Duke of Edinburgh’s decades-long connection to RAF Cosford museum that never wavered

As the only patron of the RAF Cosford museum since its inception in 1972, the Duke of Edinburgh has always had a special connection to the Shropshire site.

The Queen and Duke watching the pageant at the diamond jubilee celebrations at RAF Cosford
The Queen and Duke watching the pageant at the diamond jubilee celebrations at RAF Cosford

Not only that, but the aircraft Prince Phillip used to go on his first solo flight remains on display at the Cosford museum.

After the Duke passed away on April 9, mourners from across the world came together to celebrate his long life.

Staff at the museum have fondly looked back on the Duke of Edinburgh’s connection to Cosford, including the history behind his first flying lessons and why his support meant so much.

The Queen and Duke inside the Museum’s National Cold War Exhibition, after meeting with a number of guests and viewing the hangar

The Queen and Prince Phillip had visited both the RAF museums on numerous occasions, but the most recent visit was to RAF Cosford on July 12, 2012 as part of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.

While there, the pair were treated to a parade by about 5,000 local schoolchildren, all in colour-coded school groups, forming a half-mile long procession.

Up to 40,000 people attended the event, which took two years of planning, and it was a shining moment in Shropshire’s recent history as the royals were treated to sunshine, smiles and happy faces.

The parade of schoolchildren at the jubilee celebrations at RAF Cosford

Now, Tom Hopkins, RAF museum curator, has looked back on the Duke’s history with the Shropshire museum and how his passion for the RAF and flying shone through.

“The Duke of Edinburgh took flying lessons in 1952 in our de Havilland Chipmunk,” Tom explained.

“He had at least 10 years of flying lessons in our specific aircraft on display here in Cosford. He learnt to fly in a place called White Waltham in Berkshire – that particular school was chosen because it was quite close to Windsor so he didn’t have to travel far from the castle for lessons.

Diamond jubilee pageant at RAF Cosford

“The Chipmunk is quite an important aircraft with the RAF and it has been in service since 1946 as a basic trainer. Apparently it was very comfortable and pleasurable to fly and very forgiving so it was great for putting inexperienced pilots at ease.

“It was also said you could throw it around a bit if the pilots were inclined to be a bit adventurous in the skies.”

Tom said the Duke’s love for flying was strong and he recalled Prince Phillip being on record saying the Chipmunk was his favourite aircraft.

Diamond jubilee pageant at RAF Cosford

The training craft was acquired by the museum in 1976, but it’s not the only connection Cosford has to his royal highness as he became the museum’s only patron in 1972.

“The Duke was a massive supporter and advocate for us from the start and visited both Cosford and London on several occasions,” Tom said. “His most recent visit was to Cosford for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 2012.

“He has always been a real champion for us and what we do. He had a personal interest in the museum.” Tom said the Duke’s passionate dedication to the museum was what made him such a wonderful patron.

The Queen at RAF Cosford Museum for the diamond jubilee pageant in 2012

“There have been times when the museum needed him, as our patron, to write a foreword, or they gave him a statement asking him to put his signature on something pre-written,” he said.

“On occasion he would change it and re-write the words himself, it gave it such a personal touch. I think it really reflected his passion and interest, and support for aviation, the RAF and the museum.

“I think he really enjoyed flying and he is on record saying that the Chipmunk is his favourite aircraft.

The de Havilland chipmunk the Duke of Edinburgh used to go on his first solo flight

“To have somewhere like the museum where you have got physical objects that members of the public can see had a connection to the royals, it gives a bit of familiarity. It feels like a personal connection when they visit. It’s the mixture of having these objects and telling the fantastic stories we have got around them.

“Knowing the Chipmunk has a physical connection to the Duke makes it more special. We are always trying to bring out the more personal stories through our interpretations.”

RAF Cosford museum is reopening on May 17.

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