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Spring 2012

There are great expectations that the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, followed by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, will create a major boost in tourism for the UK this year.  The Eastern counties of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk are easily in reach for daytrips or longer stays by visitors so should benefit in particular.  Certainly, this part of the country has a great deal to offer, with stunning countryside; the magnificent waterways of the Broads; thousands of historic buildings, sites and castles; hundreds of ancient market towns; attractive coastal resorts with long stretches of sandy beaches, and a plethora of museums and collections to satisfy every possible interest.

The Games are all about competing on land and water but not in the air unfortunately.  Possibly the fate of Icarus set the seal on such activities in ancient minds but one day perhaps an organisation might address this omission at a special gathering.   In the meantime, those with an interest in man’s endeavours in the air must turn to the superb aviation museums and collections to be found within easy reach of London.  Needless to say, we would recommend heading into East Anglia and a visit to Flixton to quench this thirst as it is only a little over a couple of hours by road from the capital.   Visitors generally need 2-3 hours minimum to look around our collection of 60 aircraft and almost 30,000 artefacts, displayed in two hangars and eight themed buildings, but it is easy to spend the whole day absorbing what we have to offer.  The Buck Inn is located next door and offers fine ale and good food beyond our own light refreshments, and Bungay town is only two miles to the east where there are antique shops, a castle ruin, historic buildings and country walks.  From 1st April we go over to Summer opening times: Sunday to Thursday 10.00 - 5.00.

One important advantage for the visitor to Flixton is that we are situated in the picturesque Waveney Valley, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, where an abundance of attractive market towns sit within glorious countryside, en route to the fabulous waterways of the Broads and their unique wildlife.  For lovers of historic transport, we are conveniently located between the Bressingham Steam Museum a few miles to the west near Diss, and the East Anglia Transport Museum to the east at Carlton Colville.  The coast is a little more than half an hour away with exceptional beaches.  Plentiful overnight or longer stay accommodation is within easy reach.       

We again welcomed around 40,000 visitors to Flixton during the last twelve months, including large attendances at special event days to showcase numerous vintage/classic vehicle clubs, bygone collections, and ex-Service organisations.  Several events included aircraft flypasts.  Our very active schools’ programme saw the highest number of group visits, plus growth in demand from schools for our loan boxes full of aviation and WWII Home Front artefacts.  Members’ visits to residential care homes, taking similar artefacts to promote conversation and rekindle memories, were very well received; in fact it is difficult to meet demand. 

Each year we receive a large number of donated artefacts, and 2011 was quite demanding to allocate space.  The display of model high speed launches now exceeds 30 in our Air-Sea Rescue building and every class of wood-hull craft is now represented; we think this may be the largest collection of ASR craft models on display in the UK.  In recent months, the contents of our Royal Observer Corps building have been re-arranged, with new display cabinets and a greatly expanded selection of artefacts.   Several WWII exhibits relating to the USAAF, and the local 446th Bomb Group in particular, have been acquired but as our 446th BG display building is presently lacking adequate space, we have placed them in the extension to the new Ken Wallis Hall rather than in storage.   The growth in artefacts reflecting local civil and military aviation also required us to re-arrange displays and make larger cabinets in other buildings.

The 446th BG building is in the queue to be enlarged when funds permit but new cabinets will help to create some extra space later this year.  Fortunately, we have members with the skills to make cabinets in wood to fit any need and team members have been fully occupied all the year in several of our buildings.  The RAF Bomber Command collection received such benefit during 2011 and the number of artefacts on display has increased as a result.  Needless to say, space is our greatest need and while there is some remaining to erect more buildings, we have to ensure there is sufficient left for car parking.  Fortunately, we own our land but there isn’t more adjacent to it that we can purchase.  The rear section is a designated flood plain so a raised boardwalk was built some years ago to provide a stroll through a Willow plantation to the River Waveney - the boundary with Norfolk.  We hear of several museums that face possible closure at the moment so we are grateful our 7.5 acres were purchased by members back in the 1980s.

Our President, Wing Commander Ken Wallis MBE, will be 96 in April and has been an active supporter since 1976.  My popular biography of Ken (The Lives of Ken Wallis - ISBN 97809541239-6-3) is now in its 5th Edition and takes his story up to mid-2011; it is available from our on-line shop.  The Civil Aviation Authority has recently given him permission to exceed the current maximum speed limit imposed should he wish to attempt to beat his World Speed Record of 129 mph set in 2002.   Ken may be tempted later in the year but it must be his decision alone.  The new Ken Wallis Hall at Flixton presently displays some of Ken’s collection from Reymerston Hall, including his 1910 Wallbro Monoplane replica, which he flew in 1978, and autogyro “Little Nellie” (G-AVDH).  Sean Connery was filmed sitting in its cockpit in the studio, shooting down the SPECTRE baddies in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice”.  Ken did all the actual flying and combat scenes in G-ARZB of course, and the fascinating story is fully covered in my book.

Incidentally, Ken would be very grateful to receive a copy of any photograph taken of him flying an autogyro alongside the ill-fated Fairey Rotodyne (XE521) on 14 September 1961 when both flew from Boscombe Down to the RMCS at Shrivenham.  Ken was then stationed at Boscombe Down as Officer Commanding the Tactical Weapons Group.   Perhaps a reader might be able to help.

During the year we followed a programme of upgrading or replacing storage buildings and improving workshop areas at Flixton.  This included a new roof for the ROC building, and new external wall cladding for the woodworkers’ building.  Our member and “resident artist” John Constable Reeve kindly produced several large-size paintings of aircraft for display outdoors on buildings but concluded that weather conditions would not be kind to them so they will now adorn the inside of the doors to No.1 hangar.  John has also painted several backdrops for us to enhance cabinet displays to good effect, in between meeting several commissions.         

Our database has now logged almost 30,000 artefacts and only a small fraction of these are not on display.  We believe it is important to let donors see that gifts are appreciated and put to proper use.  Sadly, we had to turn down the offer of several aircraft as there is little space left in the hangars.  In addition to an extension to the 446th BG building, we are keen to erect a new, two-story building for multi-use within the next five years.  It would provide more comfortable surroundings for meetings, lectures, school group activities, educational displays, and perhaps some extra object display space.  It might also offer an extension to our archive and library as the present building is very cramped.  Such a venture will depend upon our finances and the availability of grants, so we hope the funding climate will improve in the future.   

We are sure that 2012 will be a terrific year to showcase the UK, its culture and traditions, as a desirable holiday destination for both home and overseas visitors, and not just to watch the Games.  Importantly, we hope that a short stay will encourage a longer return visit, for we believe we can satisfy every interest, pursuit and taste, and even stimulate new ones - particularly so within the picturesque Waveney Valley and the eastern counties. 

   
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