Biggles takes off over England ... Highs in the skies for aviation enthusiasts
England boasts the world’s most lively and compact classic aviation scene in the world. In summer especially, there are air shows all around the country, ranging from the free spectacular in the skies over Folkestone to the epic air shows at Battle of Britain fighter bases Duxford and Biggin Hill, to the year-round displays at the Shuttleworth Collection near Biggleswade and many other museums and collections. Here is a reminder of some of the treats aviation enthusiasts are in for …
In the distance near Caddington the green hangars of Britain’s famous between-the-wars airships stand dominating the landscape. It was here the fateful R101 took off in the 1930 for India, crashing near Beauvais with a loss of 46 lives. The torn RAF ensign of the R101 is in the Church and the victims are buried in the churchyard across the road. The Bell Public House has a photographic gallery depicting the history of the Airships. Their story is told in a book by famed author Neville Shute, who worked on the airships’ design.
Big Band leader Glenn Miller had associations with Milton Ernest village where the US Army Air Force established its headquarters in the village hall.
The Shuttleworth Collection
2m W off A1 at the Biggleswade roundabout.
Tel: 01767 627288.
Hours: Open all year, 10am-5pm (4pm November to March). Last admission 1 hr before closing. Closed Christmas Eve up to and including New Years Day.
Entry Fee: Admission charge.
Events: Flying displays are usually held on the last Sunday in the month from April to October, weather permitting.
• Established by the mother of Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth in memory of her son. Richard was a keen racing driver, pilot and collector who joined the RAF and was killed in a flying accident in 1940. The first item in the collection was a 1932 de Havilland Moth, and exhibits now include a 1942 Spitfire in flying condition, many cars, cycles and horse drawn vehicles. Flying displays are held throughout the year.
Wycombe Air Centre
Wycombe Air Park, Clay Lane, Booker.
Tel: 01494 443737
• Take to the skies with one of the UK’s best known flying schools.
• There are trial lessons with qualified instructors for anyone who wants to take the pilot’s seat and fly a light aircraft.
• Try a family fun flight for a bird’s eye view of Buck. Includes tickets for Blue Max flying museum.
Wycombe Air Park, Clay Lane, Booker.
Tel: 01494 449810
Hours: Open all year, and in the evenings in summer with an aerial display.
Entry fee: Admission charge, children under 5 free.
• A historic collection of classic flying machines that have starred in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, The Battle of Britain, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and many others.
• Spitfires and WWI fighters too.
City of Norwich Aviation Museum, Old Norwich Rd, Horsham St Faith. (Tel: 01603 861 348). Open January to end March and from end-April to end-December Sunday only 10am-4pm. May to August also open Tuesday and Thursday to dusk and Wednesday 2-5pm. Bank Holidays 10am-5pm. Closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Admission charge. Suitable for wheelchair access. Exhibition building with displays of aviation memorabilia, photographs, models, maps and pictures. Of interest to Australians and Americans are the RAAF Horsham St Faith display, 8th USAAF display, 2nd Air Division display, and 458th Bomb Group display. The collection of aircraft include a Vulcan Bomber from the Falklands Task Force.
Seething Airfield Control Tower, Station 146, Seething Airfield. (Tel: 01508 494 850). Open June to October, first Sunday in every month. Suitable for wheelchair access. Seething was a B24 Liberator base during World War Two. Renovated USAAF control tower has model a/c room, diaorama of Seething base, 448th Honour roll, display of World War Two memorabilia, and an exhibition of ‘The 448th Bomb Group Collection’. This includes diaries, photographs and personal stories from Americans based here during 1943-1945.
Fenland Aviation Museum Bombers Garden, Old Lynn Rd, West Walton. (Tel: 01945 585 946). Open March to October, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 9.30am-5pm. Admission charge. Suitable for wheelchair access. The Vampire TII aircraft is one of the finest examples in the country and has undergone a complete respray and airframe check. Members of the public are welcome to sit in the cockpit and study the aircraft at close quarters.
Carpet Baggers Aviation Museum, Harrington. Open weekends only 10am-6pm, other times by appointment. Car parking; no smoking; all children under 154 to be accompanied by an adult; suitable for disabled and there is one wheelchair on site.
The Carpetbagger Museum is housed in the old Administration Building on the site of the USAAF Station 179 and offers a rare look at life on the base of the 801st/492nd American Army Air Force Bomb Group during World War Two. Photographs and exhibits vividly show the work carried out by the group codenamed ‘Carpetbaggers’ because of their operations in parachuting people and equipment into Occupied Europe. Next door is the Northamptonshire Aviation Museum with exhibits including the remains of recovered WWII aircraft -- parts of a Luftwaffe Junkers Bomber, a Dornier Do 217K Night Bomber and a USAAF Liberator together with instrumentation and other fascinating items of equipment. There is also a NAFFI for refreshments.
