Down at Boscombe's museum
Tom McGhee takes a look
Over the last few years a substantial collection of aircraft and associated artefacts has rapidly built up here and now comprises quite a sizable collection. As well as the whole airframes, numerous cockpit sections as well as other major components are preserved on the airfield here in one of the surplus HASs (Hardened Aircraft Shelters).
Run by volunteers, and funded by voluntary donations, the collection is expanding at a rate that is difficult to sustain and house. Even before some projects have their restoration tasks completed, newly acquired items need immediate work carried out to prevent them falling into a poor state. An additional concern is caused by the inability to allow the public regular access to the collection, from where additional income could be generated. The restriction on visitor access is primarily due to the fact that the collection is housed inside the security fence at Boscombe Down, and further fencing would have to be constructed in order to permit more open access to the museum HAS. It is hoped that in the future this type of arrangement may be forthcoming, and another future hope is that an adjacent HAS could be made available to the museum. The addition of a second HAS would allow one to be utilised for workshop and restoration work, whilst the other would be kept for display purposes.
However, even if these laudable aims achieve fruition, the museum would still only be able to be opened to the public on occasional days due to the other commitments of the volunteers. This though would be a great improvement to the current situation where the museum can only open to the public on one day a year, to coincide with Boscombe Downs annual summer Family Fun Day.
Pride of place in the museum collection must go to the MiG-21MF Fishbed 7708 of the Slovak Air Force. This aircraft was donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund with the aim of raising funds and is preserved here in an immaculate condition. Often compared directly with the Russian fighter, the English Electric Lightning served as an interceptor in RAF service, and the cockpit section of F2A XN726 is kept here, still in the 92 Squadron colours it wore when flying QRA missions from Gutersloh in Germany during the 1960s and 70s.
A later acquisition is the cockpit from Canberra WH876, until recently a research platform flying from DERA Aberporth in Wales. This website would be remiss in not mentioning F-4s, and the museum is home to not one, but TWO whole Phantoms - XT597 (see top) is preserved inside the HAS in its famous 'raspberry ripple' red, white and blue colours which it wore throughout the latter part of its career as a test aircraft with the A&AEE. Its most famous appearance would have been at the head of the line up of Phantoms at Greenham Common in 1983 to celebrate the type's 25th Anniversary (ahh, the memories ). The second Phantom here XV401, an FGR2 wearing the light grey 'Air Defence' colour scheme which came into vogue in the early 1980s. This aircraft is engineless and stored outside, but is not looking in too bad a state in its 74 Squadron markings complete with black tail. F-4Js were 74s true mount, and it was another strange decision when these recently refurbished jets were so swiftly axed to be supplanted by surplus Spey engined FGR2s.
Jet Provost T4 8459M (ex-XR650) is preserved in the red white and grey RAF training scheme with which the type became synonymous. Twenty-odd years ago these were so commonplace in the skies over the UK that you would hardly take a second glance at them, now that they are slightly less common it is good to see museums like this actively restoring them.
Westland Wasp HAS1 XT437 looks in great condition, especially for a 35-year-old that has spent most of its life at sea. These diminutive helicopters were based on the Westland Scout and fitted with a wheeled undercarriage as opposed to skids. Their small size meant they could operate from the smallest of ship borne landing pads and with the ability to carry torpedoes and sonar, gave the parent vessel a measure of over the horizon ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) capability. Blooded in the Falklands War, these aircraft were also exported to overseas Navies.
Another classic British type is preserved here in the form of Hawker Hunter T8C XF994. Still marked in its Fleet Air Arm colours coded VL/836, this aircraft flew from RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset as a fast jet trainer for Royal Navy pilots, and also to simulate anti-ship missiles during exercises against British and other NATO warships when flown by FRADU.
Numerous cockpit sections are preserved inside the HAS, the more modern of these including Jaguar GR1 XX761 and Harrier GR3 XV784. The Argentinian Air Force Pucara nose A-533 only just escaped oblivion as it was rescued at the last minute; unfortunately the rest of the airframe was not so lucky.
The volunteers here have managed to bring together a great collection of aircraft and artefacts and hopefully their future expansion plans see some success. Please bear in mind that this collection is still not open to the general public yet, but they will always be grateful to accept donations to assist in the upkeep and restoration of their aircraft.