The opening of the new building in which we could house some of our classic aircraft collection was a long time coming. Sadly, primarily due to planning restrictions, we were unable to provide a building large enough to bring all of our airframes inside and provide the facilities expected. However, from that moment on a new chapter in this museums history began.
After careful thought and in common with modern thinking we decided to display the aircraft with a minimum of related artefacts around them. Over recent years our volunteers have made numerous visits to other museums to “see how they do it”. The overwhelming view was that the minimalist approach was the look we preferred. We do have related items nearby to show more of the aircraft than just the airframe. This has caused us some problems. We have a large amount of “stuff” and it seemed natural to show it all, plus it also means we don't have to find somewhere to store it. Our intention is to follow the example of the major national collections and rotate our artefacts on a regular basis, thus ensuring that the displays are not static. It means that visitors who come back after their initial visit will find something of interest that wasn't previously there.
On its Easter 2016 opening the museum was not the “finished article”. We still had much to decide, to display and to add to its initial opening state. Your feedback, comments etc are still very welcome. We were also on a steep learning curve; we had had no real experience of running the museum other than in a very ad hoc, casual manner as per our previous openings. We are trying hard to present and operate the museum in a professional and business-like manner and are very pleased with visitors responses to most of the new systems and offerings introduced recently. We may sometimes get it wrong, but we have certainly been working hard to get it right!
Probably the most important factor in preserving old aircraft such as ours, is to keep them inside in a stable and controlled environment. It was very clear early on just how being inside benefited them. The prime example is the de Havilland Venom with its cockpit constructed of plywood. This had started to delaminate as the weather and water got into the wood. Within a few days of being inside it had dried out without any help from us and is now stable and restoration is underway. Most of the aircraft have been outside for more than 20 years and they showed those years in a numbers of ways. For those that know something of our history, they will probably be aware that the collection was much larger just a couple of years ago. It was reduced for a number of reasons. Firstly, as a show of faith to the planning authorities that we were very mindful of the issues regarding the aircraft being outside in a green belt area. We reduced the impact by disposing of ten+ aircraft. We sold off less relevant airframes, duplicates and artefacts that we judged added no particular value. Also just as important was the assessment that with only a small but dedicated group of volunteers and a relatively large number of aircraft, we simply could not prevent the steady deterioration that all of the airframes were experiencing by living outside. Better then to try to ensure their survival by passing them on to other organisations having the resources to preserve or ideally restore them.
The museum is now run as a charitable trust under the rules and guidance of the Charities Commission. The board of five trustees decides policy and the strategic framework for the museum. All but one of the museum staff are volunteers who give what time they can to help to run the museum. The only exception is the museum manager who is a full time paid member of staff.
We like to allow our visitors to get close to the aircraft; there are no barriers, just some small guidelines to help prevent soft people colliding with hard metal objects. We would ask that you do not climb or allow others to climb on the aircraft or to risk damaging them in any way. The eventual aim is that all of them will be capable of running their engines and some systems. Due to recent legislation we are unable to offer access to any cockpits or internal areas of the aircraft, other than those dedicated to this role. The single exception is our largest exhibit, the Avro Shackleton. It's also a good idea to try to prevent children from running in the museum. Although we don't wish to curb their enthusiasm and we have a special non-slip coating on the floor, running around the aircraft is a recipe for accidents. At the beginning, the museum could only offer very basic amenities. During subsequent phases of development many small changes have been introduced. We would like to say a big thank you to the large numbers of visitors who have already seen and approved of what we have to offer. In this way visitors play a significant and vital role in helping us to preserve for current and future generations a part of Britain’s aviation heritage. With your help and our skills we believe that we can offer an important resource for those with an interest in aviation and perhaps more vitally, those who intend to make a career in aviation. One of our charity’s founding principles is to educate and inform the younger generations of the conditions that led to the development of these aircraft and their associated equipment during the roughly thirty years of Cold War. We organise annually a number of special events of particular interest, sometimes with outside bodies, all of which have helped to spread the word and stabilise the museum’s financial position. Maintain your on-site contact with us, either via Facebook or through this website to be kept informed of these events, some of which include live engine runs of either or both the Lightning and the Shackleton.
Trustees, manager and all volunteers at Gatwick Aviation Museum.