and this is commemorated in both model form and a wall mounted listing of all those that tried it in anger – and their outcome!

Renovation is, of course, ongoing and a glance through a Ripe for renovation! (Buccaneer, by the way)carefully placed window allows the public to see into the workshop and the work being carried out on Whirlwind XJ727 with Grasshopper XA231 languishing in the corner. A trip upstairs allows you to see a photographic record of the station from its earliest days up to date.

Strolling around the outside permits a look at the main exhibits belonging to the group. Consisting mainly of cockpits and front fuselages, it is here where the visitor gets an idea of what the future holds for Manston. Two Buccaneers (XV352 and XN928), a Victor cockpit (XL190), Wessex (XS482) and Chipmunk (WP772) greet the inquisitive eyes, and the cramped conditions of the Victor can be felt for real.


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