This tribute to Skyfame was assembled in September 2007 when I was invited to present a model display at an archive film night organised by The Gloucester Cine and Video Club at St George’s Hall, Brockworth on Monday 15 October 2007. As some of the planned archive film featured the Avro York and Handley Page Hastings formerly kept at Gloucestershire Airport, Staverton, as part of the Skyfame Museum I was asked if I could bring along some 1/72 scale models of these four engined transports.
However, to my knowledge, neither the Avro York nor the Handley Page Hastings were ever available as either injection moulded kits although the Hastings was vacuum formed many years ago. Instead I suggested bringing parts of the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection that would illustrate some of Skyfame’s smaller exhibits.
My Brockworth tribute to the Skyfame Aircraft Museum on the Square Airfield diorama featured, clockwise from bottom left, De Havilland Mosquito, Avro Anson, Airspeed Oxford, Gloster Meteor F8, Fairey Firefly, Miles Magister, Hawker Tempest and Gloster Gladiator. In the centre are a De Havilland Vampire and the NRDC SRN1 hovercraft.
This article first appeared on Gloucestershire Transport History in late 2007 and is reproduced here with some appropriate updates from the perspective of 2015.
Before its departure from the West Camp at Gloucestershire Airport in 2000, one of the questions most frequently asked by visitors to the Jet Age Museum was “Are you Skyfame?” The answer was no – but we often wished we were!
The Skyfame Aircraft Museum was founded by Welsh air historian Peter Thomas in 1963 as a memorial to his older brother, Desmond David Patrick Thomas, who died on active RAF flying duty aboard a Vickers Wellington bomber July 1941. It was also remarkable for being the very first museum in Great Britain devoted entirely to aviation – a concept we take very much for granted today.
Skyfame occupied a black hangar opposite the modern terminal building at Staverton until increasing rents forced the museum to close and the collection to be dispersed in 1978.
For those magical intervening years however, Skyfame was a treat for aviation enthusiasts both young and old, boasting not only some rare and famous full scale aeroplanes but an enormous model collection – reputedly the largest in Britain. It was also a very informal and friendly museum, retaining both a great rapport between owner and visitors and that oily, rubbery, metallic smell of working aircraft rather than the polished aroma of institutionalised exhibits.
Many of the aircraft and other artefacts went to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford in Cambridgeshire. However, the Avro York – parked outside at Staverton along with Skyfame’s Handley Page Hastings – is now preserved in RAF Cosford’s National Cold War Museum and the unique surviving Saunders Roe jet flying boat now rests at Southampton Sky.
As a sixteen year old in 1978 there was, unfortunately, nothing that I could do to stop Skyfame closing but in this article I would like to pay tribute to the pioneering aircraft preservation work of Peter Thomas and his wife Gwladys (pictured seated in the centre of the picture above) and his family with descriptions of aircraft similar to just some of the types – or parts of types – that used to inhabit the black hangar at Staverton. What a treasure trove Gloucestershire lost that year.
THE SUNDERLAND CONNECTION
Peter Thomas – who sadly died in 2005 – will also be remembered at the RAF Museum at Hendon for their acquisition of Short Sunderland flying boat ML824. This was one of the last operational examples of its type and was donated by the French Navy on 24 March 1961 when it flew into the former Sunderland base in Pembroke Dock. It stayed in Wales for a decade as a memorial to the wartime aircrew who had served there until being relocated in Hendon’s Battle of Britain Hall.
Vital to Britain’s survival in the early war years during the Battle of the Atlantic, the Short Sunderland flying boat made its last flight with the Royal Air Force over Singapore in May 1959, after 21 years of service. However, when Cardigan based Peter Thomas wrote to Air Marshal Sir Edward Chilton, newly-appointed Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command and a great flying-boat supporter, about possible preservation the sympathetic reply he received was also depressing, telling how he and his fellow C-in-C, Lord Bandon in the Far East, had worked out with their staffs a feasible plan to fly one of the last Sunderlands home.
The plan, wrote Sir Edward, had been firmly vetoed by the Air Council, which did not number an ex-Coastal Commander among members. A frustrated and angry Peter Thomas wrote back to Sir Edward and announced his plan to start a `Save-the-Sunderland’ campaign.
Here is how one edition of the Skyfame Museum Guide told the story:
“The Skyfame Aircraft Museum owes its foundation to one aeroplane which, paradoxically, is not on view with “Gloucestershire’s Private Air Force.” Late in 1959, when Coastal Command’s efforts to bring back the last Short Sunderland in RAF service from Singapore had been frustrated by red tape, a public appeal was made to raise £ 15 000 – the cost of bring ing one back from New Zealand. The response from all sections of the nation and Commonwealth was immediate and substantial. Eminent figures who pledged early support included Lord Brabazon of Tara, Mr Oswald Short, Sir Philip Joubert, Sir Frederick Bowhill, Sir Edward Chilton and Sir Alan Cobham. When news came that the French Navy were still operating three Sunderlands, reprieved from scheduled retirement a year earlier, an approach was made to our Allies with a view to purchasing one. After correspondence between Sir Philip Joubert and Admiral Souquet, a Sunderland was offered as a gift.
On 24 March 1961, the whole of Pembroke Dock ( along with crowds of forewarned visitors ) turned out to watch ML824 sweep triumphantly in over Milford Haven with her escort of two Shackleton bombers [ call signs`Peter’ and `Oboe’] from 201 Squadron Coastal Command – the unit in which she had served during World War 2. Every ship in the haven gave a siren salute to this surviving member of a breed that had convoyed so many of their kind to to safety during the dark years of submarine warfare. The next day the Sunderland was ceremonially presented to Mr Hugh Oswald Short, the pioneer flying boat designer/ constructor and President of the newly formed Short Sunderland Trust.”
Short Sunderland ML824 – still in its French Navy markings – is pictured above being brought to dry land on its wheeled beaching gear. In 1971 it was dismantled and in sections moved by road and sea to the RAF Museum at Hendon where, in 1978, it became a permanent feature of the Battle of Britain Hall.
FOUNDING SKYFAME AT STAVERTON
The Skyfame Museum Guide continued:
“With eighteen months of hard work rewarded by the seting up of the Short Sunderland Trust at Pembroke Dock, the organisers of the campaign to save this most famous of all flying boats turned their attention to other famous British aircraft of the last Great War which, in default of any organised plan to save them were about to become extinct.”
Many, it is true, had been saved by the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and various firms. The Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito, Lancaster and Swordfish – to name only a few, were being cared for. However, there were so many that were not. Most of those cared for were not on permanent display to the British people. There was no museum in the country devoted soley to aviation, although there were of course aeronautical sections to the Science and Imperial War Museums. In addition, there was the flying section of the Shuttleworth Collection, devoted very largely to types of pre-1939 vintage.
Then came two years of research and work devoted to the formation of a home for those famous wartime aircraft of the nineteen forties about to disappear for good. A world-wide hunt was initiated for some of the types considered as priorities and eight aircraft were nominated for the initial list. These were:- Mosquito, Anson I, Oxford, Firefly I, Beaufighter, Blenheim, Walrus and Halifax.
Of these, only the Mosquito had, at that time, been preserved and this was in prototype form. it was to be a feature of the new museum that its aircraft would be genuine examples with Service histories behind them and with airframes largely as when they originally left the factories. The decision to include the Mosquito was based on the fact that as many examples of this outstanding aircraft as possible should be saved. Despite many problems involved in the search, the first four types have been acquired. A Beaufighter is in the RAF Collection as a result of Skyfame’s work, a Walrus has been rebuilt by the Royal Navy and we have the nose section of the last Halifax. We are working on a project to bring back the Blenheim.
