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A Day At Cosford, The Aerospace Museum.
It was early one Sunday morning in early June with the sun blazing through the bedroom window I looked at the clock and saw it was approaching five o’clock, getting up time. I got up and went round the hill to check my sheep, just another day? No not quite. I was fairly well caught up with the work on the farm and could maybe steal away for the day. On my return from the hill I woke young Ashley my next-door neighbours son who seems to spend most of his week ends at Effgill, and after a quick breakfast we headed off in the Landrover to a mystery destination. It was nine o’clock when we left home and by a quarter to one we had arrived at the front gate of the Aerospace Museum at RAF Cosford.
As we approached the museum there were lots of airliners sitting outside and in front of the hangar at the top of the hill were some of the larger military planes from yesteryear planes like the Avro Vulcan the Handley Page Victor and a military version of the old Armstrong Whitworth Argosy with its four Rolls Royce Dart engines it earned the nickname of the Whistling Wheelbarrow, those of you who remember its twin tails will know why.
After parking the Landrover we walked the short distance to the new smart looking entrance, which housed a restaurant, conference centre and shop where Ashley could spend some of his hard earned pocket money on the way out. The first hangar we came to once out of the reception hall was in fact hangar No. 2 this housed Research and Development Aircraft.
As you walk through the door on your left is the most striking aircraft the TSR2(#1) that Harold Wilson’s Government cancelled back in 1964, four days after the second prototype was damaged in transit on its way by road, on the back of a lorry to Weybridge making it impossible to meet the deadline for its debut. This was a great pity as it was an aircraft well ahead of its time and would undoubtedly stolen many of the flying records the Americans held for years with their Phantom.
Sitting next to the TSR2 in the photo is a Gloster Meteor(#2), this one was a development aircraft with a bit added on to the nose, you may be able to see that there is another cockpit incorporated in this add on. This is were another pilot lay in a prone position, the idea being that a rocket propelled fighter/interceptor was on the drawing board. A pilot lying prone would not be as likely to black out due to excessive G stresses when pulling out of a dive. One problem with this configuration was that the pilot could not look behind him very easily to see if there was an enemy on his tail.
However with the advent of the pressurised “anti-G” flying suit the idea was abandoned. Next to the Prone Meteor sits the prototype, original Meteor, it made its maiden flight on 24th. July 1943. The Meteor was the only Allied jet to see active service during the war. Its first kill was a flying-bomb on 14th. August 1944. Although a similar project the Gloster E.28/39, with a single Gloster Whittle engine made its maiden flight as early in the war as15th. May 1941.
To the right are three or four forerunners of the English Electric Lightning; the last in the line up is the prototype the P1. I can still vividly remember the P1 as a young boy being test flown from its factory at Warton near Preston.
Standing in the garden on a summers day with my parents watching this silhouette high in the sky and to a youngster the terrifying double bang as it went through the sound barrier. Although the Hunter was the first aircraft to fly supersonic, the P1 was the first to break the sound barrier in level flight. In those days it was not that many aircraft that could exceed the speed of sound and the pilots were less aware of noise pollution and did break the sound barrier over land, where as today they usually go out to sea before exceeding the speed of sound. Visitors to the Isles of Scilly on a quiet day may have heard Concorde going through the sound barrier as it goes out over the sea on its way to America. In more recent years the Tornado was test flown from Wharton and I think now the Euro Fighter is still undergoing tests there.
In those days Father worked as an air traffic controller at Preston Airways based at Barton Hall. Back then Preston Airways shared Barton Hall with the Royal Observer Corps who used it to house Western Area HQ before the new HQ was built just down the road at Goosenargh.
Father new Johnnie Johnson the battle of Britain hero who was then the DAC. Not far from Barton Hall in the opposite direction English Electric had their second factory, Samlesbury where the Canberra was born an example of which sits on the tarmac at Cosford.
From there we moved through the connecting corridor into Hangar 3 which houses the war planes dating from World War One to the Falklands conflict, well not quite, the Sopwith Camel is a replica and has a deliberate mistake in its construction to make it easier to take to pieces for transportation.
There is an extra set of struts near to the root of the wing, so when the wings are taken off the rigging stays in tact and the wings don’t collapse together. The latest aircraft is a Pucara which was captured at Port Stanley during the Falklands conflict. It was flown to Boscombe Down for evaluation before being donated to the museum. In actual fact this was not the first Pucara I had seen, not long after the conflict I was able to visit the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton where they had one sitting opposite a very badly shot up Wessex helicopter. As I recall the Wessex was riddled with bullet holes but by some miracle it managed to land safely with out any casualties.
There were several aircraft from the second World War some of them must be very rare, like the Messerschmitt Me 410(#3) fighter bomber of which only two are known to have survived, our Mosquito found them quite a tough opponent.
The Mosquito(#4) in the picture has Ashley standing in front of it, which gives you an idea of its impressive size. Ashley was interested to know that the Mosquito was assembled in a similar way to the Airfix models he enjoys putting together, in that the fuselage is constructed in two halves and then stuck together.
The Americans Pilots came over the Atlantic with their Locheed P38 Lightening which was supposed to be the best alround fighter bomber built but were upset to discover that in the right hands it was outperformed by our Mosquito.
