If an invitation to Bournemouth’s Aviation Museum gives you visions of a stuffy old building filled to the brim with cabinets of flight memorabilia and papier mache models of some of the town’s most notable aircraft, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise! While it’s always a giggle leafing through photos from the not-too-distant past when Bournemouth International Airport (previously Hurn) wasn’t much more than a collection of portacabins with a world-class reputation, you could easily lose hours browsing the exhibits housed at this open-air tribute to the town’s, indeed the country’s aviation history.
You arrive on site just across the road from the airport on the site of Adventure Wonderland and are immediately met by real sections of fuselage and full-size aeroplanes in this unique collection of aviation exhibits. Very few places here are off limits, so whether you want to flick all the switches in the cockpit of the 1955 Canberra or 1968 English Electric Lightning or squeeze into the hatch of a 1959 Vulcan bomber, just climb in and take your aim! The stunning Vulcan joined the museum in 2003 after a long stretch of service with the RAF as a Skybolt bomber before general service at RAF Finningley and with 27 Squadron after conversion to a B.2MRR.
A tribute to Palmair
Locals will look fondly on the museum’s touching tribute to Palmair, Bournemouth’s local airline based at Hurn offering chartered and scheduled flights on behalf of Bath Travel. The first chartered flight set off in 1958 with a single trip to Palma but by its peak in 2004 was carrying 75,000 passengers on scheduled flights to ten European airports and day trips to 25 European cities. Founder Peter Bath proudly waved off every flight until his death in 2006, aged 79. The company ceased operating in 2011 and was put in “deep freeze” due to competition from budget airlines, rising fuel prices and recession.
If you want to reminisce about your Bath travel holidays aboard Palmair, step inside the museum’s fuselage of the 1974 Boeing 737-200, which has been transformed into a mini-museum and renamed “The spirit of Peter Bath.” On board, you can meet some of the ‘crew,’ dress up in the gear for an impromptu on-board selfie and take your choice of seat (window or aisle) as you imagine the destinations this magnificent machine would have seen. Just by the cockpit there are some photos of what the dash looked like when the Aviation Museum’s team of loyal volunteers got hold of it. It was just a mass of wires and clutter on all four sides, now painstakingly restored using parts from other 737s as they could source them. The work on this Palmair jet reflects the commitment and passion shown by the Museum’s team of volunteers. Giving a few hours of their time when they can, the team give guided tours, man the Air Festival stand, hunt down elusive dials and switches, restore magnificent machines to their former glory, enter the logistics of transporting new items and find space for their growing number of exhibits – some on loan, others donated or purchased.
Another labour of love saw the team repaint the formidable SEPECAT Jaguar GR1. Again, the volunteers pitched in and painted what they could, when they could – when finances, good weather or good fortune permitted. This striking aircraft from RAF Lossimouth was first flown in 1975, given its camouflage wrap in 1977 and loaned to RAF 54 Squadron in 1980. After a spell of ground instructional duties in the 80s and 90s the Jaguar was bought by Hayward and Green Defence Ltd in 2007 and came to the museum two years later on permanent loan.
Labour of love
Still in a state of restoration is a 1954 de Havilland Vampire T11, which served at Stradishall, RAF North Weald and with number 219 Squadron at Driffield. The plane finished its service in 1967 and was moved between various locations before arriving at Bournemouth Airport in parts in 2005. It was then purchased by the museum, who are piecing it back together for static display.
A 1954 two-seated Meteor night fighter is a smart little exhibit which would have originally flown with the RAF fighter command at home and in Germany as well as the middle and far east. This plane served with 25 Squadron West Malling and 85 and 72 squadrons Church Fenton before RAF Leeming 60 squadron and finally 33 Maintenance Unit Kemble.
The smart 1950 Hunting Percival Piston Provost was designed for use as a side-by-side two seat trainer for potential RAF pilots in preparation for manning the Vampire. It began its RAF armament training service in 1954 in Feltwell before becoming a ground instructional airframe at St Althan in 1960. By the 1970s it had become a museum piece and joined Bournemouth Aviation Museum in 2005.