With their plans completed, the organisers decided on the formation of a limited company with the appropriate title of Skyfame, as the most effective way of ensuring the speedy establishment and expansion of the museum before the aircraft listed should disappear. It ensured the quick decisions and prompt action deemed to be essential over a matter of some urgency. An appeal was made in the aeronautical press for the offer of a suitable site, while simultaneously the first aircraft was acquired on its retirement from the RAF. This was Mosquito bomber TA719 finishing its Service life as a target tug at Exeter and the request for authority to purchase it had been made to the Air Ministry and accepted twelve months previously. Its release in the spring of 1963 coincided with an offer by the Manager of Gloucester/ Cheltenham Municipal Airport to site the Museum at Staverton. The offer of this suitably central site was accepted and on 31 August 1963 – with the museum’s first acquisition TA719 hard at work as the “leading lady” in the thrilling film “633 Squadron”, Avro Anson N4877 became the first aircraft to join the museum “in person”. The last remaining Anson patrol bomber of the original type left in existence, is also the oldest British aircraft of World War II still flying.
During the winter that followed the Mosquito came home, its film work completed. “Georgie” as the little bomber was to become familiarly known to the people of Cheltenham and Gloucester, received an enthusiastic welcome when David Ogilvy flew it in to Staverton on 16 October 1963. it was followed in succession by Christopher Story’s Flying Flea and Guy Baker’s C30 Autogiro, both on indefinite loan by the owners.
The Flea was of 1937 vintage and Mrs Gwen Story had preserved it after her husband died. The next aircraft to arrive was flown in by John Schooling, who had delivered the museum’s Anson about six months earlier. it was Airspeed Oxford V3388, which touched down on 25 March 1964. The aircraft is almost the last example left in Britain of this famous trainer on which Desmond Thomas won his wings in 1941 at Brize Norton.
A flying demonstration was arranged for Press/ Radio/ Television/ photographers on 26 March 1964 and two days later, on the Saturday of Easter weekend, the Skyfame Aircraft Museum was officially opened to the public. it was decided that some flying displays would be held at various intervals throughout the year, but before the first on Whit Monday, Skyfame took delivery of its sixth aircraft.
This was a Fairey Firefly Mark I naval strike fighter which had ended its working life towing targets in Sweden. The owners, Svenska of Stockholm, generously presented the well kept aircraft, and its flight from Gothenburg to Staverton on 5 May 1964 was made possible by John Fairey whose father, Sir Richard Fairey, had founded the parent firm. The pilot was Tage Paller and the engineer Kenneth Skold.
During the summer of 1964 an accident to “Georgie” rendered the Mosquito incapable of further flying and it was pensioned off for ground display only. Its stable mate in “633 Squadron”, RS709 joined the museum for flying demonstrations on 24 September 1964.”
1964 also saw the foundation of the Skyfame Supporters Society with David Frederick Ogilvy as Chairman and “Skyfame Circuit” as its member’s magazine.
One of the Skyfame De Havilland Mosquitos is pictured above flying over Cheltenham. Note the nose gun armament.
MORE AIRCRAFT ARRIVE
“Having effected the preservation of the largest aircraft so far saved in Europe, the directors of Skyfame then went ahead with a new and unscheduled project, which was to bring in the largest aircraft yet to join the fleet. It was the Avro York, the last flying example of which was about to be retired. To ensure that this famous transport did not disappear for posterity, Skyfame decided to acquire it and on 9 October 1964 the York – G-AGNV – flew in flanked by two Handley Page Hastings of 24 Squadron, Transport Command. This was appropriate, for just as Coastal Command had provided a Shackleton escort for their first aircraft to be preserved, so Transport Command accorded an escort for the first type to represent their squadrons.
It had been decided to honour Sir Winston Churchill’s retirement from public life at that period by renovating the York as a replica of the famous “Ascalon” in which the great leader had flown, with his Chiefs of Staff, on epoch making flights to Casablanca, Tehran, Yalta and others involving top level conferences between wartime Heads of State. A letter was sent to Sir Winston informing him of the plan and his reply sent good wishes to the project.
Peter and Gwladys are pictured above surrounded by Skyfame members in front of their Winston Churchill memorial Avro York
In the spring of 1965 Skyfame was approached by a group of enthusiasts from Bristol, led by Graham Johnson of the British Aircraft Corporation – the company that was at the time busy building the Anglo-French Concorde airliner. They had located the Miles Magister trainer G-AFBS – surely the most well known and most photographed example of this little trainer which helped the Tiger Moth to train the majority of wartime pilots who won their wings in Britain. The group offered to spend their spare time on the restoration of this aircraft, abandoned in a very poor state behind a hangar at Bristol Airport, if Skyfame would purchase it and give it a home. A decision was made immediately by the directors and soon after the little aircraft was moved to Mr Johnson’s private house in Bristol, where refurbishing started. Following many months of hard work, the Magister arrived at the museum on 16 October 1965.
On 30 October 1965 a trailer wound its way through Cheltenham with the massive bulk of the front half of a four engined bomber’s fuselage on board. This was the nose section and crew compartment of the very last surviving Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber – PN323 – stablemate to the Lancaster and Bomber Command’s longest serving bomber on wartime operations. It had been transported from the Handley Page works at Radlett in Hertfordshire and was being presented to Skyfame by Graham Trant and Harry Levy, in whose custody it had rested for several years. Once restored to its previous condition, the nose section will be on view for visitors to enter and inspect.”
Once again, Skyfame anticipated the “open cockpit” policy of the Jet Age Museum which – with its accessible Gnat, Hunter and Vulcan cockpits – has happily found a new home at Meteor Business Park, Gloucestershire Airport, since 2013.
TWO SINGLE PISTONS, ONE TWIN JET
“In 1965 a team of hard working enthusiasts from the Royal Observer Corps at Tamworth in Staffordshire acquired Percival Proctor G-ALCK from Kidlington Airport, where it lay in a sad state of disrepair. it was taken to Tamworth and many months of hard work by the enterprising group led by Chief Observer Thompson and Leading Observer David Peace, gradually restored the aircraft to a presentable state. On view to the public for a small charge, much of the heavy costs involved in this work were defrayed by and at the end of the year its rescuers generously offered this rare version of one of Britain’s best known pre-war record breakers to the Skyfame Museum. The Proctor was safely delivered to Staverton on 23 February 1966. Painted in wartime camouflage by Skyfame’s volunteers, the Proctor now fulfills the popular wish for visitors to enter an aircraft and handle the controls. This, of course, is not possible with those aircraft maintained in flying condition.”
Great news for Skyfame early in 1966 was the decision by the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield to present two of their aircraft to the museum for safe keeping. These were the Hawker Tempest Mark 2 LA607 and the Saro SRA1 jet fighter flying boat TG263.
The Tempest was the most important British fighter during the closing months of the Second World War, mastering the V1 flying bombs and proving itself the only Allied fighter available in numbers able to deal effectively with the fast and dangerous German jets.
The Saro is, of course, the only jet flying boat ever built and flown in Great Britain. It appeared just too late to take part in the Pacific War, for which campaign it had been specifically designed. The Tempest arrived on 2 September 1966 and the Saro on 16 October 1966, both by road.”
The arrival of the Tempest gave Skyfame an aircraft representing each of the wartime flying Commands of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm making the museum truly representative of the wartime Commonwealth air forces.
A line up of Skyfame aircraft in the mid 1960s included – clockwise from Cierva Autogiro G-ACUU – Airspeed Oxford, Avro Anson, Hawker Tempest, Fairey Firefly, De Havilland Mosquito, Short Sherpa and Miles Magister. Inside the curve are the Percival Proctor and Flying Flea.
SKYFAME AIR DISPLAYS
The Thomas family aviation connection continues with Ray, the son of Peter, running the Aces High historic aeroplane company at North Weald in Essex. This, I think, is very apt as many Gloucestrians who never set foot inside the black hangar enjoyed watching the annual Staverton air displays that Skyfame also organised from Whit Monday 1964.
The 1969 Souvenir Programme announced that the display of that year would be opened by Mr Clive Hunting, Chairman of the Air League – an organisation which was then marking its 60th anniversary. Mr Hunting was also scheduled to present the Air League prize at the end of the display to the winner of a flour-bombing competition open to Turbulent aircraft. This was to be the penultimate item of the afternoon’s flying – just before the display of the English Electric Lightning of the Royal Air Force. And if later Lightning displays at Staverton were anything to go by, the final rocket climb of the English Electric Mach 2 fighter with both Avon engines on full reheat would have shaken the ground!
