CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Berkshire Life today CLICK HERE

‘Taking to the skies’ at RAF Halton

PUBLISHED: 15:53 07 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:53 07 June 2016

Pupils from St Louis Catholic Primary School, Aylesbury, making the most of their visit to the museum during a Cool Aeronautics event. (Photo: Christopher Yarrow)

Pupils from St Louis Catholic Primary School, Aylesbury, making the most of their visit to the museum during a Cool Aeronautics event. (Photo: Christopher Yarrow)

UK MoD/Crown Copyright Reserved 2015 This image may not be used, reproduced or transmitted without first obtaining a copyright l

At RAF Halton we have a unique museum and collections – so Sandra Smith flew over the Chilterns to ‘take to the skies’

I’ve just flown a de Havilland Chipmunk. In anticipation of your inevitable question: yes, this was my first time at the controls of a military – or any, for that matter – aircraft though lack of experience didn’t prevent me from soaring over Buckinghamshire, the altitude showcasing aerial views of Wendover Woods, Aylesbury Vale and the Rothschild elegance of Halton House.

Actually, I should be more specific. Because whilst any deceit is unintentional, this is far from the full story. Truth is, I’m at RAF Halton’s Trenchard Museum and James McCudden Flight Heritage Centre where the history of the base is celebrated and interactive exhibits include a £15,000 Chipmunk simulator.

In an upstairs office overlooking the parade ground Min Larkin CBE, initiator of the Trenchard Museum, explains the origins behind this successful project. “I started resurrecting the history of Halton aircraft apprentices during 1994. We set up a little display in the old workshop with a few artefacts dating back to 1920. This was very ad hoc, and not for the public, but eventually extended to two rooms as popularity grew. In 1989 the Station Commander offered me a bigger building. I raised £7,000 for repairs, though it remained quite bare for a few months.”

When the Station celebrated its 80th anniversary Min persuaded the current Lord Trenchard – grandson of the Royal Air Force’s founder – to open the Museum which now bears the family name. “Once we started to advertise that the museum was open, families of deceased apprentices sent us boxes of stuff they’d been storing. We had some remarkable finds, including a set of medals with an OBE.”

The volume of memorabilia here could easily take several visits to appreciate. From uniforms to engines, medals to ejector seats, the ex boxing hut is packed with fascinating information. Accessibility is a positive feature, too, with only occasional exhibits protected behind glass. Overall there’s a sense of encouraging visitors to feel part of the fabric of the camp.

Curator Francis Hanford, who has been involved with the Museum since 1998, confirms the thinking behind this approach: “Visitors are allowed to touch things as they’re not likely to damage themselves. Within the RAF there is no other museum as developed as this. One of our most unusual items is a bit of the Wright Brothers’ original aircraft which somehow floated down in our direction.”

Catering, medical and dentistry disciplines are all represented with generous space also devoted to Don Finlay. A Group Captain at RAF Halton, this talented Great Missenden athlete competed in three Olympic Games, winning two medals as well as captaining the British team.

Curator Francis Hanford shows Air Cadet Ambassador and Honorary Group Captain Carol Vorderman some of the exhibits. (Photo: Luka Waycott)Curator Francis Hanford shows Air Cadet Ambassador and Honorary Group Captain Carol Vorderman some of the exhibits. (Photo: Luka Waycott)

There may be plenty more to explore but volunteer Bill McGrath who spent 32 years in the RAF is eager to show me the James McCudden Flight Heritage Centre on the other side of the parade ground. Bill has been on board for 18 months during which he has accumulated a wealth of knowledge. He is one of 28 volunteers, though more would be an asset.

“Volunteers are welcome regardless of age or gender,” he assures me. “And a military background isn’t necessary.”

The most striking aspect of the Flight Centre is the coexistence of 21st century cutting edge technology alongside RAF history. I’m debating which to study first, a glider, model plane or air navigation equipment, until Bill proudly reveals a Link D2 trainer. This may resemble an adult size toy, but when he flicks a number of switches before climbing into the cockpit, I soon understand its significance. The D2 duplicates the motions of a real aircraft, its built-in navigation aids a vital feature in enabling the RAF to train our air crew.

