Hall of Aviation
Dave Eade takes a trip down south.
These days, when so often items are included in a museum purely because they are available, it is enlightening to happen upon a facility which has a theme and sticks to it. The Southampton Hall of Aviation purports to illustrate the links that the Solent area has with the world of aviation and does it to perfection.
The history of British aviation has a large, though regretfully closed, chapter on flying boats. Of the ports around the United Kingdom that had some involvement in that chapter, Southampton takes its rightful place at the head. No only are the links between boats and flying boats obviously great in design, they are strong in geography as well. Often where there were large ports, dealing with passenger traffic, the flying boat operators also plied their trade. Few examples of the art and design still exist but it is right that the centrepiece of the Hall of Aviation should be the beautifully restored Sandringham flying boat (VH-BRC). Resplendent in the colours of her last operator she sits, no, towers over the other exhibits. Doors are left open and the visitor can enter and get a feel of just how it must have been to fly the oceans of the world in a beast like this. Cockpit tours are available on request and like so many of the exhibits here one gets the feeling that she is just waiting for someone to press the button and she is ready to go.
A name synonymous with Southampton is that of Supermarine. This is the company that, not only in flying boats (Lerwick, Walrus, Seagull and Stranraer), but also in seaplanes through racing machines (N248 Supermarine S6A) gave us the technology to produce the magnificent Spitfire. The Mk. F24 example on display here (PK683) is nothing short of perfect, and a thoughtfully laid footpath allows the visitor up to the cockpit for a close inspection something that others could well copy. A life-size statue of its great designer, R. J. Mitchell, looks over her. Success in the jet field followed with the Attacker and the Scimitar, which is exhibited inside with the cockpit of XD235 while outside in the adjoining storage area has arrived, from Flambards, the full example XD332, although wingless at the moment.
Flying boat construction was also the forte of the great locally based Saunders Roe Company. SAROs expedition into the world of jet powered examples was not too successful however, but an example (TG263) of the fated SARO SRA1 again immaculately turned out - has been moved from its former home at Duxford, to a more fitting home here. At the time in the forefront of research and development, the Army successfully employed the Skeeter helicopter for many years and AOP12 XL770 celebrates that fact here.
Naval aviation training is portrayed by an Avro 504 replica, Tiger Moth (BB807) and Chipmunk WK570. The post-war naval era is represented by a nice example of the venerable Sea Venom (WM571), and a further cockpit in the form of Sea Vixen XJ476.
Down the road from the city is the small boat-town of Hamble, whose place in aviation history is ensured by the original location of the Folland Aircraft company, whose expertise in light aircraft design was exemplified in the beautiful Gnat fighter/trainer. An example of the original fighter is to be found in the museum (XK470) while a detour into Hamble will allow the visitor to view an early trainer, (XM693 in Red Arrows colour scheme) mounted on a pole, in the sports field next to the shopping centre.
Exhibits around the walls of the museum tell the aviation story of Southampton, with an excellent reconstruction of a 1950s model shop as an added bonus. Expect a friendly welcome here from the volunteers who man the desk, and spend a couple of hours "genning up" on Southampton and its part in British aviation history.
Air-Scene UK salutes this superb museum and wishes all connected with it success in the future. We also acknowledge the use of "Wrecks and Relics" by Ken Ellis in identifying some of the aircraft mentioned.