Another rare plane is the Lincoln, a successor to the Lancaster. The first Lincolns entered service in 1945 with 57 squadron they were Force, but Japan had surrendered before Tiger Force became operational.
Although the Merlin engine was designed by Rolls Royce the Spitfire Mk. XVI(#5) on display is powered by an American made Packard Merlin as can be seen in the picture where the engine cowling has been removed for maintenance. Several aircraft used the Merlin engine during the war including some that I have not previously mentioned the Mosquito being one of them, but another fighter worthy of mention and powered by the Merlin was the Hurricane(#6) although not as famous as the Spitfire it was a year older than the Spitfire, more manoeuvrable and certainly accounted for more enemy kills than the Spitfire. Its undercarriage was slightly wider too so it was more stable on a bumpy field and therefore less likely to use its wings as a plough resulting in a catastrophic accident.
The narrower undercarriage of the Spitfire combined with the up rated Merlin Engine made it a hand full both during take off and landing, especially to the less experienced pilot. Later marks of the Spitfire had the even more powerful Griffon engine. I remember one pilot saying that he had a German nearly in his sights and opened up the power to improve his shot but the torque of the engine pulled him in the opposite direction and he flew right past the German without getting a shot in.
Walking down the hill to Hangar 1, which houses transport aircraft we walked past several larger aircraft including the Andover, a military version of the HS 748, built at the old Avro factory of Woodford. but more on Woodford later. The Andover has a nose wheel, which can be hydraulically adjusted so that the tail door can be adjusted to the same height of any lorry that it may need to exchange loads with.
Once in the hangar there are many interesting aircraft to see, there is the nose section of an Avro Vulcan, which you can walk through, I found this very interesting, as it was the first time I had seen inside one of these giants. We left the Preston area when Father was posted to Manchester Airport back in 1960 in those days there was only one scheduled jet airliner per week but not far away was the Avro factory at Woodford at this time they were still building Vulcan V bombers. When they came off the production line they were test flown and came to Manchester to do bumps or “touch and go” to test their avionics (electrical flying instruments) it was very seldom they ever landed, but I do remember the noise was awful and my infant sister was terrified of them. As I have said the Andover was also built at Woodford at a similar time that the Shackletons were being refurbished there and the surviving Victor B1’s were converted to become B2’s, in flight refuelling tankers, an example of which is also at Cosford.
Back in Hangar 1 there is another derivative of the Lancaster the Avro York, the one on display was used extensively during the Berlin airlift but I can also remember them as a boy, flying holidaymakers in and out of Manchester up until the end of the 60’s. The Ju52 looks very peculiar with its corrugated iron sheeted fuselage and three engines it was if I remember nicknamed the flying goose This one was in actual fact built in the Spanish CASA factory as were so many aircraft for use in the Spanish Civil War, Hitler’s training ground for what was to come. Those of you who have watched the film, the Battle of Britain may have noted that some of the German Aircraft didn’t just sound right, this was because they had been built in Spain by CASA and were equipped with the Merlin engine.
At the other end of the hangar is an array of missiles from over the ages, I suppose more notably the V1(#7) which had its own distinctive sound until the engine cut out, and then you knew it wouldn’t be long before there would be a bang, you just hoped it wasn’t you. On the other hand the V2 was very different, as you couldn’t hear them coming at all as it was a rocket-powered missile. At the end of the war some of the German rocket scientists defected to America and were instrumental in helping America put a man on the moon.
The aircraft which really took my eye in Hangar 1 was the Whirlwind(#8) if for no other reason than it is painted in Fathers old squadron colours, those of 22 squadron now undertaking air sea rescue duties, during the war they had Bristol Beauforts used as torpedo bombers
The squadron crest is the George cross on top of which is the Greek letter Pi or mathematical sign for 22 over 7. The George Cross was given to Malta after it was used as a staging post on route to the Middle East and where 22 squadron flew a lot of sorties to try and break the siege that Germany had laid.
It was during one of these sorties on the 14th. April 1942 that father, a rear gunner on the Beauforts, was shot down just off the coast of Malta. He spent over 7 hours in the water waiting to be rescued before a fisherman dared to venture out from the shelter of the caves of the Blue Grotto to pick him up, he then spent several months there convalescing before being flown out via North Africa, it was after that adventure that he became an Air Traffic Controller, his flying days ended.. Becoming a civilian Air Traffic Controller after the war. Those of you with very long memories may well remember him talking at an ROC meeting many, many years ago at the old Group Headquarters at Norfolk Road in the city before we moved out to be next to the RAF at 14 MU.
Ashley and I had a very enjoyable day at Cosford. From the top of the M6 at junction 44 it would take very little over three hours to get there. If you do fancy a trip down, if you have access to the Internet I would suggest taking a look at :- www.aeroflight.co.uk/mus/cosfd/cosford.htm this sight lists over eighty aircraft that are at Cosford. Or:- www2.rafmuseum.org.uk/flashframe.cfm is the RAF web sight and guide to the museum.
I must have missed quite a lot out of my little story but if you get the chance to go, and have an interest in aircraft then a visit is a must.
[14nov00 13:00] updated