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Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

The real WB188 on displayDave Eade soaks up some history.

It is perhaps difficult to define the ingredients for a good aviation museum but to have a site steeped in aeronautical history must be a very good start. It is impossible to consider British fighter history without mentioning Tangmere, so where better to have a museum?

Set some 10 miles Southeast of Chichester this Sussex airfield is, today, a mere fraction of its former self. Discarded by the RAF in 1970 and returned to the agriculture from which it came, the airfield is hard to visualise in its former glory. Although home to almost every fighter type, from the 1920s to the days of the fifties and the Hunters of 1 and 34 Squadrons, it is of the "Few" of 1940 and as the home of the record breakers that the name Tangmere is probably best remembered. Absolute airspeed records were set by the Meteor (in 1946) and the Hunter (in 1953) flying from this base.

"It is not just the aircraft – it’s the people behind the artefacts that make Tangmere Museum what it is today." With these words, Alan Bower, curator of Tangmere introduced Air-Scene UK to the raison-d’Ítre of the exhibition on a recent visit. The aircraft spotter will probably concentrate on the small but priceless collection, including both record breakers (on loan from the RAF Museum) but a wander round the many other exhibits will reveal the truth in Alan’s words.

Meteor EE549Exhibitions of Tangmere in the past, both in model and photo form are shown in the entrance, where a warm welcome can be expected from one of the many volunteers that man the Museum. The full history is illustrated by replica Spitfire prototype (‘K5054’), BL924 , Hurricane L1679 and a "trailer" of the main features on display to be seen in the small cinema on video.

Pride of place, as mentioned, must go to the 1946 record-breaking Meteor F3 (Special) EE549 and the famous red Hunter F3, which, in an era when everyone new test pilots names, took Neville Duke – chief Test Pilot for Hawkers – to an average speed of 727 mph off the south coast in 1953. Still today in its record-breaking fit, this was of course the prototype of the venerable Hunter (WB188) retrofitted with reheat and other ‘Go faster’ items. As in the fifties, standing beside the Hunter as if to say ‘Beatcha’, is the Swift and HunterSupermarine Swift. Sadly not the record breaker but stand-in 79 Squadron FR5 (WK281), this item completes the three on-loan types from the RAF. In true Tangmere fashion, however, much floor and wall-space is taken up with press cuttings and memorabilia of the pilots themselves who flew these beautiful beasts.

Other indoor exhibits include a commemoration of the dam-busting efforts of 617 Squadron and Tangmere’s association with the SOE and the Lysanders of 161 Squadron. The birth of In-flight refuelling is explained with photo displays and many other items are to be found – always with and eye to the young with plenty of "Hands-on" and, as said, the people themselves who made this history.

The enthusiasm of the people behind the scenes at Tangmere is evident wherever you look. There is always someone there to answer the questions and enable you to get want you want out of the visit. The facility is easily found, being signposted off the A27 between Arundel and Chichester and for a mere £4, a good morning can be passed here.

Sea Vixen XJ580Arrival and departure have to include a walk around the four, somewhat unconnected airframes by the car park. They are a Meteor F8 (mod) which portrays the air-to-air refuelling fit of the trials aircraft, an ex-FAF T33A, Whirlwind HAS7 and the recently arrived Sea Vixen from Bournemouth. Those in need of a breather can refresh themselves in a well-stocked Tea-room or take a breather in the beautiful memorial garden.

Air-Scene UK congratulates those behind this Sussex gem, which is well worth a visit. The enthusiast can later travel the five miles to Ford, west of Littlehampton, where one can find the pole-mounted Hunter GA11 (WW654).

We acknowledge the use of "Wreck & Relics" by Ken Ellis in compiling the above article.


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