Normally it might be a bit alarming to see a three-year-old riding a pedal tractor under the wings of a Vulcan nuclear bomber and alongside its Blue Steel rocket-propelled nuclear air-to-surface missile, but these one-time weapons of war are now harmless attractions at Newark Air Museum.
And when grandson Ben took the controls of an ex-RAF Phantom fighter/bomber, there was little chance of him accidentally bombing Balderton, since he was actually in the cockpit of the museum’s ex-RAF Phantom fighter/bomber simulator.
As museum’s go there is something delightfully quirky and individual about Newark Air Museum – perhaps something to do with it being run by enthusiastic volunteers who do it for love – but whatever the reason, the air museum makes a delightful family day out.
I went with partner Mary and Ben, who found plenty to capture his attention, including sitting on that incredibly authentic-looking Phantom simulator, which trained pilots at RAF Coningsby from 1969 to 1988 before moving to RAF Wattisham until its retirement in 1999.
We had set off from the ticket office and shop after an informative chat with Rosalyn Blackmore, who is just as knowledgeable as any of the male enthusiasts sprinkled around the Winthorpe site next to Newark Showground, but then she has been working here for 29 years.
“I’m not an employee any more, I’m an exhibit,” says Rosalyn drily. When she first started at the museum they had 10 aircraft and cockpits. “Now we have 80.”
Rosalyn gave us a useful run-down on what to find where and supplied us with leaflets and booklets packed with info on what to see here at the former wartime airfield, which the RAF used as a training base, and on the history of the 16 other nearby airfields or former airfields that once peppered the flat terrain of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.
We were lucky with the weather and the sun shone until we walked to the car to go home, when the rain started, but with so many aircraft under cover, not to mention the aero engines, equipment and crew/pilot paraphernalia to see ranging from radar sets and gun turrets to uniforms and ephemera, you don’t need to stay outdoors on rainy days.
The range of aircraft on view could hardly be wider – anything from a1933 “Flying Flea” which provided cheap flight for enthusiasts in the 1930s and was capable of a mere 62 mph to a Jaguar 2TA fighter-bomber trainer which could have reached 990mph in its flying days.
In between you can see helicopters, gyrocopters, naval aircraft such as the De Havilland Sea Venom from the 1950s, with its distinctive tailplane shaped like three sides of a rectangle, and small airliners such as the De Havilland Heron, a ‘feeder’ liner with a top speed of 183 mph. The air museum’s example was built in Chester in 1954.
A bright red Super Tiger Cub biplane hangs in mid-air, suspended from the ceiling of one of the main hangars, while the military aircraft include interesting planes from overseas too.
A Saab Viggen attack fighter, looking astonishingly modern for an aircaft that first flew in 1967, is the big draw for air museum volunteer Paul Smith, who comes all the way from Corby in Northamptonshire – a 110 mile round trip – to help at the museum and inform visitors about the aircraft.
“My father was in the RAF and I’ve been dragged around air shows and things all my life, so it’s part of me I suppose,” said Alan, a semi-retired surveyor.
“But this is a very good air museum, very friendly, and they’ve got lots of good aircraft. The Viggen is a fabulous aircraft. I love it, really. It was quite advanced for its time and stayed in service until the end of the 70s or early 80s.
“This one came from the Swedish Air Force and flew in to Cranwell in 2005, and was brought by road to the museum. I was here when it came and I just took to the aircraft because of the build quality, because it was ahead of its time and because of the ethos of the Swedish people, who built it for self-defence.”
Alan Ingleton, who supervised Ben’s ‘test drive’ in the Phantom simulator is another volunteer, and the more volunteers who are on duty, the more likely visitors are to be able (for a small extra fee) to get access to the cockpits of exhibited aircraft. Like many of the volunteers Alan is ex-RAF, having served for 27 years in the RAF Fire Service until his final posting at Cranwell.
Our own final resting place on the day was the friendly, busy café where we had an excellent snack lunch of tuna or ham and cheese toasties at £3 each, a lovely Cappuccino at £1.60 and a nice pot of tea for £1.50.
The pedal tractor (probably Ben’s favourite feature) and similar ride-on toys are kept just outside the café and are free to use, while the admission prices are low enough to make this a bargain day out for all the family, summer or winter.
Newark Air Museum is open 361 days a year. Prices below include a Gift Aid Donation of 70p (60p for over 60s) which is refundable in the café:
Adult ticket £7.70, Over 60s £6.60, Child £4.40 (Under 5s free), Family ticket £22 (covers two adults and up to three children).
For more information go to www.newarkairmuseum.org