Also turning heads skyward, according to the ten shilling ( 50p in the coming decimal system ) programme was a display of Spitfire aerobatics by Captain John Fairey, and Avro Tutor from the Shuttleworth Trust and the Cotswold Gliding Club – winners of the Best Trained Glider Pilots Competition for 1969. In total contrast, these silent aviators were followed by a ground attack variant of the Hawker Hunter – an aircraft whose optional Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines were built in Brockworth on what would later become the Invista nylon site. More local connections were provided by the Smiths Industries flying laboratory – a twin engined Avro 748 – and aerobatics by the single engined Bolkow trainer of the Cotswold Aero Club.
Also arriving from the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden in Bedfordshire was L8932, the last flyable Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter, followed by Skyfame’s own Avro Anson and Airspeed Oxford from among a line up of other static Skyfame aircraft moved outside for the occasion.
The then twelve year old Battle of Britain Memorial Flight continued the display with its Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and Avro Lancaster followed by the little and large of the contemporary RAF – a De Havilland Chipmunk basic trainer and a Short Belfast (pictured above) from RAF Brize Norton. As it turned out, the Short Belfast was to have another Gloucestershire connection as all ten of these aircraft were lined up at RAF Kemble awaiting sale following their withdrawal from RAF service in 1976 – just ten years after they had been introduced.
The scale of the contributions then rapidly decreased in size ( but I think not in quality! ) with a De Havilland Rapide dropping members of the Army Free Fall Association, an air launched glider from the Bristol Gliding Club and aerobatics from a Tipsy Nipper.
Jet propulsion was then brought back by the Hunting Jet Provosts of The Red Pelicans display team of the Central Flying School at RAF Little Rissington, after which “A flying novelty -The Gyrocopter” was presented – doubtlessly making an interesting comparison with the Cierva Autogiro in the Skyfame Collection. Linking the Gyrocopter with the flour bombing was formation flying by the Cessna and Jodel trainers of the Staverton Flying School.
SMALL AIRCRAFT : FASCINATING HISTORIES
Although not a type on show at Skyfame, Gloster Sea Gladiator N5531 “Hope” represents the inspiration for the museum itself: the heroic fliers of the British Commonwealth – Desmond Thomas included – who fought against all odds for their devotion to duty and beliefs. As an early edition of the Skyfame Museum Guide put it:
“The Skyfame Aircraft Museum is something more than a collection of very famous wartime aircraft. They are a reminder – a reminder of a threat, a near-disaster, a grim struggle, a deliverance and a sacrifice, a sacrifice oft-repeated and of course a debt we should all be proud to acknowledge.”
Skyfame was also founded at a time when the most immediate memories of the Second World War were being coloured both by a new wave of revisionist historians and and also by the events of both the Cold War – such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 – and the post Suez decline of Britain as a world power and the loosening of bonds between former colonies and Dominions as British membership of the European Common Market seemed inevitable.
As R.H. Greenfield wrote in The Sunday Telegraph of 7 June 1964 about the 20th anniversary commemorations of Normandy’s D-Day landings “..we have found ourselves in a world already being inherited by those too young to know what the Liberation meant.”
More practically, it was also a time when many of the iconic World War Two British aircraft were ending their airframe lives or simply being scrapped as redundant reminders of an era before the Duncan Sandys axe of 1957.
The Gloster Gladiator was both the last biplane fighter used by the RAF and also the first with a fully enclosed cockpit. First flown as the Gloster SS37 in September 1934, 72 Squadron RAF was the first to equip with the type at Tangmere in February 1937. By September 1939, Gloster Gladiators were widely spread across the Mediterranean and Middle East and this example – Sea Gladiator N5531 – has a special story to tell.
At the start of World War II total air power on the strategic British-held island of Malta consisted of four Gloster Gladiators. These were packed in crates and left at Kalafrana flying boat base on the island by the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious that left to join the Norwegian campaign. In fact there were enough parts to make up eight biplanes but the Royal Navy wanted four back to join the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. The remaining four were assembled. Three were to be used operationally with one kept in reserve.
After assembling the biplanes the Royal Navy decided on having them back for work in Alexandria, Egypt, so they were taken apart for re-packing. Following talks between Air Commodore Maynard and the Royal Navy it was decided to leave the biplanes on Malta and they were re-assembled. RAF Flying Officer John L. Waters named the operational Gladiators “Faith”, “Hope” and “Charity”.
Their first scramble came at 0649 on 11 June 1940 when 10 Italian Savoia Marchetti 79 bombers attacked Malta’s Grand Harbour. No aircraft were shot down in this encounter, although on the seventh Fascist raid of that day a Gladiator was able to shoot down a Macchi 200 fighter – the slower biplanes being more manoeuvrable than their foes. Three bladed propellers rather than the standard two bladed components were fitted to improve the rate of climb although excessive use of superchargers to rapidly gain altitude led to blown pistons on the Bristol Mercury radial engines. Other parts were later used from a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber.
As a result, the three Gladiators were fitted with similar powerplants from Bristol Blenheim bombers and fought on for 17 days without relief, fooling Italian intelligence into thinking that Malta had a substantial air defence force. N5531 had been assigned to 802 Naval Air Squadron from June 1939 to January 1940 and was named “Hope” as part of the Hal Far Flight on 19 April 1940. She was destroyed in an air raid on 4 February 1941.
Gloster Sea Gladiator N5519 “G6A” of 802 Naval Air Squadron from June – September 1939 joined the Hal Far Fighter Flight and was renamed “Charity” on 19 April 1940. “Charity” was involved in the air defence of Malta until being shot down on 29 July 1940 when her pilot – RAF Flying Officer PW Hartley – was badly burned.
Flying Officer John L. Waters own Gloster Sea Gladiator N5520 also served with 802 NAS from June to November 1939 and joined the Hal Far Fighter Flight in April 1940. Waters used “Faith” to shoot down an Italian Savoia Marchetti 79 on 11 June 1940 and did the same thing the next day. N5520 carried the name “Faith” between October 1941 and January 1942. Her fuselage is now preserved in Malta.
The Corgi limited edition model pictured above is also the first die cast in the World with full rigging. Pictured behind Sea Gladiator N5531 are later products of the Gloster Aircraft Company – the Hawker Hurricane and Typhoon. Both these monoplanes were designed by Sir Sydney Camm and were ancestors of the Hawker Tempest, an example of which was also preserved at Skyfame.
This model of N9742 – an Anson flown by a Free Dutch crew – was made as part of a Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award and Mr Thomas was kind enough to lend me books on the RAF’s first twin engined monoplane with a retractable undercarriage and even let me visit the cockpit of Skyfame’s own example – N4877, which landed at Staverton on 31 August 1963. In fact the 1938 vintage N4877 was not only the first aircraft to join the Skyfame collection but – at the time – also the oldest British military aircraft of the Second World War still flying. Unfortunately it was later grounded after a landing accident during a Skyfame air display at Staverton.
Entering service with 48 Squadron Coastal Command on 6 March 1936, the “Annies” – as anti-submarine aircraft with turrets or as trainers and transports without – were to serve the Royal Air Force for 32 years, a record only broken by the half century plus stint of the English Electric Canberra.
Equipping ten Coastal Command squadrons at the outbreak of war in 1939, the Avro Anson bore most of the responsibility for shipping protection until more modern aircraft – such as theLockheed Hudson – came along. During this period the Anson proved itself a doughty warrior in dealing with faster and more heavily armed German aircraft which attacked unarmed British fishing vessels. One of Wilfred Hardy’s pictures depicts a typical such engagement and shows two Heinkel 115 seaplanes which had been harassing trawlers themselves being harassed by an Anson of 206 Squadron, with one German aircraft being sent into the sea and the other on fire and running for home. The first war attack on a U-boat was made by an Avro Anson, while three of these machines routed nine Messerschmitt 109s at Dunkirk and created one more “Annie” legend.
