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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. 

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