By Andy Folliard (Ex-Vulcan crew chief)
As I’m now finally in full retirement and having a bit of spare time on my hands, I decided to join the local Jet Age Museum…. as a volunteer. Why am I telling you about this sudden aberration, well contrary to the old serviceman’s slogan ‘never volunteer for anything’, I have to say that so far its been nothing but a pleasure. I’ve broadened my knowledge on the history of many aircraft, met some interesting people, and it gave me an amazing connection to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron. The museum is situated on Staverton Airfield, just outside Gloucester (a few minutes drive from junction 11 on the M5). Although it has been a collection of aircraft for several years, only in the past 18 months has it moved into its own purpose-built hangar. In this time it has had a 30,000 footfall, so you can imagine how popular it has become (second only to Gloucester Cathedral for visitors). Entry is free but donations are gratefully accepted, it’s open at weekends, Bank Holidays and on Wednesday’s during school holidays (10.00 am to 4.00 pm).
The museum’s main objective is to preserve the heritage of aircraft built in Gloucestershire. It certainly achieves it with nicely preserved aircraft like the Gamecock, Meteor (many Mks), Javelin Mk9, E28/39 (replica model) and the Horsa glider cockpit (under construction). There are other exhibits like the Hawker Hunter and Folland Gnat cockpits; children love sitting in them and operating the control column and looking at the instrument panel and of course the ejection seat. There are many cabinet displays showing aircraft models and photographs by the well-known aviation photographer Russell Adams. Also, there are stories and photographs of the test pilots who flew Gloster’s aircraft (note the changed spelling of Gloster, needed because potential foreign customers had a problem pronouncing Gloucestershire). Outside there is a Harrier nose section, several more Meteors, a Trident cockpit and an Avro Vulcan B2 nose section (XM569). This latter aircraft is usually open to the public, but is currently undergoing a paint job and some restoration work to stop the rain getting in! Work should be completed by end of April 2015. There is much information on the life of Sir Frank Whittle and the development of the turbojet engine. Not surprising really because the first jet flight (E28/39), powered by Whittle’s engine, took place at the near-by Brockworth airfield in May 1941. This airfield was the home of the Gloster Aircraft Company until it closed in 1963. What amazed me was that through government bureaucracy and prevarications over turbojet engines, the Gloster Meteor was two years late getting into wartime service. How differently the war might have turned out if Sir Frank had had his own way.
So what was the connection to 44 Squadron? Well, on my very first day of duty in the main hanger I met the son of Sqn Ldr P A Dorehill DSO DFC and Bar; you might well ask who this gentleman is. Well, he (then Plt Off) was the co-pilot on Sqn Ldr J D Nettleton’s Lancaster crew that took part in the famous Augsburg raid to bomb the MAN diesel engine factory on the 17th April 1942. Sqn Ldr J D Nettleton, of course, was awarded the VC for his outstanding determination and leadership during the mission, and nursing his crippled aircraft safely home. His son, whose father was not feeling well on the day, had brought along his father’s wartime flying log book and sure enough I was able to read the operation entry and names of the crew on that day - absolutely genuine. He also had his father’s medals neatly packed in a wooden box. I have to say I felt extremely proud that I had actually seen a piece of the squadron’s history on my first day at the Jet Age Museum, plus of course because I too had served on 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron (1977 to 1982). I only wish I had taken photographs, but our meeting passed so quickly that I hardly had time to talk about his father before he was away with his young grandchildren.
I’m sure there are many aircraft buffs amongst our members who might be interested in the museum, so next time you are surfing the web, google the ‘Jet Age Museum’; you will not be disappointed in what you find on the website . Also, if your travels take you down the M5 to the West Country and you fancy breaking your journey for an hour or so at Gloucester then pay a visit to the museum and a have cup tea in the cafe - I might
even be on duty to greet you!