Air Museum (YAM)
Dave Eade searches for whippets and flat caps but finds much more...
This was the day that makes all those bad days worth while! To arrive at Elvington, in April when the previous week had seen rain, hail, and even snow to find glorious sunshine, comfortable mid-fifties in temperature to be told that today was the day when they HAD to empty the hangar and reposition the airframes for the summer! That meant that most of the superb examples that make up the aircraft collection at this airfield was, in-turn, towed out into the sun to leave four airframes out and create the space required for the summer visitors.
The culture that has led to YAM being known, apparently, as the 'friendly museum' was shown to great effect from every one that your scribe met when Air-Scene UK visited the museum. There was nothing that this small team of volunteers would not do to enable us to take advantage of this day. Whether it was "Can you park it there out of the shade?" or "Can we take a look inside the cockpit?" the answer was always a smile and "Yes". Lunch for the handlers was even taken at the convenience of yours truly, who was also getting hungry, but did not want to miss a thing!
£1 will purchase a copy of the history of the airfield and museum, revealing that, in 1952, Elvington was upgraded to SAC requirements and given 10,000 feet of runway - which was never used. The excellent booklet describes how in 1983 a band of volunteers started with a derelict airfield to produce, what is now, a snapshot of those years gone by complete with control tower, NAAFI and buildings associated with the forties. A complete list of the aircraft and exhibits is included although for a further £1, a copy of the "Aircraft Collection" gives photographs and individual aircraft histories. To be highly recommended is the restaurant/NAAFI where a choice of hot meals is available in pleasant surroundings.
With very few exceptions, every building is open to inspection including the workshops, where if you are very lucky, you will stumble across "Mack" or Ray McElwain to give him is full title. Mack is one of the characters that make places like the YAM work. Not enjoying the best of heath, he came to the decision that, when he goes, there is nothing on this earth to say he has been here. So, as you do, he set about restoring an aircraft in this case a Westland-Sikorsky Dragonfly (WH991). It became a case of buying three to get one whole one. In creating his dream Mack has, however, helped not only WH991, but the Dragonfly at the FAA Museum Yeovilton, the Helicopter Museum at Weston-Super-Mare example, and is still going strong by trying to make one of the engines from these airframes into a fully working model engine. We wish Mack good luck and good heath he is an example to us all!
But the sun was shining! It was back outside to photograph the Mirage IIIE, Hunter FGA78, the amazing Blue Diamonds Hunter T7, Buccaneer, Javelin, Meteor NF14 and immaculate F8. We were informed that since arrival from its previous life as gate-guard at Finningley, the F8 had "merely" had a rubdown and a coat of 'shellac'. We have to admit that, had we been told it was the result of a thousand hours of painstaking paint work we would not have been surprised so, well done Finningley as well! Already basking were the Canberra T4 and Victor and, unfortunately, the Lightning F6 could be repositioned without bringing it outside (shame!) but there was enough light in the hangar to do it, the Mosquito, Me109 and Jet Provost justice.
Unfortunately, because of British lack of interest in preservation at the end of WW2, we are left with all too many replicas where literally thousands of examples were originally built. This is certainly the case with the Halifax (where, oh where are the Whitley and Hampden to name but two!). The magnificent Halifax replica at Elvington was created, apparently, from a mere 20 feet section of fuselage in use, at the time, as a chicken shed! From this and thousands of man-hours came "Friday the 13th" which honours the most famous Halifax of all.
More than 100 Halifaxes were lost from Elvington during WW2. That fact is poignantly remembered in the Memorial Garden, centre of which is a mounted propeller salvaged from the North Sea. A Museum shop, Chapel, Library and display of uniforms are to be found in different buildings along with a gunnery exhibition, a display of ejector seats, officers mess, airmans billet and a superb display dedicated to Barnes Wallis. In the Wallis collection (the only place where photography is forbidden), the catapult used to propel balls along the surface of the test tanks at Cheddington can be found with an example of the "Upkeep" bomb.
All in all a day out at Elvington is a great appetiser for the airshow season which, of course could include their own Great Yorkshire Airshow set for the August Bank Holiday. Dont miss this superb exhibition and the people of Yorkshire Air Museum if you find yourself in South Yorkshire. Air-Scene UK wishes them well.