From 1941 onwards Avro Ansons were used mainly for training aircrew, including some pilots. They also undertook Air-Sea Rescue, ferry and communication work. A well-loved aeroplane which saved many lives, the Avro Anson reached a production figure of 11 020 aircraft.
Skyfame’s Avro Anson – restored to 206 Squadron markings and notably with the dorsal turret deleted and faired over – was discharged from the RAF in 1950 after some twelve years service and spent another 12 years in civilian guise. The pair of 350 bhp Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah IX radial engines could power the Avro Anson to 188 mph with a climb rate of 720′ per minute to a service ceiling of 19 000 with a 790 mile range.The wingspan was 56′ 6″, length 42′ 3″, height 13′ 1″ with a wing area of 440 square feet. Armament comprised of four .303 Vickers machine guns and a bomb load.
AIRSPEED OXFORD T2
Another of the RAF’s more obscure twin engined trainer types from the Second World War which was also built by one of the more obscure manufacturers. Air Ministry Specification T23/36 called for an aircraft capable of training aircrew for the new generation of heavy bombers due to enter RAF service in the years just before the Second World War. The Airspeed company of Portsmouth, headed by author Nevil Shute, responded with a suitable adaptation of its successful Envoy light transport aircraft and secured the contract. The new aeroplane was named the Oxford and entered service in November 1937, a total of 8 751 being built before production ceased in 1945.
Powered by two Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah 10 radial engines to a top speed of 188 mph, initial climb was 960′ per minute to a 19 000′ ceiling with a range of 900 miles. Dimensions were 53′ 4″ span, 36′ 6″ length, 11′ 1″ height and weights of 5 380 lb empty and 7 600 lb loaded.
As RAF Coastal Command put more and more Lockheed Hudson aircraft to use, displaced Avro Ansons took over aircrew training and the Oxford was used mainly for pilot training. The partnership was as successful in its own sphere as that of the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane among the monoplane eight gun fighters. Not that the Airspeed Oxford was confined to training duties. It was also used for ambulance, transport and other such work. Indeed, when Rashid Ali’s pro-Nazi rebels seized power in Iraq in May 1941, hastily armed Oxfords from Number 4 Service Flying Training School at Habbaniya led the air assault that that helped rout the rebels and save the vital Iraqi oil fields.
This particular model is from a Frog kit and bears the unlikely number XF698 – a serial apparently never issued but placed between XF693 – a Percival Provost – and Avro Shackleton MR3 XF700.
Skyfame’s Airspeed Oxford -V3388 – is seen here at an air show for its museum companion – Avro Anson – N4877 coded FVX – to land at Staverton. Note too the Hunting Jet Provost taxiing toward the Oxford’s port engine.
Built in 1940 by De Havilland Aircraft Ltd at Hatfield, Skyfame’s Airspeed Oxford -V3388 – was demobilised after the War and then worked for Boulton Paul Ltd of Wolverhampton as an executive aircraft. Boulton Paul was another of Britain’s less well known aircraft makers, having produced the pre War Sidestrand and Overstrand bombers, the Defiant turret fighter and the post war P111 research jet as well as assembling English Electric Lightnings. Similarly, Airspeed later became better known for the Horsa troop transport glider used from Norway to the Far East and en masse during the D-Day and Arnhem landings and for the AS 57 Ambassador piston engined airliner – one of which was sadly involved in the Munich disaster of 1958 which cost the lives of many of Sir Matt Busby’s young Manchester United footballers.
V3388 flew into Staverton on 25 March 1964, just two days before the formal opening of the museum to the public, and was later renovated in the colours of Number 2 Service Flying Training School at which Desmond Thomas gained his wings. Unfortunately V3388 had become unairworthy by the 1970s due to glue deterioration in its wooden construction.
DE HAVILLAND MOSQUITO
The original Skyfame Mosquito –TA719 -was a transparent nose B35 bomber variant . Many de Havilland Mosquitos were built from plywood from the Forest of Dean and some assembled by Bentley Pianos in Woodchester. As discussed in “The Wooden Wonder”, the Mosquito was developed from the De Havilland Comet Racer of 1934. Of advanced design, its wooden construction and claims to be able to out-distance any fighter initially only produced scepticism. However all this changed when the prototype, first airborne in November 1940, showed its capabilities to Air Ministry officials and eventually 781 of these superb aeroplanes were built.
Starting Royal Air Force service in May 1942, the “Mossies” quickly showed themselves superior to the German fighters sent up to intercept them. Soon the type was prominent as a night fighter, a light bomber and pathfinder and as Coastal Command’s long range fighter. In special missions included the raid on the Copenhagen building housing the Gestapo records and attacks on the flying bomb sites at Peenemunde. One version was fitted with a 57mm canon to become a deadly U-boat hunter.
Towards the end of the War, Mosquitos accompanied the big bomber night raids and helped to bring losses down dramatically. They were fast, deadly and safe yet could carry the same bomb load as a B-17 Flying Fortress. After the War Mosquitos broke the Atlantic and London-Cape Town records and also surveyed the East Coast flood damage of the 1950s.
TA179 had ended its days as a target tug before starring as “G for Georgie” with a flying role in the Mirisch film “633 Squadron”, released in 1964. For the film, TA 179’s bomber type nose was painted over and fitted with fighter type dummy machine guns, although the shape of the oblique bomb aimers window was highly visible.
Shortly after filming, TA719 flew into Staverton on 16 October 1963 to be joined by Skyfame’s other De Havilland Mosquito – RS709 – on 24 September 1964. Despite damage in a belly landing in 1964 – when an RAF pilot switched off the wrong engine during practice for an air show – TA719 remained a notable representative of a notable type. Indeed, TA719 also appeared on the ground in the 1968 film “Mosquito Squadron”.
Power came from two 1 710 bhp Rolls Royce Merlin 113-114 engines giving a top speed of 422 mph, climb to 15 000′ in 7 1/2 minutes and a service ceiling of 40 000′. Dimensions are 54′ 2″ wingspan, 41′ 6″ length, 15′ 3″ high, 435 square feet wing area, 14 600 lb empty, 23 000 lb loaded and a 4 000 lb bomb load.
The Firefly was to the Fleet Air Arm what the Mosquito was to the RAF. By far the most effective carrier-based aeroplane of British design to be flown during World War II, it was used for virtually every task a naval aircraft is called upon to carry out. Entering service in March 1943, the first aircraft went aboard an aircraft carrier in the following July of that year.
In 1944 Fairey Firefly aircraft of 1770 Naval Air Squadron took part in the attack on the German battleship Tirpitz. The Firefly squadrons then went to the Pacific, at the beginning of 1945, and there undertook many distinguished and successful missions including rocket attacks on vital oil supplies
Post War versions of the Firefly fitted with Rolls Royce Griffon ( as opposed to Merlin) engines of greatly increased power, attained speeds of nearly 400 mph. They became the standard naval strike/reconnaissance bomber in the 1950- 2 Korean War and flew many thousands of sorties, often in appalling weather. On one occasion they demolished four important bridges with only sixteen bombs. There were twelve Firefly squadrons in 1953 but by 1956 they had been replaced by Gannets from the same maker.
The Skyfame Firefly was generously presented to the museum by Svensk Flygstjanst AB of Stockholm for whom it had flown as a target tug for thirteen years after the war. With the help of Skyfame Supporter’s Society Chairman John Fairey, the Firefly arrived at Staverton on 5 May 1964 piloted by Tage Paller with observer/engineer Kenneth Skold. Wing folding demonstrations were subsequently a feature of the Fairey Firefly’s presence at Skyfame.
The Skyfame Firefly was powered by one 1 990 bhp Rolls Royce Griffon XII engine giving a speed of 316 mph and an initial climb to 5 000′ in 150 seconds. Service ceiling was 28 000′, range 1 300 miles. The wingspan was 44′ 6″, length 37′ 7 3/4″, wing area 328square feet, weights 9 750 lb empty, 14 000 lb loaded. Armament included four 20mm Hispano cannon in the wings, eight 60 lb rockets and a 2 000 lb bomb load..
