Shropshire Star

Chocks away as staff gear up for RAF Cosford Air Show

For decades Cosford Air Show has thrilled spectators with action-packed flying displays and airfield entertainment – and tomorrow’s event promises to be no exception.


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And supporting what is regarded as one of the country’s top aviation events are staff and volunteers at the RAF Museum Midlands. Their tasks range from preparing the aircraft selected to be on display on the show field to sharing their fascinating stories with air show visitors.

The Michael Beetham Conservation Centre looks after aircraft and large 3D artefacts in the museum as well as those on loan.

A team of professional technicians and apprentices along with around 45 dedicated and trained engineering volunteers are responsible for the care, conservation and restoration of the National Collection along with the movement or suspension of aircraft or large exhibits.

They are led by centre manager, Darren Priday, who spent 26 years in the RAF as an aircraft mechanical engineer, before joining the museum team in 2005.

Every year, a number of the aircraft from the collection are chosen to form part of the air show’s static displays which from vintage warplanes to modern fighter jets.

“This year we have three aircraft on display, some years we’ve had up to eight or nine,” says Darren.

Darren inspects the Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX

Cosford Air Show is the last remaining RAF-organised air show anywhere in the world and planning for the event always starts early.

“The organisers come to see me in January and tell me what they have going on at the event that year and if there are any big anniversaries, anything ending in a zero or a five.

This year it’s the 80th anniversary of D-Day. We talk about how the museum can support them with what they have planned.

“I will look at the list of aircraft that we have in our collection within the museum and discuss the pros and cons of each based on its rarity. We wouldn’t risk the Mk 1 Spitfire, for example, because it’s the oldest Spitfire still in existence.

“With some aircraft, we might say it needs a cover or it needs to go in a hangar. We will put in some conditions,” explains Darren.

Other considerations include where the aircraft are located within the museum and whether it’s possible for them to be moved.

Conduit for lighting and other cabling as well as the display showcases dotted around the site can make it difficult for certain aircraft to be towed out of the hangars.

Taking part in this year’s show will be the Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX; De Havilland Devon C2 and Hunting Percival Pembroke C1.

“The Spitfire is going to be the gate guardian for the VIP enclosure. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything there before to my knowledge,” says Darren.

Each of the aircraft has been given a thorough clean before the show

They are usually moved two days before the show, once all of the infrastructure for the event is in place to ensure they have a clear and obstacle-free path.

Before they leave the museum, each aircraft is cleaned to ensure it’s looking its very best for visitors. “We make sure they look good, we can’t have them going out looking tatty,” says Darren.

Currently located within the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre,  a team of five will need to tow the Spitfire around a mile to the airfield.

A solid towing arm will be fitted to the back of the aircraft and it will be pulled using an electric tug vehicle.

Should it run out of juice, they have a gas-powered forklift on standby.

“The tug is an old baggage truck like those you see at Birmingham or Heathrow airports carrying all of the luggage, it’s ideal for towing lightweight aeroplanes.”

The Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX will be outside the VIP enclosure

The Devon C2 and the Pembroke C1, both on public display in Hangar 1, have a much shorter journey.

“We can open the hangar doors and tow them 100 yards straight on to the airfield,” says Darren, who has been the centre’s manager for 10 years.

Among the team of engineering volunteers playing a part in caring for the museum’s collection are Roy Martin and Martin Hill, who have been part of the team for 50 and 15 years respectively.

Roy, who was presented with his MBE for 50 years of service to heritage last year, served in the RAF for 22 years as chief technician, including nine years at RAF Cosford.

He first volunteered as curator and after four years he returned to his engineering roots, overseeing the engineering volunteer team who support the museum’s technicians and apprentices to maintain the aircraft and keep them looking their best.

Over the years, he has been involved in the evolution of the RAF Museum and also the Cosford Air Show, which began in 1978 and was initially run entirely by volunteers.

“We have an annual servicing plan for the aircraft. The engineering volunteers carry out six-monthly and 12-monthly checks of the aircraft.

“Everything is recorded and anything we identify that needs rectifying is logged.

“The volunteers will then carry out these repairs and anything beyond our capabilities is done by the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre staff,” explains Roy, who is life president of the Aerospace Museum Society.

“Another big job is dusting – you will be surprised how much dust can appear on an aeroplane.

“The volunteers work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.

“A lot of the jobs are done before the museum opens and the public come in,” he adds.

Martin, who was a serviceman for 26 years and is chairman of the Aerospace Museum Society, says there is a lot of camaraderie in the volunteering team and everybody supports each other.

“There is a lot of banter, a lot of respect and a lot of trust,” he explains.

They both take great pride in ensuring all of the aircraft look their best and in the past have been on duty to talk to air show visitors about their history.

“It’s important to pass on these stories to future generations. It’s not all about aircraft and it’s not all about people - it’s a combination of both,” says Martin.

Darren says the museum is always happy to support the Cosford Air Show and help to ensure more people get to see the aircraft in the collection.

“People think it’s quiet behind the scenes of a museum but it certainly is not in my job,” he adds.