We are very fortunate having a job that takes us to some of the best airshows and museums in the UK, with wonderful guests and this year was no exception. We also had the benefit of a heatwave and continuous sunshine for three weeks, rather unusual for September but very welcome. Our tour this year included four major events - Bedfordshire Vintage Airshow at Old Warden, The Victory Show at Cosby, Goodwood Revival and the Battle of Britain Airshow at Duxford.
Here are the highlights
Singapore Air Force Museum
Our stopover in Singapore included the Air Force Museum covering the history, heritage, and values of the Republic of Singapore Air Force. Very creative with interactive media, fighter jets, missiles, and anti-aircraft systems.
In the afternoon we headed up to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to the restaurant for the spectacular views over the city and the port. It’s worth the very expensive drink for those views.
Staying at the top class Crowne Plaza Changi Airport meant that we also had time to visit the Jewel Changi which is a nature-themed entertainment and retail complex linked to the airport. Its centrepiece is the world's tallest indoor waterfall, the Rain Vortex, that is surrounded by a terraced forest setting. It’s quite stunning.
British Motor Museum
On arrival in the UK we made our way to Warwickshire and the British Motor Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of historic British cars; over 400 cars which span the classic, vintage and veteran eras. The Museum building is a spectacular piece of architecture with an art deco design, whilst the Collections Centre building is a modern contrast.
Lightning Preservation Group
This group of enthusiasts based at Bruntingthorpe who are dedicated to maintaining three of the last remaining English Electric Lightning aircraft, two in fully functional condition, were amazing hosts and had time for us all to sit in the cockpit and find out more. After so many widely publicized setbacks and the dispersal of some of the collection, it is great to see that their fighting spirit lives on. Their engine run days are still as popular as ever.
Other museum aircraft on-site include a Canberra, Meteor, 2 Hunters, Venom, Sea Vixen, Iskra and Delphin L39.
National Space Centre
Our morning visit was at the UK’s largest planetarium, with the iconic 42m high Rocket Tower. It was quite interesting and the show in the dome was mind blowing but it was mostly geared up for youngsters so a couple of hours was enough for us and thanks to our eagle eyed guests we found a Victorian Pumping station adjacent to the Space Centre which was really fascinating. The effort that was put into making poo pumping equipment look good is beyond belief.
An icecream and the afternoon at leisure in Leicester rounded off the day.
The Victory Show
It was our first time at the Victory Show and we were very impressed.
There were over 60 stalls, static WWII aircraft, 1940’s working and static farming machinery, a huge army encampment with 50+ re-enactment groups, 200+ Vehicles including heavy armour, and an afternoon air display. We were surprised that there were no coach parking facilities but it was a bonus to be escorted onto the grass runway and dropped off at the entrance to the VIP enclosure, right on the flight line with an unobstructed view of the air display just yards in front of us which is unusual these days. We also had front row seats to the battle reenactment.
The VIP tickets were great value with lunch included and the hospitality team excellent, very personal service and we were treated like royalty the whole day really. In the evening we arrived at The Aviator Hotel at Sywell Aerodrome.
Sywell Aviation Museum & Shuttleworth Airshow
Sywell is home to a small but award-winning Museum which shares the rich heritage of the art deco aerodrome & hotel. It's a step back in time staying here, beautiful decor and intricate detail everywhere you look.
It is also home to Ultimate Warbird Flights who operate the famous Grace Spitfire.
We woke up to a fog bound aerodrome and could just see the Tiger Moth Diamond Nine aircraft on the grass.
The museum opened up early for us and we had some time enjoying the local aviation history and then watched the Tiger Moths depart for Old Warden and the Bedfordshire Vintage Airshow at Shuttleworth, with us following behind soon after.
The Shuttleworth Collection depicts the history of flight from the early 1900s to the 1950s with 5 hangars of exhibits many of which take part in the flying display. Also on display were some of the UK’s finest examples of heritage steam engines & motor vehicles. With the Swiss Gardens and Shuttleworth House to explore, this really is a great day out.
The Kingfisher Riverside Pub in Bedford was our hotel for the night, a lovely setting on the banks of the river Ouse.
North Weald Airfield Museum & Southend Vulcan Restoration Trust
We dropped into North Weald to visit the museum, jam packed with the area’s history and had lunch at The Squadron Café overlooking the airfield and resident DC3.
In the afternoon we visited one of only 3 Vulcans in the world to be maintained in 'live' ground running condition. XL426 served with the Royal Air Force from 1962 to 1986. On her retirement she was purchased by a private buyer who had her flown to Southend Airport, Essex. After many years of storage at the airport, in 1993 ownership was transferred to the Vulcan Restoration Trust and the Trust began an extensive restoration programme to bring her back to her current condition. The sheer scale of the hangars and the Vulcan is enough to impress and the work going on to preserve this aircraft is quite something.
Our hotel in Southend, the Westcliffe Hotel, spectacular views over the Thames Estuary since 1891.