DE HAVILLAND VAMPIRE
Skyfame boasted examples of both the T II trainer version of the Vampire – and its successor, the De Havilland Venom. Originally known as the Spider Crab, the famous De Havilland Vampire followed the equally notable Gloster Meteor to become the second British jet aircraft to enter service. The first De Havilland Vampires joined 247 Squadron early in 1946 and took part in the Victory Fly Past on 8 June 1946. With 45 and 72 Squadrons receiving Vampires in September 1946, the three units came together to form the first Vampire wing and were based at Odiham in Hampshire.
In July 1948 six Vampires of 54 Squadron made history by completing the first Transatlantic flight by jet aircraft of the Royal Air Force. After preparation at RAF Kemble they crossed to the United States, refuelling at Iceland, Greenland and Labrador on the way.
The success of the Vampire was phenomenal and more of these aircraft were exported than any other British type. Customers included the Swedish Air Force, as witnessed by the model Vampire pictured above. The De Havilland Vampire was also built under licence in several Commonwealth and European countries.
Capable of many roles, including day fighter, ground attack fighter/bomber, night fighter and advanced trainer, the Vampire was still in service with many air forces – such as that of the unilaterally independent Rhodesia – as late as the 1970s.
The Skyfame Vampire T II was obtained from Hawker Siddeley Aviation by arrangement with the British Aircraft Preservation Council and was in RAF service from 1954 to 1967, when it was replaced by the Folland Gnat of Kemble-based Red Arrows fame. Armament, as with the fighter/bomber Vampire was two 20mm canon and eight 60 lb rockets or two 500 lb bombs.
The 3 500 lb thrust from the Vampire’s De Havilland Goblin turbojet gave it a speed of 549 mph at 20 000′ with an initial climb of 4 500′ per minute, service ceiling of 40 000′ and range of 787 miles. The twin boom fighter had a wingspan of 38′, 34′ length, 6′ 2″ height and wing area of 262 square feet. Weights were 6 900 lb empty and 11 680 lb loaded.
HAWKER TEMPEST MK II
A descendant of the Gloster built Hawker Typhoon and Hurricane, the Tempest was designed by Sir Sydney Camm. Although the Typhoon had proved successful in a ground attack role, it was only partially successful as a fighter and the Tempest was evolved to repair the shortcoming of its predecessor.
Distinguished from Hawker Typhoons by the fin that curved to join the rear fuselage, Hawker Tempests first joined the RAF in April 1944 and provided support for the D-Day landings. Then came the threat of the V1 flying bombs which only the Tempests – among the single piston engined fighters – had the speed to tackle effectively. Altogether Hawker Tempests claimed no less than 638 of the 1 771 flying bombs which the RAF destroyed in three months.
In September 1944 Tempest Squadrons were moved to the Continent to meet the mounting menace of the German jet aircraft which were appearing in increasing numbers. While theGloster Meteor jets were proving themselves against the flying bombs the Tempests contained the new enemy threat, destroying 29 German jet fighters by VE Day.
At the end of the War a new Mark II version of the Tempest appeared, powered by the Bristol Centaurus V radial engine. This version was highly successful and gradually replaced the earlier Tempests ( illustrated by the model – kindly loaned for the display by Tony Neuls -pictured above ) which, like the Gloster built Hawker Typhoon, had been powered by the in-line Napier Sabre engine. The 2 520 bhp Centaurus V powered Tempest Mark II became the standard RAF fighter in Germany and the Middle and Far East with a top speed of 440 mph and the ability to climb 15 000′ in 4 minutes 30 seconds to a service ceiling of 37 000′. With an 800 mile range the Tempest Mark II had a 41′ wingspan, 33′ 5″ length, 16′ 1″ height and a wing area of 302 square feet. Weights were 8 900 lb empty, 11 400 lb loaded and armament comprised for 20mm Hispano Canon, rockets or 2 000 lb of underwing bombs.
The Skyfame Tempest – LA607 – was the second true Centaurus powered Tempest built and was presented to the museum in July 1966 by the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield. It bore the markings of 501 County of Gloucestershire Squadron and is now preserved in the USA.
The Magister was designed by Frederick George Miles of Phillips and Powis of Reading and entered service in 1937, training most of Britain’s wartime pilots along with the older biplane De Havilland Tiger Moth. Although faster than its biplane predecessors – being fitted with a 130 bhp De Havilland Gipsy Major engine yielding a top speed of 132 mph – the Miles Magister landed at only 42 mph and was thus an ideal trainer for a period when the proportion of monoplanes in the service was increasing. Of wooden construction, the Magister featured such innovations as split trailing edge flaps. It was highly agile, good-tempered, well loved by its pilots, capable of climbing at 850′ per minute to a service ceiling of 18 000 and had a range of 380 miles.
The model of the Miles Magister used in this display was made from the Frog/ Novo kit and kindly loaned by Malcolm Bell.
Popular with flying clubs before the war, the Magister first saw RAF service at the Elementary Flying Training School at Woodley. One or two, however, got much nearer to the front line in various unofficial escapades. These included a daring rescue of a Hurricane squadron commander forced down in front line territory in northern France, by a medical officer using a Magister normally kept for less exciting station runabout duties. Post war many Magisters were demobbed to private owners and flying clubs.
Skyfame’s Miles Magister G-AFBS achieved fame after being requisitioned from a civilian flying club in 1939, by becoming the subject of many official Air Ministry photographs and appearing in most wartime books on the RAF. It was demobbed after the war and subsequently came to light in near-derelict condition at the back of a hangar at Lulsgate – now Bristol International Airport. After purchase by the Museum the veteran was restored by a team led by Graham Johnson and arrived on 16 October 1965.
The Miles Magister had a wingspan of 33′ 10″, length 24′ 71/2″, height 6′ 8″, wing area 168.8 quare feet and weighed 1 286 lb empty and 1 900 lb loaded.
Having produced one of the slowest pre-war aircraft, the Miles company also built what was potentially the fastest of the immediate post 1945 era. However, the jet propelled straight winged bullet-shaped Miles M52 supersonic research aircraft was mysteriously cancelled when almost complete by the Air Ministry, leaving the American Bell X-1 air launched rocket plane to break the Sound Barrier first. The first production British jet to fly supersonically in level flight was the English Electric Lightning.
Miles were also responsible for the triple finned single engined Messenger, an example of which arived at Skyfame in 1973. This stable and versatile monoplane was used by the RAF on communication and liason flights. One appeared with De Havilland Mosquito TA 719 in the film “633 Squadron” and Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery used a Miles Messenger as his personal transport.
NOT MODELLED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN!
AVRO CIERVA C30 AUTOGIRO
The wider development of the Cierva Autogiro is discussed in Rotors over Gloucestershire but the fourth edition of the official guide – “Skyfame and its Aircraft” – had this to say about the 140 bhp Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major radial engine powered aircraft:
This aircraft takes its name from the Spaniard Juan de la Cierva who pioneered the principle of rotating wing aircraft in the early 1920s. In Great Britain he was associated with A.V. Roe and Company whose Avro 504 trainer was used for the initial experiments and who eventually built nearly seventy autogiros. The C30 and subsequent C40 (single seat) designs represent the zenith of the Cierva development and delighted spectators at many pre-War air shows.
Unlike the helicopter, which “screws” itself into the air, the rotor blades of the autogiro are not powered, except for starting. They rotate by air movement and thus the aircraft can “jump” but cannot hover. Nevertheless, it is extemely manoeuvrable and can take off and land in very limited spaces. Control is from the rear cockpit position and is exercised by tilting the axis of the rotors relative to the body of the autogiro.
At the outbreak of war all serviceable autogiros were conscripted to join those already in RAF 529 Squadron. Known as “Rotas”, they were used effectively for radar calibration, communications and general army co-operation work. However, on the wall of Skyfame’s extensive model room was a colourful Wilfred Hardy painting of an encounter between one RAF Rota and a pair of Focke-Wulf 190s. Despite collecting several bullet holes, the agile rotorcraft was able to shake off its attackers.
