Ready for take off? Aircraft museum prepares for when it can reopen

The DH 110 Sea Vixen FAW.2 at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum.

The DH 110 Sea Vixen FAW.2 at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. - Credit: Garry Lakin 2017

Is it lift-off yet for our aviation museum celebrating the heritage of the de Havilland company?

There’s quite a bit of activity going on at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, where hopes are that it could be welcoming visitors back in time for Easter.

A museum spokesman said: "It would be wonderful to see visitors once more checking out some of the most important and remarkable aeroplanes – all of them local – which created lots of records."

The museum is situated in the grounds of Tudor mansion Salisbury Hall at London Colney.

This was the Second World War design office for Hatfield’s world famous de Havilland Aircraft Company and where the Mosquito fighter-bomber was created.

The heritage site has been closed to its cohort of volunteer restoration teams for the better part of a year.

The loss of revenue has led to a restructuring of the museum, and it is now raring to go for what everyone hopes will be a new year of new beginnings.

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There is a lot of restoration work that got interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and catching up with the schedules as well as planning future projects will see the volunteers putting in many hours of work.

The small maintenance team of volunteers has been hard at work though, and when the museum does reopen visitors will immediately see the results of their efforts in the grounds, the outdoor display areas and the three display hangars.

Inside the new Sir Geoffrey de Havilland hangar at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. 

Inside the new Sir Geoffrey de Havilland hangar at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. - Credit: Alan Davies

The largest of these, the Sir Geoffrey de Havilland Hangar, is named after the founder of the de Havilland Aircraft Company in 1920.

It has not yet been officially opened, but dates are being pencilled in, admittedly with lots of question marks, for later this year.

The hangar was built with the aid of a near £3 million National Lottery grant and opened in March last year for just a very short while.

There is still one aircraft waiting to roll into the new space, and that is the DH 110 Sea Vixen FAW.2.

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s Sea Vixen in earlier days with its wings folded.

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s Sea Vixen in earlier days with its wings folded. - Credit: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

This large twin-jet, twin-boom two-seat all-weather transonic fighter was built for the Royal Navy in 1960, and served on the famous HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier.

But before it is moved inside, the outer sections of its folding wings will need to be raised and locked together, a tricky operation that the Navy ground crew seemed to manage with ease as they lowered the aircraft through the main deck into the Ark Royal’s below-decks hangar.

Referring to the new de Havilland hangar, a museum spokesman said: "It has been a joy for visitors to be able to not only get up close to the aircraft on display in such a wonderful climate-controlled building, but also the chat to the volunteers about the work they are doing on aircraft such as the DH.98 Mosquito, the all-wood, multi-role twin-engine aircraft of the Second World War which was designed by the DH team in the hall.

"The first prototype was one of four prototypes built in a special hangar in the hall grounds and is now on display there.

"It is often quite a surprise to visitors to find that the volunteer they are talking too had actually worked for de Havilland in various roles, including building some of the aircraft in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and after its merger with Hawker Siddeley, which morphed into what is now British Aerospace.

"It is also something of a surprise for the volunteer to find the person he is talking too also worked at de Havilland.

The business end of the Sea Vixen - the tail and two jet exhausts

The business end of the Sea Vixen – the tail and two jet exhausts. - Credit: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

"Memories and anecdotes are happily traded between visitors and volunteers, sometimes over a coffee and snack in the museum café, proving that designing aircraft, building and maintaining them and flying can be a very small world."

Though the museum is currently closed, visit its website and you can go on virtual tours of the hangars and many of the score or so of aircraft on display.

The website also offers lots more, so give it a few clicks at www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk


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