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THE JET AGE RESERVE MODEL COLLECTION

 
 
   
  GOODBYE STAVERTON  
 
   
  In the autumn of the year 2000 the doors of the Gloucestershire Aviation Collection's Jet Age Museum clanged shut to the public for the final time. Hangar Seven at the West Camp - just off the B4063 - was needed for commercial redevelopment by its owners - Gloucestershire Airport - and the evicted Collection was forced into storage.  
 
   
 

Gloster Javelin XH 903 - formerly an exhibit at the Jet Age Museum - is now the gate guardian at Gloucestershire Airport

 
 
   
  After a number of removals by local haulage firm Charles Russell, some of the airframes are now back on Gloucestershire Airport land - most notably "gate guardian" Gloster Javelin Mark 9 XH 903 by the terminal buildings and Gloster Meteor F8 WH 364 near the Firfax aviation hangar, visible from the B4063.  
 
   
 

Gloucestershire Aviation Collection Gloster Meteor F8 WH 364 in its previous home at the former RAF Kemble

 
 
   
  Even more aircraft, artefacts and documents however are in other storage facilities around Gloucestershire and more about the Gloucestershire Aviation Collection as a whole can be found by visiting www.jetagemuseum.org  
 
   
  MODEL BEHAVIOUR  
 
   
  Also due for removal in autumn 2000 were the model aircraft that had accumulated at the Jet Age Museum for the best part of a decade. This ranged from large scale display models - like the popular Lufthansa liveried "Concorde that never was" - that had been used within the British aircraft industry itself to 1:144 scale kit-made models donated by relatives of aviation enthusiasts recently deceased.

In fact the Jet Age Museum rather than a number of local dustbins became the new home for several hundred otherwise redundant Airfix type models. This seemingly endless pageant of novelty then led first to a 1 000 and then to a 2 000 model special display weekend - with visiting contributors - featured on regional TV. But keeping the collection in good order and conservation was a challenge.

The former Skyfame Museum at Gloucestershire Airport ( known simply as Staverton in the 1960s and 70s ) had had a model collection numbering in the thousands and was reportedly the largest in Britain. Before many of these - including a Bristol Boxkite scratchbuilt in 1910 and claimed to be Britain's oldest aircraft model - were taken to Duxford when Peter Thomas's establishment closed they had been housed in a dedicated room full of showcases. Sadly Jet Age - often mistaken for Skyfame by older visitors! - could not offer a comparable display environment.

At best, Hangar Seven offered eight opportunities for visitors to see the model collection. On entry past the shop and reception area, the cafe ceiling was hung with the 1/72 scale favourites of many a boy's bedroom such as the Avro Lancaster, Handley Page Halifax, Boeing B-17 and B-29 Superfortress alongside more obscure models such as the B-52 Stratofortress and the Messerschmidt Gigant troop transport. Over the counter selling "liquid and solid fuel" ( coffee and chocolate bars mainly! ) there was even a 1/100 scale Handley Page Victor flying tanker with 1/72 scale Desert Storm liveried Vought A-7 Corsair probing its drogue - and giving visitors a sense of perspective!

On the right hand side of the room were three inset glass cabinets containing Gloster, RAF fighter and Classic British Jet aircraft models at waist level with another floor mounted cabinet which usually displayed RAF and RN training aircraft. Although the Gloster cabinet also contained some larger scale wood, metal and plastic models, most of the aircraft behind glass in the cafe area were of the internationally recognised 1/72 scale.

The same was true of the four display cases in the main hangar area. Indeed, one of these - located by the Avro Vulcan cockpit section - contained constant scale models of the real aircraft found in the museum so that visitors could gain a better idea of how all the different airframes and cockpits related to each other: something hard to do without sufficient room to stand back from the "real thing".

The other three hangar cabinets however gave visitors the chance to make comparisons between aircraft that might never have met. One of these - formerly a tobacconist's cabinet for Ronson lighters - was largely used for fragile helicopters while the largest cabinet was of true museum design. Set on two chests of drawers, this comprised two glass-lidded sections either side of a central division. One side was taken up by a donated collection of very well made 1/48 scale aircraft ( always referred to as "48 Squadron" but comprising British, American and German fighters and bombers! ) while the other was used for a variety of themed 1/72 scale displays. This could range from naval aircraft, tactical bombers, NATO aircraft, and aircraft built for export to any other combination of available models in the reserve collection which we could think of.