The Skyfame autogiro, G-ACUU, was built in 1934 and continued flying for over ten years after its demobilisation in 1945. It came to Staverton in 1964 for public exhibition on generous loan from Mr Guy Baker.
Maximum speed 112 mph, cruising 95 mph, minimum 20 mph, range 250 miles. Rotor diameter 37′, loaded weight 1 800 lb.
Pictured behind G-ACUU is Skyfame’s Hawker Tempest II, showing both the tail fin curving to join the rear fuselage and the large cylindrical shape of the Bristol Centaurus radial engine.
SAUNDERS ROE SR A1 JET FLYING BOAT FIGHTER
The Saunders Roe SR A1, the first jet powered flying boat in the World, was conceived towards the end of World War II. At the time, the Allied forces were faced with the task of driving the Japanese from dozens of heavily defended islands in the Pacific and this flying boat fighter armed with guns in the nose, being independent of land bases and aircraft carriers, would have been an ideal attack and support aircraft for covering the sea and land forces charged with dislodging the Japanese.
The idea of the “guerrilla fighter” flying boat was developed by Sir Arthur Gouge (who left Short Bros in 1943 to become vice-chairman of Saro), and designed by Henry Knowler to Air Ministry Specification E 6/44
Much like the short take off / vertical landing Hawker Siddeley Harrier introduced to the RAF in 1969, the Saunders Roe SR A1 was a revolutionary concept, but considerable design problems meant that the war had ended by the time that the prototype – TG263 – first flew from Saunders Roe’s Cowes works on 14 July 1947. TG263 was later flown under B conditions with the designation G-12-1 and suffered from a wide turning radius due to its necessarily bulky hull. This did not compromise its ground attack role as such but, like the Nazi Stuka before it, made it vulnerable to determined ground fire and land based enemy fighters.
The original designation SR.44 was part of the normal succession of Saro’s nomenclature, but was replaced under the common Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAC) system introduced at that time, as the A.1. Colloquially, it was known as the “squirt”.
The SR A.1 test pilots were Geoffrey Tyson, late of Short Bros, who had done air refuelling work on the C class boats, and his protege and successor, Sqd Ldr John Booth (who later died in the mixed powerplant SR.53 fighter). Tyson is remembered for his flying of the SR A.1 at Farnborough 1948 with an aerobatics display of distinction, culminating in an inverted flypast. His other party piece, obviously not demonstrated at Farnborough, was a rapid take off by means of early retraction of the wing floats, as soon as the aircraft had enough speed to be stabilised, thus reducing drag.
Despite wearing British military markings the aircraft were never acquired by either the RAF or the Royal Navy, being produced to a Government (Ministry of Aircraft Production) contract and presumably owned by the Ministry of Supply. But despite two more prototypes and a design for a swept wing transonic version, the SR A1 could not beat the anti-flying-boat lobby which, by 1955, was already undermining the position of the mighty Saunders Roe Princess flying boat airliner.
The SRA1 project was further impaired by the loss of the second and third aircraft in accidents. TG271 ( pictured above ) rapidly sank in the Solent in August 1949 after hitting a semi submerged baulk of timber – flying boats always being vulnerable to this kind of obstruction in a way that land planes rarely are. The famous Royal Navy test pilot, Captain Eric Brown – at the controls of TG271 at the time – was rescued by prompt action by Geoffrey Tyson, who dived into the water to pull him clear.
TG267 was lost later that year during rehearsals for an air display, the aircraft diving into the sea near Felixstowe, killing the pilot, Squadron Leader K A Major.
TG263 also underwent a change of canopy design during its flying career as the original transparent item was lost in flight. The whole “guerrilla fighter” flying boat concept was abandoned in 1950.
In the end only TG 263 was saved to go to the Design Department of the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield after relinquishing one of its two 3 500 bhp Metropolitan Vickers “Beryl” turbojets to power Donald Campbell’s K7 Bluebird hydroplane in his record breaking attempts on Lake Coniston. In 1966, the Metropolitan Vickers “Beryl” turbojet was replaced by a Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus – originally built to power a British cruise missile – and it was using this engine that Donald Campbell sadly died when his K7 Bluebird flipped up and crashed at high speed on 4 January 1967
After more than a decade at Cranfield, TG 263 was presented to Skyfame in 1966 and arrived on three lorries as a kit of parts comprising the hull, wings and tailplane. Surprisingly, the aircraft was back in one piece in only three hours and remains in 2007 – at Southampton Sky – the only jet flying boat left in Europe. Although designed and built as a pure flying boat – even featuring a hatch behind the cockpit so that an engineer could climb down into the hull to attend the two turbojets when moored – TG 263 was displayed at Skyfame on its beaching apparatus. As a result the silver flying boat towered over the rest of the hangar on its unusual water filled tyres and as a child it was daring to climb up the ladder resting against it to peer into the cockpit. Modern health & safety rules however would surely have forsworn the ladder!.
The Saunders Roe SR A1 had a maximum speed of 520 mph, initial climb rate of 3 800′ per minute to a service ceiling of 34 000′ and a range of 1 150 miles. Dimensions were 46′ span, 50′ length, 17′ height, wing area 415 square feet and an approximate empty weight of 18 000 lbs..
DE HAVILLAND SEA VENOM F(AW) 22 WM 571
Fitted with a 4 850 lb thrust De Havilland Ghost 105 turbojet instead of the Vampire’s Goblin engine, the Sea Venom was a development of the highly successful Vampire. It was the Royal Navy’s version of the 620 mph two seat jet fighter which equipped many RAF squadrons in the late 1950s. The Sea Venom was the Royal Navy’s first all-weather fighter and it represented a considerable advance on the piston engined De Havilland Sea Hornet which it replaced. First entering service with 890 Naval Air Squadron in 1954, five squadrons of 1 000 mile range Sea Venoms operated from the aircraft carriers Eagle and Albion during the Suez landings of 1956.
At Suez, the Sea Venoms were used extensively for ground attack work using rocket projectiles carried under the wings. The aircraft could be operated in all weathers and had an exceptionally fast rate of climb of 8 762′ per minute to a service ceiling of 49 200′. The De Havilland Sea Venom was fitted with wings folded by power at a point halfway between root and tip and featured “combat” wingtip fuel tanks.
WM 571 was produced at De Havilland’s Christchurch factory in 1954 and joined the Royal Naval Handling Squadron at Boscombe Down on 22 March 1955. After a varied career finishing up with radar calibration work at the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton it was purchased by members of the Skyfame Supporter’s Society and presented to the museum. It was flown in from Yeovilton on 30 April 1969. Dimensions included a wingspan of 42′ 10″, 36′ 7 1/2″ length, 8′ 6 3/4″ height and wing area of 279.8 square feet. Armament comprised four 20mm Hispano canon, eight 60 lb rockets or two 1 000 bombs carried under the wings.
Arguably the first homebuilt airplane, the “Flying Flea” was introduced in 1934. It was successfully demonstrated by its designer/ builder, Henri Mignet, and with the publication (in book form) of the plans and instructions soon hundreds of Flying Fleas were being built in homes across Europe and the United States. A temporary set-back occurred when a number of these homebuilt Fleas crashed but detailed investigation by the Royal Aircraft Establishment in England and the French Air Ministry in France revealed the problem and led to the necessary corrections for safe operation. By 1936 Fleas were again flying and have continued to do so ever since. Variations on Mignet’s original design can be found in many countries around the world.
The Flying Flea was designed to be an exceptionally easy machine to fly, with no rudder pedals and a simple two-axis control stick. The main forward wing, of the two tandem wings, pivots for ascent and descent while the rudder (and the dihedral in the wings) takes care of turns. Mignet claimed that anyone who could put together a packing-case could build a Flying Flea and anyone who could drive a car could fly a Flying Flea.
PERCIVAL PROCTOR T3
The Percival Proctor was developed from the Percival Gull, one of a number of sporting designs of the 1930s. It was in a Percival Gull Six that Miss Jean Batten won the coveted Britannia Trophy two years in succession. Sir Alan Cobham also used this aircraft, quite a number of which were operated as executive and private aeroplanes.
