by ANTONY CLAY
AIRCRAFT have a strange fascination for people. Their sleek designs combine high technology and style – and there is always the nagging question when standing close to their vast bulks of ‘how on earth do they ever get off the ground?’
From the first attempts at flight using little more than wood and string to the gigantic military planes big enough to carry other aircraft and tanks, there is something special about them.
Aircraft are simply intriguing.
So, anyone visiting the Newark Air Museum – dubbed “the friendly aviation museum” – can’t help but be drawn in by the machines on show at the former RAF base.
Located next to Newark Showground just off the A46, Newark Air Museum may be a tad off the beaten track but it is a must-see destination for all ages.
Run by volunteers, the non-profit making museum is based on part of the former RAF Winthorpe site.
An array of planes – and a good few helicopters – are displayed either outdoors or in large display sheds.
The range of things to see is impressive but is laid out in such a way that different aspects of air history are offered up in helpful chunks.
There is, for instance, an indoor display showing RAF history in the area, another featuring engines.
You can get up close and personal with most of the aircraft, walking within feet of them or, in the case of the Vulcan bomber, right underneath.
There is clearly a real love and devotion for the subject by the team which runs the museum – and the fact that it attracts visitors from far and wide suggests they are certainly doing something right.
You get the feeling that you are on an old air base when walking around. There is a distinct sense of history.
A new cafe serves up tasty fare after a long day browsing (or a short time in the cold British weather!) and a well-stocked shop offers books and magazines galore on air-related matters, as well as a large assortment of Airfix model kits to let you build your own small version of the planes you will have been inspired by on your visit.
It can be strange to see aircraft which have played a major role in defence in the past standing regimentally on the ground of the museum, but it is also thought-provoking. These glorious machines, well maintained and looked after by the museum, undertook military missions or rescue operations or even carried passengers in some cases. They are true Forces veterans.
It is very much the military theme that is paramount at Newark Air Museum, and quite rightly too given the site’s RAF history.
For instance, you can get a look behind the scenes at how RAF airmen in the Second World War would have lived, the equipment they used and divine something about the characters of those brave men.
The equipment they had back in the day is displayed, ranging from plane cockpit gear to radar equipment and even the clothes they wore.
You can also see ejector seats, gun turrets, photographs, memorabilia – things that make the stories being told that much more real.
The aircraft on show range from the magnificent Vulcan bomber, the MIG-23M Flogger and the Meteor T7 planes to Sioux AH10 and Wessex helicopters and the Taylor Monoplane G-APRT.
There are also early aircraft on display.
You get the chance to explore flight simulators and cockpits. microlights and a radar cabin.
I found the shed full of engines fascinating. This is where art and science come together. Every part of the engine has an engineering purpose but they also look like metal sculptures. One, with its tubes and almost biological look, reminded me of the work of artist H R Giger.
During my last visit, another visitor took it upon himself to play a tune on one of the engines by tapping various bits of it. It was quite melodic. A bit Kraftwerk in a way – but not a recommended use of former military equipment!
Lancaster Corner in Hangar 1 displays World War Two artefacts associated with the famous Lancaster bomber and wartime RAF Winthorpe, which was a training base for 5 Group Bomber Command.
The museum’s 619 Squadron ME846 Lancaster display relates to an aircraft and crew that crashed in June 1944 over northern Belgium.
Displayed above a fuselage section is a Lancaster wing-tip that was recovered near Grantham. There is also a Lancaster rear turret that housed twin 0.5 inch guns.
The air museum really does have so much to see and can take up a full day. What is particularly good is that it is as exciting to visit for children as it is for adults. There is a sense that history is brought to life, which is something that appeals to kids.
The air museum was opened officially back in April 1973 and has developed since then, with the opening of its two massive aircraft display halls a major step forward.
The founding aim of the museum was “the preservation of the country’s aviation heritage and to display a collection of aircraft and exhibits to the local public”.
It has certainly achieved that aim and is well worth visiting for a great day out.
Newark Air Museum calls itself “the friendly aviation museum” and that is very much the case.
The museum is open every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
Opening hours: March to October 10am-5pm, November to February 10am-4pm.
Admission: Gift Aid donation price – Adult £9.90, Over 65s £8.80, Family (2 adults and 3 children) £26.40, Child £4.95; non-Gift Aid donation price – Adult £9, Over 65s £8,
Child £4.50, Family £24; under fives free, special rates for disabled/students/UB40 holders/serving members of the armed forces, veterans/parties of 15-plus available on application.
Address: Drove Lane, Newark, Nottinghamshire NG24 2NY
Telephone: 01636 707170