This trip also takes in the past and present. The three ports of call mentioned offer some good opportunities for viewing and photography and of course the historical aspect – the very point of the trip. This takes us across the bottom of Lincolnshire into Nottingham, land of Robin Hood, pilot training and the Newark Aviation Museum.
On the way, you can take in the delights of the RAF Cranwell Aeroflight Museum a small museum illustrating the history of the still active RAF Cranwell. Attached to the side of the busy A17, Cranwell is a long-established airfield undertaking pilot training and there is good opportunity to see flying, passing out parades and even, I am reliably told, the odd Jaguar running under it’s own power. There are many opportunities to view aircraft, but safety can be an issue in some places.
Arriving at Newark, the museum is hidden behind trees on a small part of the old airfield (RAF Winthorpe), parts of which still exist. Arriving there, I am greeted by the tall tails and buildings of the old airfield. With an extensive range of cold war jets, piston aircraft and others, I am sure to be in for a great day.
With pride of place in the center of the external display, is of course the mighty Vulcan XM594. Walking below that huge triangular wing, you appreciate its ‘vastness’, stunning capability and surprisingly, how low it actually is to the ground.
Sitting beside it, is it’s payload, the ‘Bluesteel’ and other selected ordnance. Here you get a feeling of security thinking, this could actually ‘do the job’. Surrounding you are other examples from that same era, Canberra, Phantom and E.E. Lightning. Being outside, some of these models have seen better days but the long painstaking process of repainting is an ever daunting task the museum volunteers continue on with. A Meteor sits proudly nest to the Vulcan, like the many in my father’s photo album they are still relatively ‘common’ but nonetheless help to remind us of our once ‘leading the field’ heritage.
Many static cockpits adorn the area, some of which are opened at certain times of the year, an event attended by many enthusiasts and ex military alike. Along the row of airframes is the Shackleton. An aircraft that amazed me for many years, because like the Gannet and others, had a contra-rotating prop, something, as a child, I could never quite understand. How do you get two engines in that space? Before being replaced by the beautiful Nimrod, for me, this aircraft was one of the remaining reminders of prop driven aircraft with gun turrets and the last links of second world war airframes.
Across from the Shackleton stands the Jaguar, and if I’m honest, one of my favourites. These would scream across the sky often in formation and at low-level. Now, bar the odd taxi run, we have to resort to ‘You tube’ for those memorable images like the motorway take off, a stunt that made the Jaguar famous.
On entering the internal exhibition, I was delighted to see two aircraft I thought I would never be able to see, the Beautiful Saab Viggen and Draken. With it’s smiling ‘dopey dog’ style face, the Draken is tucked away in a darkened corner. It’s odd configuration and actual small size, giving it a cuteness lacking in other machines of war; it’s under-wing pylons, bristling with rockets, remind us that it was designed to kill.
As a youngster making my Airfix models, I took pride in my European collection and the Viggen taking pride of place amongst them. Here was a real life Viggen, in all it’s glory right in front of me.
As I stand looking, I can’t help think that, like many modern aircraft now, it has a passing resemblance to the Typhoon. With it’s small canards and large delta wing, the shape still amazes me.
The multicoloured camouflage patterns that adorn these aircraft give them a strange appeal to the onlooker. As an enthusiast, I have never seen one before, never seen one fly and will probably never will.
One story my father used to tell me was, how, once on a bus, he saw a new aircraft, guarded by armed guards and how he took a photo of it through the bus window. The immediate reaction was of course, to have a gun pointed at him, and as a serving RAF member, you would have thought it better of him to do such a thing. But thinking back, how many of us would have done the same thing! The aircraft was a Swift and here next to the Viggen, stood one fine example. How old and almost insignificant it now looks, it make you wonder why all the fuss? But, at the time, cutting edge technology I suppose!
Amongst the examples at the museum are more from the era: Gannets, Gnats, Meteors with experimental engines, Canberras and of course the Javelin and Harrier. Like many Harriers these days, it’s heart purposely taken out and displayed like a trophy. The engine, an amazing story of British technology which led the world in VTOL. The Harrier, once proud and fearsome despite it low-speed, now destined to be museum pieces or scrapyard fodder. No longer shall we see a jet bow to the crowds, fly backwards or spin around it’s centre. An engineering masterpiece and a showman guaranteed to pull and wow the crowds at any air display.
Outside the hanger, standing like proud gate guards are the reminders that the cold war was two-sided and that the Russians had incredible aircraft too. Another first for me, the Mig 23 and Mig 27. Two formidable aircraft that, when the iron curtain came down and better quality pictures were released from behind those closed doors, became a huge inter est to many. To see the aircraft designs and acrobatic skills of Soviet pilots in fast jets made us all realise that maybe, just maybe, we were not as invincible as we thought.
Again, like the Viggen, models of such aircraft, were I thought, the only way I was ever going to be close, but here I am in between two amazing aircraft in peace time.
Around the corner from the two Migs were, two more fine examples of this era, the Buccaneer and Sea Vixen. There are a few examples of these types scattered around the world, some flying, but most static airframes.
The Vixen, with its offset canopy, always fascinated me since my first model of the Ark Royal and its collection of these odd, twin boomed aircraft. Both these fine examples stand together as proudly today as they did all those years ago. As with many museums, a hot drink and cake in the small, friendly shop, completes an amazing day viewing some of the worlds major cold war aircraft, not available else where. A superb day!
Update. Following the Waddington airshow 2013, a ‘dream’ was realised when the Swedish Memorial group flew in a Viggen to perform an incredible display including short landing and reversing. Something to be seen!