We tried to change the display at least once a month - a practice which we also applied to our our final cabinet: the smallest but possibly the most interesting. This itself was another donation and consisted of glass and wood covering a military airfield diorama complete with taxiways and revetments. As such it was ideal for displaying an "air force of the month" alongside an eclectic collection of fighting vehicles that Jet Age had also built up. Luftwaffe jets and rocketplanes of World War II for example could stand next to "Whirlwind" self-propelled flak guns and kubelwagens - or Mustangs and Thunderbolts next to Sherman tanks and US Army combat tractors. Either way, a sense of physical location made a change from "butterfly collection" layouts and often prompted mutually informative conversations between visitors and museum volunteers.

 
 
   
  I'M A MITSUBISHI - GET ME OUT OF HERE!  
 
   
 

A Mitsubishi G3M twin engined bomber

 
 
   
 

A Mitsubishi G3M twin engined bomber

 
 
   
  What the visitors did not see however were the limited -and not always ideal - conditions for storing reserve collection models not on display and the challenge of sorting and organising these models so that new displays could be prepared and old ones dismantled in an orderly fashion. Too much time could otherwise be wasted looking for a particular model - and just being stuffed in any old drawer was not condusive to the health of aerials, undercarriages, missile loads, propellers and the like!

As the constant stream of new arrivals approached gridlock, too, the Museum adopted a more rigid model collection policy. Within this Gloster aircraft - from Grebes through Gladiators, Hurricanes, Typhoons and Meteors to Javelins - were naturally most prized with Bristol and other British propeller and jet aircraft and comparable jets from other sources ( notably delta wing designs to match the Javelin) coming next in desirability. A third level was formed by aircraft that would or could have fought the above if not already included. The final level would comprise of all other aircraft. Finally, good quality models would ideally be preferred over the "there because it's rare" sort.

This led to some interesting dilemmas! Would we save a Canadair CF-100 Canuck cack-handedly assembled over a millimetre-perfect P-38 Lockheed Lightning in Chinese Nationalist colours?

In the end they both went as the Jet Age model collection had to downsize considerably just to survive the closure of the Museum. Luckily quite a few members agreed to take home the contents of the various semi-permanent display cases but the three, four and even more engined ( like the Boeing B-36 Peacemaker ) 1/72 scale aircraft were obviously not practical to store on this basis. Many would not have fitted through a loft trapdoor to start with! As a result they were sold off during the final days of the Museum at 1.00 per engine: the same fate that befell many of the Luftwaffe and US Navy Pacific Fleet models that ended up at Staverton after being put together in a less than pleasing manner. In fact today's Jet Age Reserve Model Collection has just one reasonable -condition Messerschmidt Bf 110 Zerstorer rather than 20 examples with dodgy decals and wonky wheels!

After the closure of the Jet Age Museum, many of the evacuated Jet Age Reserve Model Collection aircraft were further declared surplus to requirements. These were sold on a similar pricing basis at model railway shows and village fetes to raise money to keep real Jet Age aircraft and artefacts in storage. In fact one model - a Blackburn Buccaneer - was transferred to the famous lorry modelling Mellor Brothers with the aim of using it as a load for a 4mm scale Charles Russell low loader trailer and tractor combination.

 
 
   
  REVELLS WITHOUT A CAUSE  
 
   
 

Once in storage, the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection was further sorted into 1/72 scale plastic propeller and jet, single and twin engine types and building nations: ie a Douglas Dakota would still be filed under Propeller, Twin Engined, American despite having RAF markings. Also stored are a small number of larger and smaller scale fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, metal and wooden models. Most of these are nominally stored in robust Fellowes Econo/Stor 23 boxes which can typically take up to six Spitfires or a single English Electric Canberra. However six boxes have had to be "cut and shut" together to store three remarkable twin engined aircraft: a Bristol Freighter, a German Gotha biplane bomber and a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spyplane.