The bright yellow Westland Wessex helicopter joined the museum in the same year. It was built back in 1965 as a pre-production version and, as such never saw operational service with the Royal Navy. Its career was spent on development flying – testing flight control systems and radio evaluation at Boscombe Down in 1966-7. Its flying days were over by 1980 and it was used as an RAF instructional airframe in the mid-nineties.
Another bright and bold exhibit is the fuselage of the Vickers Viscount ParcelForce jet. First flown in 1958, it served with BEA, British Air Ferries, Oasis Oil Companies, Panavia Air Cargo and British World Airlines before reaching its final destination at the museum in 2007.
The beauty of many of the Museum’s exhibits lays in their backstories. Take for instance the Hawker Hunter – built in Coventry, delivered to the RAF in 1956 and serving with 43 Squadron before becoming one of 111 Squadron North Weald’s famous 22 loop aircraft. The Hunter then switched to a training role at Chivenor and Brawdy before becoming part of the Royal Jordanian Air Force’s Historic Flight. It was gifted to Bournemouth by Jordan at the end of 1997 and its cockpit is open for inspection today.
Another well-travelled aircraft is the 1935 North American Texan / Harvard, a training aircraft for the US Army Air Corps. With World War 2 looming, the RAF wanted to source some new aircraft to supplement production back home and ordered 200 Texans (known here Harvards) for delivery in 1938. This popular plane was soon being supplied to Canada and other UK friendly countries and by 1945 there were 16,000 in existence – 1000 in our RAF alone. Many of the planes were kept in service until 1955 and South Africa only retired its last one in 1988. They are still a popular fixture at airshows around the world. The restoration of the museum’s Harvard commenced in 2000 – using the rear fuselage of an RAF model, an ex-Royal Navy fin, other components from a US Navy SNJ and Italian wings! It is being painted in the RAF colours in keeping with the most substantial part of its frame.
A relatively new addition to the collection is the Westland Wasp, a small anti-submarine helicopter from the late 1950s. It came to Bournemouth from the Gatwick Aviation Museum in 2013 after a long career with the Royal Navy, which began in 1965 training crews being posted to frigates. The helicopter was later based at RNAS Portland and used by the Wasp Flying Training Squadron.
While the magnificent aeroplanes are more than enough of a draw, the Aviation Museum has a number of other interesting exhibits in its collection. There’s an attractive airport fire engine from BAA Stansted, a fully operational Daimler Fleetline Bournemouth Yellow Bus labelled up for airport transfers and a 1980s Dodge fire engine, which is kept in a working and drivable condition. An ATC Mobile Control Tower, or runway caravan, gives budding air traffic controllers the chance to see what life’s like managing the airspace over Bournemouth Airport. With screens and radio transmissions from the Bournemouth tower itself, you really feel you’re in the thick of it while enjoying a prime vantage of the airport runway. Keep an eye on the chalkboard, which posts details of the day’s arrivals and departures. There’s also a purpose-built viewing platform offering prime views across the runway – ideal over the Air Festival weekend.
From humble roots
The attraction opened in May 1998 as the Jet Heritage Museum, based in the Jet Heritage hangar at Bournemouth Airport. Visitors enjoyed watching work underway on Jet Heritage’s fighter collection and a visit by Concord in June 1999. When the company went into liquidation, the charitable trust remained in business and became the volunteer-run Bournemouth Aviation Museum. Subsequent proposed expansion of the airport meant the museum’s closure in 2007, but just one year later it reopened on its present site.
The museum’s ambition is to have as many exhibits to sit in as possible to give visitors the chance of a hands-on experience. If you’re interested in the workings of the planes, the museum also has four engines on display – the Rolls Royce Griffon, Nene and Viper and a Garrett APU from the BAC 1-11. And should all this aircraft talk see you dreaming of a high-flying career, there’s a flight simulator where you can try to touch down on Bournemouth’s runway – or in our case come to a sticky end somewhere along the Wessex Way!
Check out the Virtual Tour on their website and plan your planes before you get here!