Moving further down the vast room we pass a Wind Tunnel Aerodynamics exhibit and a Link D4 built by Air Trainers Ltd of Aylesbury before reaching the Link D4B in which I’m invited to sit. I’m engulfed by the tight space and numerous dials, then the door is closed and Bill slowly shuts the canopy so that I may, in some modest measure, appreciate the challenges of night flying.

Clambering out – at this point wishing I’d worn trousers – there to meet me was impeccably presented and chivalrous ex-Halton apprentice Tom Costello, who, in the seven years since volunteering (“The best thing I ever did”) has raised £50k from Rolls Royce, the RAF Charitable Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund.

I vow to chat to him again later, but for now Bill draws my attention to the ultimate exhibit. We’re standing next to the front end of a de Havilland Chipmunk which looks out onto a scene of RAF Halton. The aircraft was the basic flying trainer for pilots during the 1960s and adjacent to the craft is a simulator with three large screens projecting a panoramic view of the local area. My host sits at the controls, talking me through a take-off from RAF Halton whilst manoeuvring the controls. He makes it look easy, so I accept his invitation to have a go.

Now let me confess, despite any earlier boasts, my skills do not extend to piloting a plane. Actually, with a ‘crash’ imminent, Bill gallantly comes to my rescue. Still, the taster is a memorable encounter. No wonder this equipment attracts visitors from eight years of age to nonagenarians, particularly as, with a click of a button, ‘pilots’ can even land on an aircraft carrier. And that’s not all. Cool Aeronautics events include interactive workshops and hands on experience for school groups.

Bill McGrath at the controls of the flight simulatorBill McGrath at the controls of the flight simulator

The growing footfall of this free Museum exceeded 10,000 last year, a testament to Min Larkin’s determination. “My long term vision,” he shares, “was to uncover RAF Halton’s legacy and preserve it as long as we could.”

The sprightly founder has certainly achieved his goal. Why not go along and see for yourself? You might even discover, or recapture, flying skills whilst circling over the Buckinghamshire countryside.

Visit the centre

The Trenchard Museum and James McCudden Flight Heritage Centre open every Tuesday 10am - 4pm and at other times by appointment. Visitors are requested to contact the Museum in advance: 01296 656841 or trenchard.jmfhc@gmail.com.

READ ON

The amazing work of the Thames Valley Air Ambulance - Every year our Thames Valley Air Ambulance crews attend to thousands of people who need help. Here we meet some for whom the charity is very special

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Berkshire Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Berkshire Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Berkshire Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

12:01

Our guide to some of the best displays taking place across Berkshire this year

Read more

The Blackbird at Bagnor has a nest we can all settle in, courtesy of the engaging patron

Read more

Discover food, fashion and a great community spirit in this buzzing market town

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

A look back at some of the best Berkshire photography shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Our guide to some of the best Halloween events on offer across Berkshire this October

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

We’re heading to the west of Reading for a wander through historic Ashampstead and Yattendon, home of the West Berkshire Brewery

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

It may be known for its regal connections, but Windsor is also home to a number of restaurants and pubs fit for royalty. We round up some of the best…

Read more
Monday, October 1, 2018

We round up some of the best events and things to do across Berkshire this month

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

We could go on and on about how great the waterways of Berkshire are. Let’s just look instead…

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

With the North Wessex Downs, Windsor’s Long Walk and a whole host of beautiful towns and villages, Berkshire is an amazing place for a stroll

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rolling through Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, the North Wessex Downs are truly picturesque from all angles, so let’s appreciate that for a moment…

Read more
Monday, September 17, 2018

Steve Davison takes us across a patchwork of ancient fields in the North Wessex Downs as we visit Jude Fawley’s ‘Marygreen’

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

You really do get a whole new idea of what Berkshire looks like from up in the skies

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We have at least two of your September weekends sorted: take a journey of discovery around the studios of local artists

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Berkshire Life weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search