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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.   

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