A later version of the Gull, the Percival Vega Gull with a larger fuselage and a 205 bhp De Havilland Gipsy Six engine, joined the RAF for communications and light transport work in 1936. Comfortable, fast – 180 mph at 10 000′ – and a good load carrier, the Vega Gull became the Proctor and ultimately nearly 1 000 were built, each capable of climbing 1 020′ per minute to a ceiling of 17 000 with a range of 600 miles. Most of these39′ 6″ wingspan monoplanes were used as radio and radar trainers but some did experimental low level light bombing work. Had the threatened German invasion taken place in 1940, 25′ 10″ long Proctors would have been used for low level attacks on enemy troops on the beaches.
The Mark IV version of the 7′ 6″ high Percival Proctor could carry three pupils and the RAF encountered few difficulties in disposing of these machines when hostilities ended. Being safe and economical as well as commodious many Proctors were sold to flying clubs and private owners. The 1 875 lb empty and 3 250 lb loaded Percival Proctors became a common sight all over Great Britain and, as a private owner type, the Proctor has been outstripped in longevity only by the De Havilland Moths. In 1972 there were still one or two on the British Civil Register.
Skyfame’s Percival Proctor G-ALCK was presented by the Royal Observer Corps at Tamworth.
BRISTOL SYCAMORE HR 14
The wider development of the Bristol Sycamore is discussed in Rotors over Gloucestershire but the fourth edition of the official guide – “Skyfame and its Aircraft” – had this to say about the 550 bhp Alvis Leonides 73 engine powered aircraft – by that time officially a product of Westland Aircraft which had taken over the helicopter division of Bristol Aircraft:
The prototype of this highly successful British helicopter first flew on 24 July 1947. Sycamores entered service with the Royal Air Force on 13 April 1953 equipping 275 Squadron and then having the distinction of leading the Coronation Review flypast in July 1953. The aircraft also served with the West German and Danish air forces and with the Royal Australian Navy.
During its RAF career, the Sycamore served with 275 Squadron, the first search and rescue helicopter unit in Coastal Command. Here it did wonderful work among Britain’s coasts and mountains, saving many lives. The machine was also used by the Army Air Corps against the terrorists in Cyprus. On one notable occasion forty one troops were dropped into a hideout 3 000′ up in the mountains to successfully capture an important terrorist stronghold. Before completing its RAF service the Sycamore had equipped eight squadrons and been chosen to operate from Northolt as the main VIP transport helicopter.
The Skyfame Sycamore, G-ALSX, first flew on 30 April 1953 and then spent seven years demonstrating for its makers. After trips to Scandinavia and Tanganyika ( now Tanzania ) the machine returned to Great Britain to undertake charter and communication duties at Oldnixon. A special distinction is the citation from the Netherlands Government for the sterling work provided by G-ALSX during the Dutch flood disasters of the 1950s – a rare honour for an aircraft. The helicopter is on loan to Skyfame by courtesy of Elfan ap Rees, on behalf of Westland Aircraft Ltd.
Maximum speed was 127 mph, endurance 3 hours and dimensions were 48′ 7″ rotor diameter, 46′ 2″ length, 12′ 2″ height, empty 3 810 lb, 5 600 lb loaded.
G-ALSX is now on display at the International Helicopter Museum at Weston Super Mare
Former BOAC and Skyways of London Avro York G-AGNV arrived at Skyfame on 9 October 1964, and was fitted out as a replica of Sir Winston Churchill’s conference aeroplane “Ascalon”.
The third prototype York – serial number LV633 and named “Ascalon” (the first of the type with triple fins) – had square windows instead of the usual round ones. It was allocated – but never carried – the civil registration G-AGFT.
The Skyfame York is, I am pleased to say, one and the same aircraft as the York now preserved at Cosford with the identity TS789 a silver finish and a Union Jack on the nose. The York was developed from the Avro Lancaster bomber and played a major role in the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift.
Making its first flight in April 1946 the Hastings, like its nosewheel civil version the Hermes, was developed from the famous Handley Page Halifax bomber. The Halifax was in turn the four engined offspring of the twin engined 0/100 and 0/400 biplanes built by Cheltenham born Sir Frederick Handley-Page during the First World War and presaged the Handley Page Victor jet bomber of the 1950s.
The Handley Page Hastings was designed to meet the Air Ministry’s requirement for a long range, high speed, strategic transport aircraft and entered service with 47 Squadron Royal Air Force in October 1948. This was the time of the Berlin Airlift and the Hastings of 47 and 297 Squadrons moved enormous quantities of supplies to the former German capital, along with the Avro Yorks that they progressively replaced in later years.
Like the Bristol Type 170 Freighters that also took part in the Berlin Airlift, the Handley Page Hastings was powered by Bristol Hercules radial engines – in this case four of the 216 series prime movers each rated at 1 800 bhp – yielding a maximum speed of 354 mph, an initial climb rate of 1 030′ per minute to a service ceiling of 26 500′ and a range of 4 250 miles. The wingspan was 112′ 9″, length 80′ 9″, height 22′ 5″ and wing area 1 408 square feet. Thus equipped, the Handley page Hastings could offer a 20 311 lb payload with an empty weight of 49 415 lb and 80 000 loaded.
The post war decision to do all trooping work by air kept the Hastings extremely busy, especially in the years 1950 to 1962 when this type bore the brunt of the ferry, supply and evacuation work in such turbulent areas as Cyprus, Suez, Borneo and Aden.
A Hastings Mark II with increased range was followed by a Mark III VIP transport version and a Mark IV long range weather reconnaissance design operated by Coastal Command. Bomber Command used the Hastings at its bombing school, Training Command flew them and the Royal New Zealand Air Force also employed this ubiquitous machine.
After serving the RAF well to become the first landplane to complete twenty years operational service, the Handley Page Hastings gave way to the Lockheed Hercules and Blackburn Beverley types. This permitted the Skyfame Hastings, TG 528, to be obtained from RAF Colerne where it had served with 24 and 36 Squadrons after hectic times in Cyprus, Aberdan, Kenya and Suez. Purchased by John Fairey, Peter Swettenham and Bill Betteridge, with seats subscribed by the Supporter’s Society, the TG 528 flew in to join Skyfame on 24 January 1968.
Ten years later however, certain people at Staverton assumed that the Hastings would be too big to move, and that they would inherit a nice plane to have on permanent static display, after Skyfame had been forced out. Someone happened to mention this to Peter Thomas, and his reply was – “I’d rather dynamite it than leave it here!” That was his spirit, right to the end, and of course, the Hastings is now standing proud among the rest of the aircraft at Duxford – no dynamite was needed!
AIRCRAFT REPRESENTING PARTS DISPLAYED AT SKYFAME
HOVERCRAFT DEVELOPMENT LIMITED SRN1 HOVERCRAFT
One of the larger artefacts at Skyfame was a Dowty built 11′ diameter lift fan from a hovercraft. This model depicts the first full size realisation of Sir Christopher Cockerill’s invention, which started as an experiment with a vacuum cleaner and two empty cat food cans! However, its sheer novelty held the hovercraft concept back as boat builders saw it as an aircraft and aircraft manufacturers claimed it was a boat!
GLOSTER METEOR F8
Skyfame boasted the F1 wingtip with which Flying Officer Dean scored the first Meteor victory over a German designed jet while Corgi Meteor F8 model A77-851 depicts one of the last Meteors to down a German designed – but Soviet built – jet in Korea. The full story of the Korean encounter is related in A Model History of Gloster Aircraft while the V1 connection is revealed in the Skyfame’s Smaller Exhibits section below.
HANDLEY PAGE HALIFAX
On 30 October 1965 the nose section of Handley Page Halifax four engined bomber PN323 arrived at Skyfame courtesy of Graham Trant and Harold Levy. Holding four of the six strong crew of the Halifax, this relic was unique until a Halifax Mark II was discovered on the bed of Lake Hoklingen and raised by the RAF for restoration and eventual display at Hendon.