We chartered a boat today and with perfect conditions headed out to the Maunsell Army and Navy Forts which were built and placed in the Thames Estuary in 1942 to help protect London from airstrikes and sea raids during World War II. After the war, the forts became the headquarters for pirate radio stations. Today, they are abandoned, eerie and dilapidated structures.
Passing some half sunk Mulberry Harbours that never made it to the D-Day beaches, we heard all about the Estuary and what lies below the surface. In the distance the towers appeared, such an incredible sight, and we were transfixed as we approached. We floated in between them in silence for a while and then with expert commentary slowly made our way back into the Estuary. We stopped again to circle the wreck of the SS Sir Richard Montgomery, still full of ammunition and waiting to be dismantled. The three masts were just visible and home to birds who have no idea what they are sitting on. The final part of the journey included looking at some images of what lies under the water and could be part of a future trip with underwater viewing. We followed this with a day at leisure in Southend
Biggin Hill & Chartwell House
We spent the morning on a guided tour of the many Spitfires based at the Heritage Hangar, including the restoration projects. Currently there are 14 Spitfires, 3 Hurricanes, Messerschmitt 109, Harvard, and Cub to view. A collection of vintage cars & motorcycles are also on show. Some lucky chap was taking to the air in the 2 seater Spitfire so we had a chance to watch this at close quarters.
Following this we spent the afternoon at Chartwell House, home of Sir Winston Churchill. A beautiful home, lovely gardens and the studio where he painted, still filled with his many paintings.
We overnighted at the stunning Stanhill Court Hotel, just north of Gatwick.
Gatwick Aviation Museum
This unique collection of aircraft and engines from the Golden Age of British aircraft manufacturing started as a private collection and today is mostly housed in a couple of hangars. Much improved since our last visit with new reception, café & shop in the second building, the Museum traces and celebrates Gatwick Airport, including the history of the many commercial airlines that operated from here. The Virgin Atlantic A350 training rig was a great way to find out just what travelling in style is all about! The Shackleton sits outside and we were lucky to have a pilot, advanced in years but still happy to be onsite to share his Shackleton stories and captivate his audience.
We spent the day at the greatest historic motor race meeting and the only sporting event of its kind to be staged entirely in a period theme. The festival is a showcase for wheel-to-wheel racing around a classic circuit, untouched by more modern developments, and relives the glory days of Goodwood Circuit, which ranked alongside Silverstone as Britain's leading racing venue throughout its active years 1948 to 1966. The Freddie March “Spirit of Aviation” static display included Hangar 8 with the Barrel Bomber and Silver Spitfire outside, this being it’s home airfield.
Opening the racing day was a display of over 200 classic motorbikes and with a couple of showers in the afternoon, there was some very entertaining racing. This event just keeps getting bigger and better.
We walked to Solent Sky, The "Birthplace" and "Home" of The Spitfire. The Museum showcases the history of aviation in Southampton and the Solent area and pays tribute to RJ Mitchell, British aircraft designer and developer of the Spitfire. Geographically this was one of the most important areas in the country, if not the world, for aircraft experimental and development work between 1908 and the late 1960s, the most famous being the Spitfire. There are 18 aircraft of various types, including the Spitfire, S6b and the Sunderland. There are certainly a lot of aircraft shoehorned into this building. The upper levels have the added bonus of the Hampshire Police and Fire Heritage Collection.
Monday was a day at leisure, some went off to explore further afield while the rest of us did a walking tour of Southampton and visited the SeaCity Museum to learn about how the Titanic tragedy affected the local people. Whilst the ship was built in Belfast, most of the staff onboard were picked up from Southampton, 724 people of whom 549 died.
Classic Boat Museum & Needles Old Battery
We took the ferry across the Solent to the Isle of Wight arriving in Cowes with the Columbine Building, the former Saunders & Roe factory - an amazing example of 1930's industrial architecture, on our left. The Classic Boat Museum Gallery is situated in a corner of the building and has a vast collection of maritime memorabilia reflecting all aspects of being on the water, from workboats to pleasure craft and racing vessels. There were some very interesting links to local aviation as well. We were lucky enough to be allowed up onto the balcony overlooking the vast hangar space in which the flying boats were built, and watch the current occupants Wight Shipyard Co building their boats.
In the afternoon we headed on to the Needles Landmark Attraction, where the iconic three stacks of chalk that rise about 30 metres out of the sea are situated. We took the bus up to the “New Battery” Highdown Test Site, a rare example of a 1950s British rocket test facility, built at a time when the country was amongst a handful of nations at the forefront of rocket and missile technology, perched high above the Needles Rocks. The few remaining buildings house some history of the site including the Black Arrow rocket but with restricted opening times were not open for our visit. We could however walk out onto what was left of the platforms and had a great view of the Needles. It was just a short walk down to the Victorian "Old Battery" which has gun emplacements and a tunnel out to the cliff edge searchlight position with some great exhibits detailing the activities carried out here. This fort was built to protect the Needles passage and the naval dockyard at Portsmouth from the threat of French attack in the 19th century.