 
 
   
  Once in storage, the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection was further sorted into 1/72 scale plastic propeller and jet, single and twin engine types and building nations: ie a Douglas Dakota would still be filed under Propeller, Twin Engined, American despite having RAF markings. Also stored are a small number of larger and smaller scale fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, metal and wooden models. Most of these are nominally stored in robust Fellowes Econo/Stor 23 boxes which can typically take up to six Spitfires or a single English Electric Canberra. However six boxes have had to be "cut and shut" together to store three remarkable twin engined aircraft: a Bristol Freighter, a German Gotha biplane bomber and a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spyplane.

The Blackbird has become a firm favourite on the show circuit, although until 2004 Jet Age Reserve Model Collection aircraft had a role limited to advertising aviation related events in shop windows. What these winged actors lacked was a theatre in which they could tell their own stories.

 
 
   
  THE AIRFIELD CONTROL TOWER DIORAMA  
 
   
 

The Jet Age Reserve Model Collection's two maritime patrol aircraft - Avro Anson and Lockheed Hudson - on display with RAF crew by Airfix.

 
 
   
  The Jet Age Reserve Model Collection's two maritime patrol aircraft - Avro Anson and Lockheed Hudson - on display with RAF crew by Airfix.  
 
   
  This diorama box was originally built in 2002 as an exercise in storage and display design that paved the way for more ambitious projects. Measuring 21 1/2" ( 500 mm ) wide by 13 1/2" ( 340 mm ) deep by 8" ( 210 mm) tall, it comprising a base made from an old piece of kitchen worktop, sides and back made from thick medium density fibreboard (MDF) and a clear perspex front. As such it was easily transported by car, carried by one person and quickly set up. From an exhibition manager's viewpoint, the Airfield Control Tower diorama needs no electricity, can fit in otherwise unused small spaces and makes an informative and novel contribution among other displays and layouts.

The roof of the box was so designed that it would form a dust-resisting cover for the contents when closed during storage and also an easel when fitted to the back of the box in an upright position for display. This easel would then be able to hold two pieces of A4 paper laminated both for stiffness and to give a more professional finish. Typically one sheet of A4 would be a friendly warning not to touch the exhibits and the other a description of the models contained.

The contents of the Airfield Control Tower Diorama box were a compromise between operational flexibilty and evocation of a bygone era. To choose just one moment in time and populate the box with all the authentic figures, vehicles, buildings and aircraft would be a costly and time consuming job - even if a pleasurable one - but once widely seen and appreciated it would have to be stored until an audience was ready to encounter it again. More immediately, this approach would not allow the fullest range of Jet Age Reserve Model Collection to be exhibited.

On the other hand, an empty patch of grass could just as well be a farmer's field! Luckily, the 4mm scale Airfix kit of a typical World War II type Bomber Command type control tower was available and -when fully detailed - proved to be evocative of a period stretching from the late 1930s into the 1950s. This makes it highly compatible with Jet Age Reserve Model Collection assets ranging from the last of the RAF's biplane fighters right up to the first generation jets. Indeed, the control tower itself has also had a life outside the box giving the same atmosphere to ther displays and its tarmac hard standing could equally be used for vehicles representing other eras in its absence

The control tower - while adding interest to the scene - also fits far enough into the corner of the box to allow two 1/72 scale light twin engined bomber aircraft of the Second World War to be displayed.

 
 
   
  THE AIRFIELD EMBANKMENT DIORAMA  
 
   
  An early evaluation test shows the Airfield Embankment Diorama box without the easel lid but with GWR and British Railways Western Region rolling stock backing no less than eight Sydney Camm designed fast jets. Four of five would be a less crowded exhibition presentation!  
 
   
  An early evaluation test shows the Airfield Embankment Diorama box without the easel lid but with GWR and British Railways Western Region rolling stock backing no less than eight Sydney Camm designed fast jets. Four or five would be a less crowded exhibition presentation!  
 
   
  Following on from the Control Tower Diorama, the Airfield Embankment was designed and built in the autumn of 2004 to have similar performance characteristics while maximising the display potential of both Jet Age Reserve Model Collection aircraft and my own 00 gauge Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company rolling stock.

It was also inspired by a number of real airfield locations with a railway embankment nearby such as Hendon, Radlett, Cosford and RAF Valley on Anglesea. More locally, Filton aerodrome actually had a railway separating the hangars from the runways - but that is another story!

