While staying at 15 Bed & Breakfast in Fareham, we drove up to Wiltshire for the day, visiting Boscombe Down and Salisbury. The Boscombe Down Aircraft Collection is truly amazing, and when visiting UK back in 1995, I can only wish the collection was already open. At that time, our son was about 10 years old and loved planes, so we visited the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force Museums, which were both big hits, seeing all the aircraft. However, I can just imagine his delight had he been able to climb into the cockpits at Boscombe Down.
Yes, this is no stuffy museum with, “Please do not touch” signs everywhere, in fact, it is totally the opposite, they encourage you to touch and experience the exhibits. For me it was somewhat of a trip down memory lane, as I seriously contemplated RAF pilot training rather than the marine industry.Located in hangars at the old RAF Boscombe Down, which was home to the military’s aircraft test and evaluation unit. The collection is a private, not for profit company, managed by the members and staffed entirely by volunteers. It moved to the current location and opened to the public in July 2012.
A row of jet aircraft cockpits
Their mission is to tell the story of flying at Boscombe Down, which started during WWI, in 1917. The evaluation and test group were assigned in 1940. They also actively restore old aircraft that were found and/or donated.
English Electric Lightning
For me, the Lightning brought back many childhood memories of seeing them in operation at RAF Leuchars, which was one of UK’s premier air defense bases. Before they built the berm to hide the runway, you could park at the side of the road and watch the fighters. As a premier strike defense base, Leuchars had pilots fully dressed 24x7x365, awaiting a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), or scramble orders to intercept inbound enemy aircraft. Watching them take-off, with full after-burners and heading out across the North Sea, at a high climb rate was a sight, you can never forget. The Lightning was an amazing aircraft, with top speed over Mach 2 and reports of altitudes up to 80,000+ feet.
Fleet Air Arm Sea Harrier
This one also brings back memories, as on finishing school, my first choice of airline pilot had to take a back seat, due to Hamble Air College closing down. For many years, they trained the pilots for BOAC/BEA (now British Airways). I then investigated the RAF & Fleet Air Arm, which at the time operated Harriers and helicopters, so had I opted for the Fleet Air Arm, I could have operated Harriers from a UK carrier.
Andy in a Harrier GR3 Cockpit
Almost all the fighter cockpits are certainly compact and some were rather challenging to get into. The Harrier above is accessed by the vertical ladder up the side. From the top of the ladder you had to step onto the seat, then basically slide down.
BAC Jet Provost instrument cluster
The BAC Jet Provost was a 2-seat trainer, used by the RAF for pilot training from the mid 1950’s to 1990’s.
Andy in a Hawk Trainer
The BAE Hawk Trainer, which was also a 2-seat trainer, with the instructor’s seat in the rear, a little higher to provide enhanced views. This was introduced by the RAF in 1976. Therefore, had I joined the RAF, I would most likely have learned to fly with these 2 aircraft, after starting on the venerable Chipmunk, which I got to fly in the Air Cadets.
RAF Tornado F2 fighter
RAF Tornado cockpit
The Tornado again brings back many memories, as it replaced the F4 Phantoms at RAF Leuchars, serving as UK’s premier strike fighter for many years. During the summer months with prevailing SW winds, they took off inland and started a left turn, frequently passing directly above the field in front of the house, with after-burners, as they headed out across the North Sea. We could also sit outside the local pub, The Strathkinness Tavern where we had an excellent view down to RAF Leuchars, watching the fighters taking off and landing.
Primarily a short range passenger jet, it saw limited service with the RAF at their testing sites, such as Boscombe Down. They were used as platforms for testing equipment under development, such as radar systems and other electronics.
At the end, I got to try out their flight simulator, which is set up as a basic cockpit and operates on MS Flight Simulator X. At present, they had loaded the Gloster Meteor, a late WW2 jet fighter that remained in service until the 1980’s. I took off, did a high G bank, a 360 loop and then returned to Boscombe Down for a landing. I made an excellent approach with 2 reds and 2 whites most of the way down, but just above the runway I flared a shade too soon and too hard, but recovered and with a small bump landed safely. Great fun.
Next post will cover the afternoon in Salisbury and the Cathedral.