Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that when the National Museum of Flight enters its winter opening hours (weekends only, November – April) it becomes very quiet. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, as Museum staff work behind the scenes to prepare for the coming summer season of seven-days-a-week opening. This winter is particularly busy for all the Museum staff. Why?
With support from the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, National Museums Scotland has embarked on a major project to restore two of the hangars built at East Fortune in 1941. This will not only preserve these rare and historic hangars, but also provide environmental conditions inside which are better for the aircraft collection and allow us to bring out of storage many small objects. These items will tell personal stories of people who designed, built and flew in the aircraft, supplemented by audio and visual recordings. These displays will allow visitors to make a connection with those individuals and their experiences.
The redevelopment involves a lot of work by a wide range of museum staff, volunteers and external contractors. The most obvious change on site to our visitors will be the fact that we have closed the two hangars to be restored, and that work is currently taking place to build a temporary store on site for the aircraft from those hangars.
There have been changes to the military hangar, which retains favourites such as the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Siddeley Harrier and English Electric Lightning. It now includes the Blue Streak and Polaris missiles, the forward fuselage of a Hawker Siddeley Nimrod and the General Aircraft Cygnet flown by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, leader of the Dambusters raid in 1943. Most weekends in the early part of 2015 have seen changes in the displays for visitors, so there has always been something different happening.
All of this would be enough to ensure a busy winter season for myself and my colleagues. However, there is much more than this happening. Objects are being conserved, text written, images sourced, oral histories researched and recorded, hangar layouts drawn and re-drawn, and much, much more. And, of course, the normal day-to-day work of the Museum must continue in order to provide an enjoyable and informative day out for our visitors.
School and other educational group visits still need to be organised, as do our popular weekend birthday parties. Planning for our packed events programme of 2015 is also well in hand. As well as Scotland’s National Airshow, we have the Wartime Experience on Sunday 10 May and Wheels & Wings on Sunday 27 September.
In addition, for the February half term holidays, from 14 – 22 February, there will be events at the Museum on the theme of the Secret War. One of the highlights of the week will be an original World War Two Enigma cipher machine. The breaking of the Enigma codes by British Intelligence is estimated to have shortened the war by two years. There will also be displays of radar equipment and V2 rocket combustion chambers. It promises to be an unmissable opportunity to learn about the secret activities behind the front lines in both world wars.