Our beachfront accommodation, the Sandringham Hotel was perfectly positioned between the beach and the High Street and very traditional with excellent food and service.
Wight Aviation & Airframe Assemblies
Just out of town, Sandown airfield is home to Wight Aviation and Airframe Assemblies.
Wight Aviation recognizes the fusion of marine and aviation skills that led to the building of 600 aircraft on the Island during WW1 and illustrates the intense "War in the Air" over the Isle of Wight during the Battle of Britain. A lovely team of volunteers opened up specially for us and were most welcoming. We were amazed to see the progress here in the past few years since the museum opened. Great island history and some fantastic exhibits, a really good example of what a small team of passionate people can achieve.
We then headed over to Airframe Assemblies, a company dedicated to the restoration and repair of airframes for World War II warbirds mainly Spitfires. We were very privileged to be guided through the workshops to hear about and see the restorations on the go, including Sandys Spitfire and the Typhoon. Customer privacy understandably restricted photography but Sandys is a public project and gave us some great shots.
The detailed stages of the restorations were fascinating and I know this was a highlight for some.
Farnborough Air Sciences Trust
Leaving the Isle of Wight, our next stop was FAST (Farnborough Air Sciences Trust) , founded in 1993 to safeguard Farnborough's priceless aeronautical heritage. The museum holds a collection of aircraft, satellites, simulators, wind tunnel and Royal Aircraft Establishment-related material. No other single location in the world has contributed so much to the development of aeronautical science over such a long period of time. Our visit to the wind tunnels in the architecturally important listed buildings was very impressive. A comprehensive guided tour was topped off with a very detailed keepsake brochure. We had a little time in the main museum (not nearly enough I know) before lunching and heading off again because we had a very exciting addition to the itinerary to fit in – a visit to White Waltham airfield and a close encounter with the World's only 2 seater Hurricane.
One of our guests had booked a flight in Hurricane BE505 so we were happy to share the experience and get a look inside, watch the departure and arrival, and get some great photos. We were lucky to have Hurricane Heritage’s other aircraft R4118 fly in as well, the most original Hurricane from The Battle of Britain still airworthy today, so it was a great afternoon at White Waltham. We ended the day in Cambridge at the Arundel House Hotel.
Imperial War Museum Duxford
As always we had a pre-airshow visit to the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, to maximum time exploring the five hangars, as airshow day has limited time. Duxford played a vital part in the Battle of Britain, and part of the collection is still housed in the remaining original hangars, a couple having been blown up for the film Battle of Britain. There is a lot to see with five massive hangars – Land Warfare, Air and Sea, American Air Museum, Conservation in Action & AirSpace, and a lot more.
The trade stalls were beginning to set up and with lots of aircraft onsite already the excitement was building.
Battle of Britain Airshow
We arrived and settled into our base for the day - the Gold Pass marquee. The flight line opened up early, shrouded in mist which made photography a bit tricky, but the sun soon came out and made it pleasant to wander the stalls, watch some vintage singing and check out any bits we missed the previous day before flying started. It was a great display, with one highlight being the return of a rare formation for the first time in 28 years. B-17G Flying Fortress and the BBMF’s Lancaster, the show culminating with the famous spectacular mass fly-past over the airfield.
At Leisure in Cambridge
Sunday was a day to explore Cambridge, the university buildings, the view from the top of St Mary Church, watch some punting and of course have a pint in the Eagle pub with the ceiling of messages in the RAF bar, left by WW2 RAF pilots (and now many others) in the hope that they are never forgotten. Other notable regulars here were Watson & Crick who discovered the existence of DNA.
We spent our last day bringing together the history of aviation and motorsport at the fantastic Brooklands, the site of many engineering and technological achievements.
Brooklands-based aircraft companies such as Bleriot, Hawker, Sopwith, Martinsyde, and Vickers were key players in the early years of aviation and were crucial to its early development. Also here is The London Bus Museum which houses a remarkable collection of around 35 buses and coaches, the largest collection of working historic London buses in the world. It had been 5 years since our last visit so the new hangar housing the Loch Ness Wellington was very interesting to see and the next level educational exhibits quite incredible. Kept us entertained for a while anyway!
A 2-minute walk from Brooklands and well worth the stroll was Mercedes-Benz World, the ultimate showroom with an array of automotive icons past and present from the Gullwing and Patent Motor Wagen to modern-day supercars such as the SLS AMG.
We finished the day back at Heathrow for the flights home or other onward arrangements.
Here's our lovely group at The Victory Show, Vulcan Restoration Trust and White Waltham.
A huge thanks also to Greys of Ely and our fantastic drivers Andy, Scott, Tilbs, Kevin & George.
Thanks to all who shared their images too.
Hope to see you all again soon
Mel & Kev