The United Kingdom has a rich history of Aviation.
Nowadays, British Aviation is heavily involved in the pan-European operations of Airbus alongside France, Germany and Spain. However during the 1930s through to the 1970’s the UK produced some historically iconic aircraft including; Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, Avro Lancaster, Vickers VC-10, DeHavilland Comet, BAC-Aerospatial Concorde, Avro Vulcan and the BAe 146.
There are many Museums in England that showcase various parts of British Aviation and its 100+ year history. Some of the biggest and most well known museums include; IWM Duxford, RAF Museum Hendon, RAF Museum Cosford, the Manchester Airport Visitor Park, East Midlands Aeropark and the rarely publicly accessible Science Museum at Wroughton. But in Scotland- the biggest and main aviation museum is the East Fortune Museum of Flight, about 40 minutes driving time East of Edinburgh.
Open to the public since July 7th 1975- the Museum of Flight at East Fortune, a former RAF Airfield, has been a part of the National Museums Scotland group, which is a collection of artefacts across the Edinburgh area at four sites. The East Fortune collection dedicated to Scottish and British Aviation.
I visited the museum in August 2019, whilst celebrating a personal anniversary. The museum charges for entry a reasonable £12.50p which you can choose to “Gift Aid” if you are a UK resident, meaning the taxes will be returned to the museum as a voluntary donation- I chose to do this, given charities and do require a lot of funding to keep their collections in pristine condition.
So without further ado, let’s have a look at some of the iconic aircraft in the Museum of Flight’s Collection!
BAC-Aerospatial Concorde G-BOAA
The Concorde is an iconic piece of British and French Aviation history. So its not surprising when the Concorde fleet retired in 2003 that British Airways wanted to send one of their fleet to Scotland, given the London Heathrow based airline has been serving Scottish Airport’s for decades, and regularly offers London “shuttles” from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and the recently reintroduced Inverness.
The Concorde sent to East Fortune was G-BOAA, also known as “Alpha Alpha”. This Concorde was delivered to British Airways in 1975, and flew the inaugural British Airways Concorde service to Bahrain from London Heathrow. Unfortunately, this Concorde (along with London Heathrow’s residing “Alpha Bravo”) never flew again after the Paris 2000 Crash of F-BTSC. So it remained at London Heathrow, until the remaining fleet was retired in October 2003.
Unable to fly, given that it wasn’t given the expensive work given to the other airworthy Concorde fleet. G-BOAA was taken apart and taken by lorries and barge upto Scotland and brought to its new home at East Fortune, making it the only BA Concorde to not be delivered by flight to its new home. The Airliner opened as a fully operational exhibit in 2005, and has been a strong attraction for people from across the world.
The Concorde is half open to the public. Its forward half cabin is open for people to walk through, and people can look into the iconic Concorde flight deck, external to the aircraft are artefacts ranging across 27 year of Concorde service with BA and displays showing different opinions and reactions to the fleets retirement and passengers experiences.
BOAC Boeing 707-400/British Airways BAC 1-11
Two of the passenger aircraft that have come to the Museum of Flight in 2006, are part of the former BA Collection that was housed at RAF Museum Cosford, until British Airways pulled the funding for it.
Starting on the Boeing 707-400 in the collection; the plane was to weak to be fully taken apart and resembled in Scotland, so only the forward section survived, which is a shame given it was the only complete preserved Boeing 707 airliner in the UK and was the last Boeing 707 in service with British Airways, having flown also with BOAC before 1974 and its final years flying with British AirTours.
The Boeing 707, registered in service as G-APFJ, may not have been so lucky- however after being repainted into its original British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) livery from 1964, the aircraft is a proud reminder of the glamour of the early “Jet Age” as BOAC bounced back from the horrific 1954 Comet disasters.
One aircraft from the BA collection that had more luck than “Foxtrot Juliet” was G-AVMO, the BA Collections BAC 1-11 airliner. Whilst this aircraft sits outside and requires a new coat of paint- I have been told by a source related to the museum, that it will eventually be housed inside a new hanger the museum is planning to build over the coming years.
G-AVMO saw service with British European Airways (BEA) and later British Airways from 1968 to 1993, when it was retired from service. The aircraft went to the RAF Museum at Cosford until 2006, when the Museum of Flight obtained it, fittingly given the plane was named “Lothian Region”, which itself is in Scotland.
The aircraft is preserved in its iconic and final 1984-1993 “Landor” colour scheme.
