River Wissey Lovell Fuller

RAF Museum Cosford

September 2018

A friend and I recently visited this museum and found it to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. The downside was that it is a long way from here and it is not a pleasant drive, A14, M6, M54 all roads carrying dense traffic, nevertheless it was worth the suffering. The museum is a separate part of a working RAF station, the main exhibits are displayed in four different hangars. There is a War-in-the-Air hangar in which you will find the many of the famous aircraft from World War II. There are too many for me to list but I was especially pleased to see a Bristol Beaufighter. This was a very successful aircraft, similar in its roles to those of the famous deHavilland Mosquito (which was also present) and overshadowed by that outstanding plane. The Beaufughter had considerable fire-power and proved very capable as a ground attack fighter and as an anti-submarine weapon, it could carry bombs or depth charges and air-to-ground rockets, in addition to cannon and machine guns. Equipped with radar it was an excellent night-fighter and submarine hunter. With the aid of its radar it had the ability to coast in on a target quietly which led to the name given by the enemy of ˜Whispering Death”. To the best of my memory this example at Cosford was the first I have seen since the war days. Also there was a Boulton Paul Defiant, the first time I had seen one of this type ever. Boulton and Paul were a company based in Norwich. In appearance the Defiant was rather like a Hurricane with a turret behind the pilot. Intended for attacking bombers the extra weight of the turret and the gunner prevented it from competing with the Messerschmitt 109s of the Luftwaffe on speed and manoeuvrability, making it unsuitable for front line combat, although it did have some success against the enemy in the early stages. It went on to other uses including a career as a night fighter where it could pursue its intended role against the bombers. A very rare sight was a Focke-Wulf 190, the only time I had seen one of those before was when it was in the air above me in a hostile role, I am not sure if there is one flying anywhere. There were a few WWI planes and some post war examples including the Harrier. A most interesting hangar was the Test Flight, this housed a number of research and prototype aircraft produced by the British aircraft industry. A fascinating collection, some of which barely came to the notice of the public, but all contributed to our knowledge and to future designs. Outstanding for me was the Fairey Delta FD2, built by the Fairey Aviation Co as a research plane for supersonic flight. It proved to be a very successful design and received plaudits from its pilots for the manner in which it flew. Using a delta wing and a droop nose, considered necessary because of its very long nose, it went on to provide much valuable information that was subsequently incorporated in the design of Concorde. The company thought it would be good to use it to break the world speed record for level flight, the Ministry did not support the proposal but the company carried on with the idea themselves. There were complaints over the sonic booms that occurred over southern Britain and much testing was performed over France, the Dassault company was very cooperative and it is said that much of the design of the successful French Mirage fighter used information obtained from the FD2. In 1956 the FD2 went on to establish a new world speed record of 1132mph, exceeding the previous record held by an American plane by over 300mph. In my mind it is a beautiful aeroplane, it looks right and helps to maintain the strength of the old adage, ˜if it looks right it probably is right”. Also present in the Test Flight hangar was the only surviving Saro SR53. This was a prototype of mixed power, turbojet/rocket, interceptor fighter from the 1950s, intended for defence against the high flying Russian Bear bombers. The performance of the SR53 at altitude with rocket power was outstanding. I was pleased to see it again as I played a significant part in the development of the rocket engine and witnessed some of the early flights at Boscombe Down. Unfortunately, like the FD2, it was a victim of government spending cuts. There were other planes there, many would be familiar to readers including the TSR2 and the prototype English Electric Lightning. The Cold War hanger had planes from slightly more recent times. Cosford is the only place where it is possible to see all three of the ‘V’ bombers together, the Victor, Valiant and Vulcan, intended for carrying atomic bombs. A later version of the so successful Canberra is on display along with the Javelin and Lightning and many others including a MIG-15 and MIG-21. There are examples of the oh so frightening missiles for sending nuclear weapons on their course to massive destruction, a Polaris and a Thor. The Thor was an American ground to ground missile capable of reaching Moscow from the UK, what I did not know was that there were 20 Thor squadrons, each with three Thors, based in the UK by 1961. Other hangars include one devoted to the RAF and its history with many interesting exhibits and another hangar devoted to aircraft used by the RAF for training and for transport in which you can find a variety of small planes and a deHavilland Comet and an Argosy. There are aircraft outside for which they have yet to find room for dry storage. Perhaps the most interesting, because it is rarely seen or spoken of these days is the large (for its day) Bristol Britannia, a big turbo-prop plane, intended for long flights noted for its quietness and efficiency. A Nimrod, Catalina, Vickers VC 10, and Hercules were among the others outside. We spent several hours there and could easily have stayed longer if time had permitted. Ron Watts

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