Members of Salisbury Rotary Club recently visited The Boscombe Down Aviation Collection at Old Sarum.
Boscombe Down first opened in October 1917 as a base for the Royal Flying Corps (flying from Old Sarum airfield) during WWI – being used thereafter for aircraft storage before closing in 1920.
It reopened in 1930 as RAF Boscombe Down before becoming the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE – affectionately known as A squared E squared) arrived from RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, shortly after the outbreak of WWII. Nowadays, A&AEE Boscombe Down is where aircraft and weapons are tested before entering service with the armed services. And, of course, since 2001 it is operated by Quinetiq on behalf of the MoD.
During 1917, German prisoners of war and the Chinese Labour Corps constructed three pairs of large aircraft hangars used as “General Purpose Sheds with Belfast Trusses”. A Belfast truss was used by Barnes Wallis (of “bouncing bomb” fame) in his design of the WWII Wellington Bomber. Two of those hangars, which are listed, now house the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.
The Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS) was established in 1943 as a training school for test pilots and flight test engineers of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, before moving to Boscombe Down from Farnborough in 1968.
The Collection was started by RAF officers at Boscombe Down, before moving to its present location after the Quinetiq takeover.
The Collection started as aircraft which had been used for testing and research that had come to the end of their useful life and were rescued from the scrap heap. Since then, the Collection has added other aircraft and many other memorabilia in connection with aircraft from BD, ETPS, Old Sarum and the armed services, particularly the RAF.
One of its prized possessions is the front end of a WWII Lancaster bomber comprising the cockpit and part of the fuselage completely rebuilt from original parts collected by an enthusiast over many years.
A recent visitor was an ex Lancaster pilot, aged well into his 90s, and it was discovered that the seat in the aircraft, which he still managed to sit in, was from a Lancaster which he had actually flown.
Another visitor had been a Lancaster bomb aimer, and the last-known remaining sight of the type at the Boscombe Down Aircraft Collection was the one he had used – he even remembered the serial number!
A particular attractive feature of this Collection is that most of the exhibits can be entered, especially the cockpits – an attraction not limited to children!
A truly fascinating look back in time at the history of and collection from the aviation industry – and it is right on our doorstep.