The aircraft is open inside and is displayed as it was in service, with facts on BEA/BA 1-11 service plastered on the overhead lockers. Another luxury of visiting this BAC 1-11 is its one of few aircraft in the world you can access through its rear “Cooper Bay” something that was seen on similarly aged Douglas DC-9 and Boeing 727-100.
Avro Vulcan XM597
So this aircraft you can’t go inside, but its of huge historical significance to the UK’s post WW2 military arsenal.
The Avro Vulcan XM597 is one of three Avro Vulcan bombers to actually see combat action. The aircraft was used in 1982, just month before its retirement in the British RAF’s famed “Black Buck” Raid when the Argentinian’s invaded the Falkland Islands.
Whilst XM597 wasn’t the Vulcan to actually drop the bomb on the runway of Port Stanley, XM597 had an interesting story during the conflict in its own right.
The Vulcan had taken part in two Black Buck raids, with two black rockets on its nose section to indicate it’s combat history, the aircraft had an issue on its third mission. The fuel probe broke and with fuel running low, the plane diverted to Brazil, when it arrived the crew and plane were detained by Brazilian Authorities. Britain began to negotiate with Brazil, despite pressure from Argentina against Brazil- however the neutral USA quickly had to get involved.
A week after its unexpected arrival, the crew and Vulcan left Rio De Janeiro and returned to Ascension Island, where the British Vulcan bombers were based. It was repaired and sent back to England.
The British, American, Argentine and Brazilian governments agreed to release the plane & crew but the bomber and crew couldn’t participate in further action against Argentina once returned, and the Brazilian’s kept hold of a US built “strike missile” being used in the Black Buck Raids that was still attached to the Vulcan when it landed in Brazil.
Since her retirement shortly after the raids, this Vulcan (alongside three other Black Buck Vulcan bombers: XM607, XM612 and XM598) all went off to museums in the UK, and this bomber went to East Fortune, where it has resided ever since.
Ironically, XM598, one of the other Black Buck veteran Vulcan’s is preserved at RAF Museum Cosford, where the ex-BA Collection was housed before many of the aircraft were sent themselves to East Fortune.
Dan Air London DeHavilland Comet 4c G-BDIX
Dan Air London was the largest independent airline in the UK from its formation in 1953 until its merger with British Airways in 1992. It was also known for being the largest civilian operator and last civil operator of the DeHavilland Comet.
The airline operated the Comet 4 across various models from 1966 to 1980. The last of these iconic airliners to leave service was G-BDIX.
G-BDIX was built in 1962 and flew for the Royal Air Force until 1975, it was sold to Dan Air London, based at London Gatwick, where the aircraft spent five years flying charter flights between London and the Mediterranean. It retired from service in 1980.
Dan Air preserved four of their Comet 4 fleet. Two ex-BOAC planes, one of which included the first jet airliner to cross the North Atlantic (G-APDB at Duxford), the aircraft that flew up to East Fortune for preservation in early 1981, G-BDIX, became the last civil Comet to fly in the world. The last ever DH.106 Comet to fly (an RAF example) flew for the last time in 1997.
Supermarine Spitfire LF.XVIe
One of the first aircraft donated to the Museum of Flight was this 1945 built Supermarine Spitfire Mark 16. It was built in July 1945, shortly after German surrender in Europe, but before the Japanese surrender a month later.
The aircraft was used for training Royal Air Force pilots in Yorkshire after the war until it became a static gate guardian at RAF Ouston.
The Ministry of Defence donated the plane to the National Museum of Scotland, and it was placed at East Fortune in a hanger, the decision was to set the wheels in motion for a permanent aircraft museum collection that would continue to grow for the next five decades.
The Spitfire owned by the Museum of Flight is the first aircraft you’ll see as you enter the Military hanger of the collection.
Messismitt ME-163 Komet
A German aircraft built in World War 2, this was one of the first jet powered military aircraft in action. Designed by the same company that brought the Luftwaffe the ME-109 and the jet powered ME-262, the Komet was a follow on that was one of the potential super weapons that would hopefully ensure a German victory.
This ME-163 is the only Komet to be flown by an allied pilot with its rocket motors in service, the pilot being legendary Scottish test pilot Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown.
This ME-163 is one of three examples preserved in the UK, all being captured at the end of WW2 in 1945. It was also one of the first aircraft at the Museum of Flight when it opened in 1975, and has been preserved there ever since.
And that concludes a look at some of the artefacts preserved at the Museum of Flight in East Fortune, it’s worth a visit to anyone visiting the Edinburgh area and there is plenty more legendary British aircraft to see.