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With Spring 2011 very close, there are signs that the temperature might rise, with less periods of rain.  It was officially the coldest December for 100 years so other months must have been close - we believe it was even colder in the hangars – but members still managed a lot of outdoor work on maintenance tasks.  We also undertook a conservation audit, to examine internal display areas and identify possible improvements or the need for remedies.

The most important event of the year was the opening of the Ken Wallis Hall on the 4th July 2010.  Ken, our President, performed the deed and we linked it to celebrating the Centenary of the first flight of the Wallbro Monoplane.  He captivated his audience as usual with information about the aircraft built by his father and uncle between 1908 and 1910 - being revolutionary for its time; the task of creating the replica with only contemporary photographs and newspaper reports to go on; and stories about his life.  He has since brought along some items from his collection at Reymerston Hall to populate the area near the aircraft and, around April/May, his James Bond “Little Nellie” autogyro G-AVDH will arrive after being on loan to the London Film Museum for a year.  This aircraft was used for studio shots with Sean Connery aboard, being shaken and stirred by a large fan whilst Ken flew the identical G-ARZB and dispatched the SPECTRE baddies in “You Only Live Twice”.   Despite the importance of the aerial scenes, Ken was not mentioned in the film credits.

The adjacent new display space then received some of the artefacts previously viewed in cramped conditions around the Museum.  This area now includes a variety of artefacts: the restored WWII Mk1a Airborne Lifeboat, flown beneath Vickers Warwick aircraft, our early air-transportable Snowcat vehicle, a collection of Victor wind tunnel models, the beginnings of an in-flight refuelling display, a Redifon simulator (under restoration), two microlights, a manufacturer’s half-scale military communications satellite, a restored U.S. Clarkat tug, an early Mercury tug (in need of a Ford engine), two Lovegrove autogyros, and a Thunder balloon (Greenpeace). 

We shall never have enough indoor display space but whilst we often have to turn down the offer of aircraft, we try not to reject smaller and personal items.  Our Forward Plan takes account of possible future building developments around our site as and when finances permit the outlay.  Outdoor space for building, however, is not in abundance as car-parking areas for example are essential; we have a rural location and visitors nearly topped 40,000 last year.  The winter weather and vehicle traffic has damaged our central road and presently we are undertaking repairs.  This is an annual task so a hand-steered mechanical roller would be useful; to be used also to repair grass areas damaged by moles, as hoards of them appear to migrate to our site each year!

There is always a steady flow of donated objects and it is our policy not to place them into storage if at all possible.  Certainly donors prefer their gifts to be displayed and not stored away, as often this can mean that they will never be seen publicly.  Consequently, we might appear crowded to some visitors but the majority tell us that they prefer this; giving them good reasons to return when there was insufficient time to view the entire collection.  Our database has logged over 28,000 items and few are not on display.  Fortunately, we have an expert team of volunteer carpenters so new display cases are regularly made to fit the spaces available.  The layout of our Bomber Command building has been re-organised over winter months by our Curator Huby Fairhead, with many fresh objects to view in new cabinets.  The contents of our Royal Observer Corps and 446th Bomb Group USAAF buildings will be tackled over the next year or so to “maximise the visitor’s experience”, as they say in tourism circles.   We hope at some point in the future to expand the latter building to take objects presently on view elsewhere.  We have also improved the décor of some public facilities.

Work has continued on making cockpit exhibits such as the Sycamore and the Canberra PR.3 recreation suitable for visitor entry, with some “live” aspects to provide interest.  The Redifon simulator already mentioned is a long-term project in view of its condition on arrival, but our Link Trainers continue to provide much pleasure for visitors when we have members present to safely operate them.  The experience is particularly enjoyed by our many school parties on organised trips who come to learn more about World War II within the National Curriculum, having already explored the contents of our Loan Boxes of artefacts.  Each child has a “flight” and receives a signed-off small map, generated by the pen-carrying, linked “crab” navigating a large map on the operator’s desk - often the pen prescribes a line seemingly by a tipsy spider but it still pleases the young “pilot”.

Our small team of members who work under our Education Officer, Pam Veale, greatly enjoy taking part in our Reminiscence Programme of visits to residential care homes and the like, with selected memorabilia to rekindle memories and promote conversation.  It could easily be a full-time job, from the grateful responses received and the number of requests that come in all year round.

Following on from the success of members Colin Breach and Ray Kidd restoring the cockpit of our Avro Anson, the fuselage interior was gutted and all new fabric purchased for a complete refit.  This is a daunting task being undertaken by member David Dawson, which includes restoration work on the structure, replacing missing items, and totally recovering the interior with material as per the original style; albeit not with a perfect match to the old fabric.  The warmer weather will improve working conditions and completion might be achieved by the end of the year but we need some internal fittings including seat covers.  Member Al Forman has steadily toiled to return the Canberra B(I).8 nose to external completeness by making missing hatch covers, repairing the main door, and properly fixing the Perspex nose. We hope to turn our attention to the interior later on, and source/fit missing components.  The engineer from Hornby Airfix took photos and measurements a couple of years ago to assist with its new model kit of the type, being that it is now very rare. 

We shall shortly start the annual wash-down of aircraft outdoors and select those for painting under our three-year repaint cycle; the Canberra T.4 is a likely candidate for one.  During last year, several aircraft were repainted by Peter Nobb’s team including the Javelin, Hunter and Trojan.  We tend to keep schemes original rather than experiment with different styles/identities.  One or two new aircraft arrivals are a possibility for outdoor display, but most of the remaining grass areas need to be retained as numerous events take place each year and many involve exhibitors with vehicles, engines, tents, stalls, etc.  These occasions are an important part of our links with the local community and preservation groups – they also help to raise funds.  

Storage and work areas require suitable buildings and when it is not possible to build for new, it usually means buying materials to refurbish existing structures or try to purchase something nearly the right size and shape.   The Restoration Area was created when the 1937 Boulton & Paul Hangar was moved from the defunct Ipswich Airport, and we already had a large workshop on site but last year we invested in four metal-clad transportable buildings to replace slightly smaller ones in wood as they were near the end of their life.  We now have a neat line of matching buildings that meet all our storage needs and require little maintenance.  We have identified the need for a future development in the shape of a two-story and multi-use building for display, archives, and provisions of a meeting/education room as our current office is small.

We now look forward to a more relaxed year in order to draw breath and build up the coffers!

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