Coventry Open Cockpits Day Report

Saturday 28th January 2012

Since opening its doors in April 2011, Airbase has broken the mould of traditional aircraft museums. The 'living aircraft museum' as it is known allows visitors to get up close and personal with flyable aircraft from the Classic Flight fleet as well as a number of other classic aircraft - many of which are still alive and breathing. With Coventry being fairly local to me, an engine run of Shackleton WR963 and the promise of blue skies - the recent Open Cockpit day looked to be too good to miss!

Peter Reoch guest reports for UK Airshow Review. Additional photos from Trevor Reoch.

As a regular visitor, one thing I notice is how dynamic the museum is; each time I have visited there has been at least one aircraft that's in a new position, aircraft from the fleet flying or something else going on. The general trend of the layout is that the larger aircraft are parked outside, with the flyable jets and smaller types in the hangar. On most weekends a selection of these larger aircraft are opened up for public inspection, and on the open cockpits day (as the name would suggest) all were open to the public, giving visitors the opportunity to explore multiple types - something you won't find at many UK museums. The DC-6 'Cloudmaster' (G-ASPA) was once a regular sight at UK airshows, but is currently grounded due to corrosion issues. All being well the aircraft should be back in the air by 2014. However the same cannot be said for the other DC-6 on the site (G-SIXC) which is used for the now famous, and highly success 'DC-6 Diner'. The Nimrod MR2 (XV232) arrived at Coventry in early 2011 and is now a popular exhibit at the museum with the whole interior of the aircraft open.

Entering the main Airbase hangar, visitors are immediately surrounded by the sight and smell of classic British aircraft. The newest addition to the Classic Flight flyable fleet is the Meteor T7, having returned to the air in 2011. Both the T7 and Classic Flight's Meteor NF11 were open and visitors could sit inside and imagine what it must feel like to fly these pioneering jets. Other aircraft familiar to UK aviation enthusiasts were also open for inspection in the hangar, including the Avro Anson and a number of Jet Provosts.

However the highlight of the day for many was the engine run of Shackleton WR963. Recently the aircraft has received a new paint scheme and the hardworking volunteers of the Shackleton Preservation Trust have kept this classic British aircraft alive and 'growling'. With the propeller for number two engine still awaiting delivery and installation, the Shackleton is limited to the use of three engines for the run, but what a sight and sound she is when running! The group aims to run the engines at least once a month to keep them in good working order, and with hangar time booked for maintenance on the undercarriage and installation of new propeller, it is hoped that by the summer the Shackleton will be seen completing fast taxi runs along the runway at Coventry - watch this space!

The operation of the Airbase museum at Coventry is now the responsibility of the Shackleton Preservation Trust, with Dave Woods as the Director of the museum. I spoke with him to see how he thought the day had gone: "For an event in Early January, the open cockpit day was a huge success, with almost 80 people through the gates. The event was something of a trial, but it is now something we will do again later in the year, where in warmer weather we can bring the classic jets outside too."

"Future plans for Airbase include the creation of an engine exhibition hall and the formation of a Coastal Command exhibition on site - and it is hoped we can bring more airframes to the museum in the future to tie in with this."

Looking ahead, events planned at the Airbase museum include a classic car show, military vehicle show as well as more open cockpit events. It is aimed to have at least one event per month throughout the year. Visitors in the summer months will also see aircraft of the Classic Flight fleet being prepared for airshow appearances, as well as the regular pleasure flying available most weekends. With such an interesting collection of aircraft and ambitious plans for the future I believe that the Airbase museum should definitely be on the 'to do list' of anyone with an interest in classic aviation.

For more information about Airbase and it's future events keep an eye on their website or Facebook page.