Sywell Aerodrome, Sywell. Tours start with refreshments in the Aviator Hotel Bar, followed by visits to the Northamptonshire School of Flying, the small Control Tower, Sloane Helicopters, one of the private aircraft hangars with historic aircraft and also Microlight School. Sandwiches, bar snacks and lunch available at the Hotel after the tour. Tour lasts 1¼ - 2 hours and is free. Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult and kept under strict control during airside visit; sensible walking shoes recommended; wheelchair access to hotel and most areas airside.
Founded in 1928, is the UK’s premier classic general aviation airfield, popular for pilot training, vintage and classic aircraft and modern helicopter businesses. There are some 40,000 movements per year, including charter and air taxi operations to European destinations.
Newark Air Museum, The Airfield, Winthorpe. (Tel: 01636 707170). Open all year. April to October, Monday to Friday 10am-5pm. Saturday & Sunday 10am-6pm. November to March, daily 10am-4pm. Closed 24-26 December. Admission charge. Car park free. Wheelchair access.
Aircraft, parts and memoribilia. Book and model shop, exhibition hall. Features aircraft types such as Anson, Prentice, Swift, Provost, Vulcan, Vampire, Meteors, Varsity, Sycamores and more..
390th Bomb Group Memorial Air Museum, Parham Airfield, Parham. Open March to October on Sunday 11am to 6pm. The collection reflects East Anglia’s aviation history during World War Two. Housed in a 1942 control tower of the former USAAF bomber base. Engines and artefacts from many famous aircraft, uniforms and memorabilia relating to the RAF, US 8th Air Force and German Air Force. The Library and Archives centre is located in a Nissen hut.
Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum, on the B1062 Homersfield Rd, Flixton. Open April to October on Sunday 10am to 5pm. 17 historic aircraft and other aviation material including the 446th Bomb Group Museum and Memorial and the Royal Observer Corps Museum.
Beck Row. In this churchyard lie the remains of one of Australia’s war heroes Flight Sergeant Rawdon Middleton. He died at 21 when, the Short Stirling bomber he was piloting was hit during a raid on Turin in Italy in 1942. His Victoria Cross was for the bravery shown, and was regarded as one of the most awe-inspiring feats of the war by a pilot of any country. While seriously wounded himself, losing an eye and sustaining shrapnel wounds to his body as his aircraft was hit, he ignored the crew’s advice to all bail out over Europe and determined to deliver the crew to England, despite the horrific injuries to himself. Middleton flew the bomber back over England and most of the crew parachuted to safety. It is them believe he then flew the damaged aircraft out to sea to avoid crashing into a built up area. His body was washed ashore at Dover two months later.
Tangmere Airfield. Tel: 01243 775 223. Open February to November, daily. February & November 10am-4pm. March to October 10am-5.30pm. Admission charge. Access for the disabled. No dogs. Light refreshments and picnic area. Not an airfield these days, although much of the concrete runway system of the jet fighter era remain. This is the famed fighter station where Douglas ‘Tin Legs’ Bader led his Tangmere Wing into battle during the Battle of Britain. Bader himself officially dedicated the museum to the RAF and opened it in the 1970s.
Midland Air Museum, Coventry Airport, Baginton. (Tel: 01203 301033). Open all year March to October 10.30am-5pm. October to February 10am-5pm. Admission charge. Access ramps and disabled toilet.
Indoor and outdoor displays of aircraft engines and related exhibits, including Meteor, Hunter, Lightning, Vulcan and Sopwith Pup replica. Upstairs gallery depicting ‘Wings over Coventry’.
Wellesbourne Aviation Group, The Airfield, Wellesbourne. Open Sunday and Bank Holidays 10am-4pm and other times by special arrangement. Underground exhibits not suitable for the aged and infirm. Above ground museum has ramp and hand rails.
Wartime underground defence headquarters, now housing a museum of relics, posters and photographs. Above ground display includes a Vampire jet, jet engine, Sea Vixen cockpit and a Piston Provost. The museum contains aero engines, a Spitfire control panel and a mock-up Blenheim turret.
Yorkshire Air Museum, Halifax Way, Elvington. ph (01904) 608 595. Open all year in summer 10.30am to 4.30pm. Winter 11am to 3pm. Admission charge.
Once a World War Two bomber base site, the museum has aircraft, authentic control tower, Barnes Wallis Collection, Blackburn Heritage, ROC, Air Gunners and general displays. Plus unique Handley Page Halifax and a de Havilland Mosquito re-build.
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