I know very little about aircraft.
I was brought up alert to steel wheels on steel rails. I was taught to read, write and count by watching the trams go past the house in post-war Sheffield. My dad took me trainspotting on Sunday mornings while my mum cooked lunch (which we called dinner).
I still think numbers look best in sans-serif, as they were on the front of most Sheffield trams and buses and on the cab-sides of British Railways locomotives. And though roller-blind destination indicators are on their way out, if I see a driver scrolling to change his display I have to stand and watch the succession of place-names.
My mate Richard was brought up on rubber wheels – cars and motorbikes – and seems to have spent his childhood building model planes.
So when he suggested spending a couple of hours at the Newark Air Museum, just off the A1 in Nottinghamshire [http://www.newarkairmuseum.org/index.html], I didn’t expect to learn much.
In fact, it’s a rich, varied and highly professional museum, with excellent interpretation that’s informative for enthusiasts and at the same time intelligible to numpties like me.
We wandered through two vast display halls and a small-objects display hall, inspected a range of aircraft outside, and briefly looked at a collection of aero-engines (to appreciate which you presumably need an engineering degree).
I declined an offer to sit in the cockpit of a Jaguar, knowing that when Dick walked round the corner he’d jump at the chance. He had at least a vague idea of what all the knobs and dials were for, whereas I’d be like the guy at Crich who asked how you steer a tram.
The Museum runs a rich series of events, ranging from an Aeroboot sales day to a Cockpit-Fest. There is a comprehensive education programme, particularly for primary schoolchildren, Cubs and Scouts, and Air Training Corps squadrons.
There’s a shop, billed as “the best specialist aviation outlet in the Midlands”, and a small, warm and welcoming café, which for the moment only goes as far as “legendary” toasties and paninis but will in due course branch out in a new building, thanks to ‘Project Panini’ [http://www.newarkairmuseum.org/newsItem.php?id=736].
The site, adjacent to the Newark and Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society showground, was formerly RAF Winthorpe, a Second World War base that operated from September 1940 until July 1959.
The aircrew who flew from there and didn’t come back are commemorated by a poignant memorial which incorporates part of a propeller hub of a MK III Short Stirling, EF186, which was based at RAF Winthorpe and crashed out of control at Breeder Hills near Grantham on December 4th 1944.
In essence, this rich collection of magnificent engineering commemorates the skill and the bravery of those who flew from airfields like this before, during and after the Second World War and their successors who continue to do so.