Tucked away in the West Sussex countryside adjacent to Gatwick Airport is the Gatwick Aviation Museum. Over the last 20 years or so it really has developed into a gem of a museum, featuring as it does some exceptionally well preserved British classics. Personally I think it could fairly rename itself to the Best of British Aviation Museum.
So just what ‘gems’ does the museum contain? In no particular order it includes:
- Sea Vixen
- Sea Hawk
- Sea Venom (under restoration)
- Harrier GR3
- Canberra (cockpit only)
The above list is not exhaustive
Most of the air frames are in a purpose-built display hangar and so safe from the elements. They are well presented with a museum policy of keeping at least one side of the aircraft free of obstructions for us photographers – “Nice one” as we say in deepest rural Essex, please pass on this policy to other museums.
Supporting the aircraft are plenty of good quality displays, both civil and military in nature. I particularly liked the comprehensive engine display, the story of how Gatwick Airport developed and a very clever Bomber Command display made inside the top turret glazing from either a Lancaster or Stirling bomber (I couldn’t decide which and forgot to ask).
The Mighty “Shack”
The Museum’s Avro Shackleton is a maritime reconnaissance version, specifically the MR.3 It is maintained in excellent condition with all four engines able to run and some other systems live. For 2018 the Museum has four engine running days scheduled. Guided tours of the “Shack” are offered on museum open days whenever staffing levels allow, often with ex crew members showing guests around the aircraft.
The Engine Collection
The museum caters for us enthusiast types, the more casual visitor as well as families. The latter are looked after with a range of hands on exhibits including open cockpits (Canberra and Islander), tours of the mighty Shackelton (10,000 rivets flying in formation was sometimes said of it) and a DC-3 flight simulator (great fun!).
Tony and I first visited this museum some 15 years back, I really can’t recall exactly when without delving into some really old records ‘filed’ in the spare garage. Between then and now it has evolved from a collection of air frames stored out doors, with a small indoor display in an old chicken coup, to a professional presentation of some of the best of British in aviation.
I recall that originally it was known as the “Peter Vallance Collection” and that it went through some local opposition with the risk of the air frames being removed. To come so far in such a relatively short time is a splendid achievement and merits a big “Well done” to all who are and have been involved in saving these splendid machines to educate and amaze future generations.
To anyone with any kind of interested in aviation and just those wanting a great day out I unreservedly commend the Gatwick Aviation Museum.