PLANE CRAZY

Lind­say Want dis­cov­ers a Waveney Val­ley place to re­mem­ber which wel­comes ev­ery­one with fly­ing colours all year round – Flix­ton’s Nor­folk & Suf­folk Avi­a­tion Mu­seum near Bun­gay

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

WING it along from Har­leston. Dive down by Homers­field Bridge. Loop the loop round to­wards Flix­ton and, what­ever time of year, you land be­tween The Buck Inn and Ye Olde Post Of­fice, you’re sure to come face to nose-cone with some truly grounded and fas­ci­nat­ingly fa­mil­iar high-fly­ing friends from the past.

Watch out for the red Whirl­wind (he­li­copter) and keep vig­i­lant for the cam­ou­flaged Sea Vixen (fighter), for right by the gates of East Anglia’s avi­a­tion her­itage cen­tre, there’s al­ready a colour­ful crew mus­tered 24/7, for all to see 365 days of the year. Stop and won­der at the 1950s ‘Mys­tère’ and get a feel how for how the sound-bar­rier­break­ing Super Sabre was a cut above the rest, then on the mu­seum’s many open days ven­ture fur­ther to dis­cover eight acres of en­gi­neer­ing nos­tal­gia - a true tribute to the bound­less in­no­va­tion and brav­ery of pi­o­neers and fight­ing souls for whom the skies were never a limit.

PAWS FOR THOUGHT

In the shadow of a Hawker Hunter out­side great Hangar No. 1, Grif­fon the black tom-cat waits pa­tiently to pounce on the next passerby and purr. Few wel­comes could ever be as warm or ap­pro­pri­ate as the sound of his en­gine tick­ing over like some finely-tuned Spit­fire. Come sun­shine or show­ers, misty au­tumn morn­ing or bright blue-sky spring day, the faith­ful Flix­ton fe­line is sure to be saun­ter­ing about some­where be­tween Huby Fair­head in the shop and his dear wife, Josie, who serves up the all-im­por­tant cup­pas, cakes and re­fresh­ments in The NAAFI café, keep­ing visi­tors, vol­un­teers and four-legged friends con­tent. “They call me the cu­ra­tor,” con­fides Huby in sin­cere East Anglian tones, “but I reckon I’m more of a keeper re­ally.” He makes the twelve mile trip in from Lod­don ev­ery day - “that’s five days work­ing and two days to feed the cat!” – yet from the love in his voice, you just know that, zoo-keeper or no, he’d not have it any other way.

A MAS­SIVE MENAGERIE LIKE NO OTHER

Out­side by the cock­pits, the Me­teor and the MiG, a Blood­hound (MKI SAM mis­sile) sits with its nose in the air. Get past the Vam­pire in Hangar 1 and the space be­yond is filled with Grasshop­pers, Wasps, even the odd Fly­ing Flea, Colditz Cock and Goldfinch Am­phib­ian. Of course, Grif­fon takes them all in his stride, pre­fer­ring per­haps a gen­tle prowl down the coun­try­side cat­walk (aka. the Adair memo­rial board­walk) to keep an eye on the siskins or con­sole a weep­ing wil­low or two. A mas­sive menagerie it might seem, but with around 25,000 flight-re­lated ex­hibits in­clud­ing over 60 full-size air­craft, it’s all a far-cry from those early 1970s days when for­mer World War I pi­lot, Jim Pat­ter­son, had given the nascent col­lec­tion a home in the old Nis­sen hut next to the veg patch be­hind his post-of­fice. Let­tuces and 5,000 pairs of un­ex­pected feet just didn’t mix back then though. So, keen to safe­guard his new-found trade, the land­lord of The Buck next door soon stepped in with a barn and a bit of back gar­den. By the end of the decade, the cen­tre was gain­ing ground, es­tab­lished as a char­ity, a lim­ited com­pany and had a pres­ti­gious Pres­i­dent in form of the Wing Com­man­der, Ken Wal­lis, de­vel­oper of the Wal­lis Au­t­o­gyro (re­mem­ber Sean Con­nery fly­ing ‘Lit­tle Nel­lie’ in that 1967 Bond Movie, You only live twice?)