The fully landscaped embankment with its 16.5mm gauge wooden sleepered tracks also serves both as a stiffening member for the whole box and as a way of raising the trains slightly above the elevation of the aircraft for the viewer. This is particularly important as the trains take the function of the control tower in the older diorama to a new level. Rather than being stuck in Britain in World War II, different trains allow the Airfield Embankment Diorama to become anywhere in Britain or the temperate parts of Europe or North Eastern North America in any period from 1903 onwards. For the same reason the landscaping of the embankment was deliberately anonymous with no electrification masts, telegraph poles, signals or other specifying infrastructure.

Measuring 48" ( 1220 mm ) wide by 18" ( 460 mm) deep by 6" (170 mm ) tall ( with easel lid closed ) it can be transported in the back of a Vauxhall Astra, Rover 25 or similar small car. Being much longer than the Control Tower Diorama, its strength derives from a model railway baseboard style lattice floor under the full width 12" ( 300 mm ) deep airfield apron as well as the wooden skinned embankment. For one person to carry the diorama box - using the lattice as handles - the perspex front and airfield apron have to be removed and carried separately, thus slightly lengthening setting up and dismantling times. However, being separate components, the perspex front can be omitted when displaying long wingspan aircraft and the standard concrete apron can be substituted for another configured as a grass field or containing other scenic features.

 
  Currently though, Jet Age Model Reserve Collection presentations are focussed on exploring the existing Airfield Embankment configuration and for some of the stories that have been told so far click on the picture below  
 
   
 

Modelling on 12" to the foot has the advantage of more realistic detailing! A replica of Bae Systems Harrier GR5 ZH139 on show at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford in 2002

 
 
   
  C.A.R.G. MODELS JOINS JET AGE RESERVE MODEL COLLECTION  
 
   
 

Although obviously not fitting in with the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection's main scale policy, a number of these larger models - most notably the Gloster Meteor F1 from the Tamiya Kit and the fellow 1/48 scale Douglas C-47 Dakota in Battle of Britain Memorial Flight markings - have found useful employment in shop displays where 1/72 scale ( not to mention 1/144 scale ) aircraft would tend to get lost. During the spring and summer of 2008 for instance, the ex CARG 1/48 scale Douglas C-47 Dakota in Battle of Britain Memorial Flight markings was hung from the ceiling of Gloucester Tourist Information Centre ahead of some similarly suspended leaflets for Kemble Air Day. The DL sized colour brochures were positioned transitioning between horizontal and vertical like parachutists leaving the "Goony Bird" on loops of fishing line - as was the twin engined transport itself. These loops - recycled from the ceiling of the old Staverton canteen - provided very stable support even for such a large aircraft which only rolled a little under the fiercest draughts from the fan mounted on the ceiling!

 
 
   
  Although a number of plastic and die cast models have been added to the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection over the years with the aim of filling gaps in specific displays - the RAAF Meteor F8 in the model history of Gloster Aircraft displayed in Gloucester Folk Museum in 2007 being a case in point - the addition of model aircraft from the Cotswold Aircraft Restoration Group (CARG) has recently added new scope to possible presentations.

Like the Jet Age, CARG was forced to leave their long standing premises ( in their case RAF Innsworth which closed in 2007 ) and rather than pursue a separate reserve model collection policy joined forces with the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection. The CARG collection included a number of fine 1/72 scale items - such as the Hawker Sea Fury and radial engined Tempest - which once again filled gaps in the existing aviation paradigm as well as a number of 1/48 and 1/32 scale models.

Although obviously not fitting in with the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection's main scale policy, a number of these larger models - most notably the Gloster Meteor F1 from the Tamiya Kit and the fellow 1/48 scale Douglas C-47 Dakota in Battle of Britain Memorial Flight markings - have found useful employment in shop displays where 1/72 scale ( not to mention 1/144 scale ) aircraft would tend to get lost. During the spring and summer of 2008 for instance, the ex CARG 1/48 scale Douglas C-47 Dakota in Battle of Britain Memorial Flight markings was hung from the ceiling of Gloucester Tourist Information Centre ahead of some similarly suspended leaflets for Kemble Air Day. The DL sized colour brochures were positioned transitioning between horizontal and vertical like parachutists leaving the "Goony Bird" on loops of fishing line - as was the twin engined transport itself. These loops - recycled from the ceiling of the old Staverton canteen - provided very stable support even for such a large aircraft which only rolled a little under the fiercest draughts from the fan mounted on the ceiling!