In the third part of Trail 42, we take a closer look at Scotland’s National Museum of Flight based on the former East Fortune airfield.
Located east of Edinburgh, not far from the main A1 road, between East Linton and Athelstaneford, East Fortune is an airfield with its roots set in the First World War. A former Airship station, it went on to house various training flights, and host a wide range of aircraft. Post war, it was adapted for possible U.S.A.F. use, then used to store food stuffs, and East Fortune stepped in to accommodate flights when Edinburgh’s Turnhouse airport was closed for maintenance and upgrading.
Since 1975 it has housed one of the best collections of aircraft in the country (many from the former Strathallan collection) along with a number of well-preserved airfield buildings. This site is so historically important that it is now a Scheduled Monument, the terms of which are set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979*1. Whilst not graded, East Fortune is, by definition, considered to be of national importance, and any such alterations or work done to it, has to have consent granted from Historic England who manages the process of scheduled monument consent on behalf of the Secretary of State.
To help preserve these buildings, several projects have been undertaken to restore them keeping as much as possible to the original war-time designs, with the work being undertaken by Smith Scott Mullan Associates of Edinburgh.*2
The National Museum of Flight has its aircraft stored in three hangars arranged by theme: civilian, military, and along with the Concorde Experience the Jet Age hangar. A fourth hangar is used for restoration and is closed to the public although tours can be arranged by appointment. The three main hangars are themselves historical pieces, each being a World War two Callender-Hamilton hangar.
Originally designed in the late 1930s, by Callender Cable and Construction, they were initially designed with canvas doors, but later models, built in 1940, were constructed with metal doors. Whist being more secure, and no doubt warmer, they reduced the clear door height from 25 feet to 17 feet. The overall length of 185 feet and door openings of 90 feet remained the same however. These examples at East Fortune were recently restored, again by Smith Scott Mullan Associates, using funds in the region of £3.6m awarded mainly by the Scottish Government but also the National Heritage Lottery Fund.
A number of the smaller technical buildings on the site were also targeted for restoration. After finding sagging roofs, penetrating damp, cracked or damaged rendering and distorted windows; five of the site’s buildings were earmarked for restoration and a five-year programme put in place to restore and preserve them, again keeping as close to the original designs as possible.
These buildings are now in full-time use, used for exhibitions, artefact storage and as an education centre.
In the first hangar, the Civilian Aviation Hangar, you can explore a range of civilian aircraft types, one notable model being the DH80 – de Havilland Puss Moth. A relatively unique aircraft, it was designed so that its wings could be folded back for easier storage. The undercarriage, an innovative feature in itself, could be turned through ninety degrees to act as air brakes thus allowing the pilot to land at a much steeper approach. Very popular, these models were often flown long distances with notable pilots including the long distance flyer Amy Johnson. Whilst primarily civilian, some models were used by the Royal Air Force, both 24 Squadron (Oct – Dec 1939) and 510 Squadron (delivered May 1941 on its formation). This particular model (ex G-ABDW) was the first Puss Moth to fly to Australia.
Another notable aircraft here at East Fortune is the Miles M18 MKII Prototype. Built as a private venture it was intended to replace the Miles Magister. During test flights it was noted that the aircraft could not be put into a spin by the pilot. However, sadly lacking in what the Air Ministry described as ‘robustness’, it was not put into full production and so only three models were ever built; the MKI, MKII and MKIII. The last remaining example here at East Fortune, G-AHKY, ‘HM545’, is the MKII and had a Certificate of Airworthiness up until September 1989, it was delivered to East Fortune four years later in 1993. It has a notable history in that it was sent to the Royal Navy on short loan, this may have been for service trials and was with 759 squadron in January 1941. In 1956 it won the Goodyear Trophy Air Race and in 1961, the Kings Cup Air Race reaching a speed of 142 mph.
The three M18s operated with two engine types, the D.H. Gipsy Major engine (MKI) and the Blackburn Cirrus Major engine (MKII/III), giving a maximum speed of 142 mph and a ceiling height of 12,800 feet. It had a cruising speed of 130 mph. This particular example remains the only one left in existence.
Also at East Fortune is a General Aircraft Cygnet. Designed in 1936, it was first flown in May 1937, and was at that time, the first all-metal stressed-skin light plane to be both constructed and flown in the U.K. This particular model, was a later modified model having a nose wheel as opposed to a tail wheel and designated the GAL.42 Cygnet II. After the initial prototype, only ten production models were ever built with five going to the Royal Air Force (24 and 510 Squadron, 51 and 52 O.T.U.). This and one other (reported to be in very poor condition in Argentina) are the only surviving examples in the world.
G-AGBN is currently exhibited in military colours, an ex Strathallan example, it served as ES915 with both 51 and 52 O.T.U. preparing pilots for the Boston, another tricycle carriage aircraft of the Second World War. It is also reported that the Cygnet was flown by Guy Gibson, adding further historical interest to this model.
Other civilian examples found here include: an Avro Anson in part construction form, a de Havilland Dove 6, G-ANOV (ex SAFU Stansted), a Jetstream 3100 (G-JSSD) and a BAC 111-510ED located outside the hangar.
The civilian hangar at East Fortune holds many rare and interesting examples from aviation’s history. Each one worthy of saving and viewing. In the next part, we look into the military examples at East Fortune, with aircraft ranging from the Second World War through the Cold war to the modern fighters of the Royal Air Force.
Sources and Further Reading:
*2 Smith Scott Mullan Associates website