PLANE-SAIL­ING

And the rest, as they say, is his­tory – col­lected, donated, re­stored, loved, re-cre­ated and most im­por­tantly, never for­got­ten. There’s a WWI Felixs­towe Fly­ing Boat saved from its af­ter-life rot­ting as a pot­ting shed for over sixty years; a replica turn of the 20th cen­tury mono­plane; the full-blown wreck­age of two WWII Welling­ton Bombers re­cov­ered from their lo­cal col­li­sion site; a mighty Vick­ers Valetta flown in from Nor­wich Air­port un­der

a Chi­nook he­li­copter. Hid­ing be­yond the shop is a re­veal­ing dis­play about wartime de­coy an­tics, a re­con­structed An­der­son shel­ter, 1940s cottage in­te­rior and mod­el­maker’s den straight out of the six­ties. Else­where, lit­tle ones love climb­ing into spe­cially made cock­pits or trundling round in brightly coloured wooden planes cour­tesy of skilled chippy vol­un­teer hands, whilst older en­quir­ing minds might try to make head or tail of the hang-glid­ers, the rows of sin­is­ter ejec­tor seats or find out what it’s ac­tu­ally like to fly a plane in one of the cen­tre’s his­toric flight sim­u­la­tors.

AL­WAYS A PLACE TO RE­MEM­BER

To be fair there’s just too much to take in. And what’s more, the site in­cludes many exhibition build­ings ded­i­cated to spe­cial forces like the Royal Ob­server Corps, RAF Bomb Com­mand, RAF Air-Sea Res­cue & Coastal Com­mand and Flix­ton Air­field based USAAF 446th Bomb Group - each one cry­ing out to be con­sid­ered as mu­se­ums in their own right. Hats off to Huby and the vol­un­teer team then who, un­like many of East Anglia’s stand-alone mil­i­tary mu­seum sites, some­how man­age to keep the home fires burn­ing and gates open for sev­eral days a week, pretty much through­out the whole year. “It’s all about friend­ship and re­mem­brance re­ally,” shares Huby, paus­ing to run his hand down Grif­fon’s black back to hear the Spit­fire purr. There’s talk of his next book about the in­scribed bricks from the for­mer wartime de­pot - Ditch­ing­ham Malt­ings near Bec­cles - saved as re­cently as 2012, now dis­played in the 446th Bomb Group build­ing. “It’s a wall that’s sim­ply so much more than just bricks and mor­tar,“muses the re­tired brick­layer who was in­stru­men­tal in sav­ing the ‘arte­facts’, carved with names, ini­tials and mem­o­ries by Amer­i­can ser­vice­men sta­tioned on the Suf­folk-Nor­folk bor­ders. “It just wouldn’t do to lose it.” And therein lies the tale of the brim­ful Suf­folk & Nor­folk Avi­a­tion Mu­seum per­haps. For here, ev­ery­thing of all shapes and sizes has its own spe­cial, of­ten un­ex­pect­edly poignant sto­ries to tell - the tini­est frag­ile but­ton; the bought-on-the-black-mar­ket bomber jacket; frag­ments of fuse­lage; minia­ture planes made by mind­ful hands, and the monthly phone calls which Huby still gets from an ever-home-sick GI bride.

THE POWER OF SHAR­ING: A NOVEM­BER MOMENT IN FLIX­TON’S 446TH BOMB GROUP USAAF MU­SEUM

“Hey, I know you told me to wrap up warm, Hun, but this is ridicu­lous!” calls the wo­man in the red scarf and ear muffs, loudly. To­gether with a scat­ter­ing of warm and oth­er­wise com­fort­able visi­tors, a gen­tle­man - clearly in the fir­ing line - raises and rolls his eyes away from his study of the air­craft nav­i­ga­tion com­puter di­als on dis­play in front of him. For just a moment, a silent, com­mu­nal tut of ir­ri­ta­tion hangs as heavy in the air as the sec­tion of bomber tail-plane sus­pended above the Nis­sen hut door­way.

The loud voice comes again: “Fancy wear­ing sheep­skin trousers, a sheep­skin jacket, two pairs of lined wool socks, a leather hat, a plugged-in heated fly­ing suit and hav­ing to sit for hours air­borne in this tiny gun­ner’s tur­ret.” The ma­chine-gun de­liv­ery halts a sec­ond. ir­ri­ta­tion evap­o­rates, suf­fo­cated by an air now heav­ier than a whole B24 Lib­er­a­tor it­self. Gaze shifts to glaze. Then fi­nally the last ma­chine-gun splut­ter: “Well, at least they got to eat candy.“

Back with the air nav­i­ga­tion dead reck­on­ing com­puter, the gen­tle­man looks on. Some­how the night sky iden­ti­fi­ca­tion di­als sud­denly seem to be all about count­ing your lucky stars.

The air­craft greet you as you ar­rive at Flix­ton. All photos: Lind­say Want

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.