Strategic bomber, submarine hunter, transport aircraft, glider tug, the Handley page Halifax served longer with RAF Bomber Command than any other aircraft in World War II. Although never as famous as the Avro Lancaster or Short Stirling, the Halifax served four and a half years in Europe and and also flew in the Middle and Far East. In all, 6 176 were built.
Unlike the Avro Lancaster, the Handley Page Halifax also served in Coastal Command against submarines and other shipping. It was a raid by Halifaxes that crippled the German battleship Scharnhorst and stopped her sailing to meet the Bismark in 1941.
Halifaxes dropped arms and supplies to to resistance fighters all over Europe and on D-Day towed the huge Hamilcar tank-transport gliders into action. At VE Day Halifaxes were the fastest four engined bombers operating from Great Britain and had established a record for the number of night fighters destroyed.
The last Halifax aircraft in Bomber Command were the Mark VI variant powered by four 1 800 bhp Bristol Hercules 100 engines. With a maximum speed of 312 mph at 22 000′ the Handley Page Halifax Mark VI could carry a six ton bomb load for 1 260 miles. Armament comprised four-gun turrets in the tail and on top of the fuselage with a single gun in the nose.
SHORT SHERPA EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH AIRCRAFT
First airborne on 4 October 1953, the Sherpa was built to test the aerodynamic qualities of the aero-isoclinic wing which had revolving tips instead of ailerons and elevators. With this wing, previously tested on the Short SB1 glider and similar in outline to that of the Handley Page Victor bomber, the Sherpa achieved some remarkable low-speed, low altitude results.
The Sherpa was a single seat fixed-undercarriage aircraft powered by two Blackburn Turbomeca-Palas jet engines – similar to those sometimes used to start the larger engines of British naval jet aircraft. The Sherpa had a 30′ wingspan, a 32′ long fuselage and a 9′ high tail.
At the end of its research programme, the Sherpa – like the Saunders Roe SR A1- went to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield and thence to Bristol College of Technology, where it was used for wind tunnel tests. The remains of the fuselage and half of one wing were rescued by Skyfame in 1966 with the hope of eventually building replica aero-isoclinic wings.
Its fuselage was on display at the Norfolk & Suffolk Air Museum at Flixton near Bungay in Suffolk until 2008 when it moved to the Lisburn site of the Ulster Aviation Society.
SKYFAME’S SMALLER EXHIBITS.
The 1973 vintage Fourth edition of “Skyfame and Its Aircraft” had this to say:
Like most of the items at Skyfame, the bombsight from the Junkers JU88 undoubtedly had a colourful history before it took up its present quieter existence between a meterological kite and an inflatable dinghy in the smaller exhibits section of the museum. More down to earth are the undercarriage sections from a Supermarine Spitfire, a Fokker Friendship airliner and from Gloster Meteor and Avro Canada CF 100 fighters [pictured].
Of special interest is the portion of Meteor wingtip. Before the advent of this aircraft, air to air attacks on the German V1 flying bombs had only been possible where fighters had gained sufficient height to dive on the projectile in order to overcome the difference in speed. But the faster jet engined Meteor was able to fly alongside the V1 and tip it from its course onto a harmless path. The Skyfame wingtip represents the first victory with the new method and the museum also houses the aileron of the V1 involved.”
As background to the reference to the Meteor wingtip, Derek James states in his book “Gloster Aircraft since 1917” “Twenty Meteor F1s were ordered, and all but five were delivered to the RAF to meet their immediate need for an operational jet fighter. Twelve aircraft went to No. 616 Squadron, the first, EE219, reaching Culmhead on 12 July 1944. About two weeks later the squadron moved to Manston with their Spitfire VIIs but having a detached flight of seven Meteors, EE 215 – 221, and by the end of August had completely converted to Meteors. The Squadron’s first “kill” was on 4 August when Flying Officer “Dixie” Dean knocked down a V1 flying bomb with the wingtip of EE216 after his guns jammed while making an attack.”
Along with the Hawker Tempest ( see above ) the Meteor F1 was the only Allied aircraft capable of keeping up with a “doodlebug” in level flight – although some marks of Spitfire could catch them from a shallow dive – and as the Nazi robot was packed with explosives it was considered prudent to shoot at them from an angle of 60 degrees on and at some distance to avoid flying debris!
The 1973 vintage Fourth edition of “Skyfame and Its Aircraft” continues:
“There are wooden bladed propellers which show the variety of early design and contrast markedly with the airscrews on the full sized exhibits. Examples come from the De Havilland 9 bomber of 1918, an Admiralty designed flying boat of 1915, a Bristol Prier monoplane of 1911; also a four bladed unit from an AE 8 Army co-operation biplane of 1918 and a single blade from the 1928 De Havilland Cirrus Moth flown by James Mollison, husband of Amy Johnson.
Possibly the section devoted to power sources shows even more vividly the contrast between a jet propulsion engine and the traditional radial cylinder piston engines such as those in the Anson and Cierva autogiro. Further contrasts are provided by the Dowty 11 ‘ diameter hovercraft lift fan and the Bristol Siddeley Ghost turbojet engine as fitted to the Sea Venom fighter aircraft.
Notable even among its illustrious companions is the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. This famous type started with a horsepower rating of 1 030 bhp and progressively evolved to 1 710 bhp. It powered most Spitfires and Lancasters, all Mosquitos, Hurricanes and Yorks, half the Halifaxes and many of the Wellingtons and Whitleys. Adjacent is an Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah Mark IX engine of 375 bhp making a further interesting contrast between radial and in-line designs.”
THE MODEL ROOM AT SKYFAME
I have, in my opinion, left the best until last. In a lean to building on the side of the main Skyfame hangar was an enormous model collection – allegedly the largest in Britain. This collection – most of which is now at Duxford I understand – left such a lasting impression on me that I now look after the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection and often display items from it in a similar way as a result. Skyfame’s model room was certainly the inspiration for the televised 1 000 and 2 000 model shows put on at Jet Age’s West Camp Hangar 7 during the 1990s.
Back in 1973 though, the Fourth edition of “Skyfame and Its Aircraft” said:
The Skyfame museum is notable not only for its full size aircraft and aircraft parts, but also for a collection of nearly 1 000 acurate scale models. Apart from those in store and the special examples, like the working replica of Cody’s Cathedral of 1908, the models are grouped by activity, period or other theme. All are lifelike examples of the model maker’s art and permit the discerning to see the emergence of one type from others, the similarities between various war time air forces and the spread of different aircraft types within such groupings. The collection owes much to the Skyfame Supporter’s Society.
As the visitor enters the model room, the first collection on the right is of Japanese, German and Italian aircraft of World War II, mostly in the sombre camouflage that characterised the period. Apart from this and the markings, the aircraft are anything but stereotyped and range from the German V2 rockets and the Messerschmitt jet designs to much larger aircraft like the Focke-Wulf 200K Condor and the Japanese Kawanishi H8K2 flying boat, with Junkers transport models and the attractive Italian designs typical of intermediate sizes.
Another section is devoted to models of Allied war time aircraft. There are examples of many American aircraft that became familiar in sight and sound in British skies at that period,, bearing the well remembered extrovert type names such as Lightning, Mohawk, Thunderbolt, Black Widow [pictured above], Tomahawk, Aircobra, Tiger Cat, Avenger and Sky Raider. All the well known British warplanes are represented here starting with the stalwart biplanes and including not only the Beaufighter and other strike/ fighter planes and the bombers with their northern town names but also special designs like the 1942 Hawker Hector target tug and Commonwealth Boomerang.
In addition to various individually cased models, the model room has several “theme” collections. These include model groups showing the development of the Spitfire and Hurricane lines and the history of powered flight from the Kittyhawk Wright Flyer in 1903 to the NASA lunar project of 1969. other collection groups deal with early pioneer aircraft, the complicated and colourful aircraft of World War I and famous record breakers. There are models of post-War aircraft, helicopters, civil types and many others, together representing both an interesting and colourful spectacle and a major contribution to the records of air history.