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2014 UK Aviation Events : REVIEW

Sywell Aviation Museum Grand Opening

Easter Saturday marked the Grand Opening of the Sywell Aviation Museum for the 2014 season. Each year the Museum marks its opening with in great style with visiting military vehicles and a flying display. This year was a particularly special year for the Museum which officially unveiled and re-dedicated the refurbished airfield memorial and also celebrated the 60th Birthday of its resident Hawker Hunter F.Mk.2 ‘Heidi.’

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

Sywell Aviation Museum, like so many other aviation heritage endeavours, is a purely voluntary organisation. Based in three Nissan Huts carefully transported from RAF Bentwaters and a further two from the Prisoner of War Camp at Snape Farm in Derbyshire, the Museum is home to a fascinating collection of relics and artefacts not only covering the history of Sywell Aerodrome, but also that of Northamptonshire as a whole. The Museum has won several local heritage awards too including for 2013.

The Museum’s season traditionally starts on the long Easter Holiday weekend with a flying display and ground event. Returning to open the event this year was Peter Teichman in his wonderful Hawker Hurricane IIb BE505 ‘Pegs.’ The Hurricane is just one of five fighter that Peter’s Hangar 11 Collection owns. Also airworthy are examples of the North American P-51D Mustang, Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk and the sole airworthy Supermarine Spitfire PRXI. Also nearing the end of restoration is a Supermarine Spitfire IX found in the Russian tundra which will be an exciting addition to the display circuit, particularly as it will be finished in its authentic markings from the Russian Front.

As ever, Peter’s display was a smooth flowing sequence of loops, rolls and low passes for the crowd under some lovely blue skies. Following his display, Peter taxied right up to the main event area taking some well-deserved applause for the crowd.

Following Peter’s display, there was a rededication of the Airfield Memorial. Opening in 1928, Sywell has remaining in private ownership ever since. However, the 1930’s saw Brooklands Aviation Limited set up a large flying school to support the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. The outbreak of the Second World War saw training expanded even more plus a maintenance base set up to support the RAF’s Wellington plus completion and flight testing of 260 Avro Lancaster B.Mk2s.

It is estimated that 2,500 RAF, Commonwealth, Allied and Free-French pilots went through flying training at Sywell. The end of the war saw basic and reserve training for the RAF continued at Sywell plus maintenance of some of the RAF’s bombers and transport aircraft.However, by the 1960's Sywell had returned to entirely civilian operation. Mainly the Aerodrome has been a general aviation base, though on occasion it has operated scheduled services to the Channel Islands. Today, many private owners base their aircraft at Sywell alongside flying clubs and businesses. The airfield is home to 2Excel Aviation and The Blades Aerobatic Team plus the Aviator Hotel.

The memorial has just been refurbished and reset in place just outside the airfield perimeter fence. It was good see the local community and Royal Air Force very much involved with the ceremony. The ceremony also saw the museum receive a US Army Air Force Cap recovered from the crash site of a B-17 which had collided with radio masts in poor weather returning from a raid in December 1944. The Cap was recovered from the crash site soon after the crash by a School Boy who kept it all his life until he died recently. His son inherited the hat and has passed it to the museum. Peter Teichman was also honoured for his efforts supporting the museum and received an honorary lifetime membership from the Museum and some cannon shells for his Spitfire!

The Museum also marked the 60th Birthday of its Hawker Hunter F.Mk.2 ‘Heidi.’ The Mk.2 Hunter is unusual as it was powered by the Rolls Royce Sapphire engine rather than the Avon. Sywell’s Hunter, WV904, arrived from the former Waterbeach Barracks in July 2012 following the closure of the base. Since arriving at Sywell, the Hunter has enjoyed some much needed TLC and the Museum have reunited with airframe with many of the parts that went missing over the years including the Sapphire engine and one of her 30mm Aden Cannons. Also, for protection against the elements the Museum have even invested in vinyl covers! WN904 currently retains the joint 1 and 56 Squadron markings she wore as a gate guardian, but the Museum aim to restore her to her full 257 Squadron markings worn when she entered service at RAF Wattisham in 1954/55.

An added bonus for visitors on the day of the opening was the appearance of the Great War Display Team. With the period 2014 to 2018 marking 100 Years since the First World War and an added focus on the conflict from the popular media, the next four years look to be very busy for the team. The 2014 season also sees the team expand to a nine-ship for many of their displays. The full line-up of replicas will feature Matthew Boddington’s superb RAF BE2c , the Sopwith Triplane, three RAF SE5as, two Junkers CL1s and two Fokker DR1 Triplanes.

With nice aircraft, the Great War Display Team are amongst the largest civilian display teams in the UK and fill the sky with their display of the swirling dogfights making them very much a crowd favourite wherever they appear. Amongst the highlights of their season are nine-ship displays at the RAF Cosford Airshow, Farnborough International Airshow and the RAFA Shoreham Airshow plus appearances at Highclere House, Duxford and back at Sywell to name but a few.

It was a great way to kickstart Sywell Aviation Museum’s season and going by the packed car park and long lines of cars parked on the verge outside certainly a successful one. If you are ever in the area make sure to visit the Museum – more information can be found on their website.

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