Steve Bell at Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum gives the inside story on the museum’s newest exhibit…
On Thursday 17th March three volunteers set out from the museum for Wattisham Air Station. On arrival we checked in through security and waited for the low loader lorry to arrive. Bang on time it arrived and also checked in. Our escort then took us around the airfield to one of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) dating back to the Army Air Corps flying station’s time as a key RAF base in the air defense role.
Our destination was one particular HAS which was already open. At the entrance was a Phantom, but our target was in a far corner of the shelter. The cockpit of Lightning XP743, mounted on a bomb trolley was what we had come to collect. Resplendent in the colours of 56 Squadron, Firebirds, she was waiting for us.
Staff from the Wattisham museum were there to meet us, sorry to see their exhibit going, but happy to see it go to a good home where more visitors could see and enjoy her.
A volunteer from the museum quickly arrived with a tractor, this was hitched to the bomb trolley and it was soon towed outside the shelter. Glyn the lorry driver then took over. Expertly assessing his load he quickly secured the cockpit to the trolley and in turn to his HYAB, lifting it effortlessly onto the low loader. The combination was then secured and he loaded the trolley tow arm, access steps and pitot head from the aircraft.
We were off, back around the perimeter track and out of the base. Once off base the car headed on the short route, but the lorry had to take a route to avoid a low bridge and a weak one. On arrival back at Flixton the car crew decided it was time for a quick lunch and cuppa before the lorry arrived. Several other volunteers were already there and had cleared the path to the Lightning’s new position, opened the hangar doors, and moved NAAFI tables out of the way.
Twenty minutes later the lorry arrived and Glyn asked where we wanted the exhibit. We replied as close to the hangar doors as he could, nose in. Little did we realise that with his usual precision he could place it half INSIDE the door.
We had planned to get our tug out to tow the trolley into the hangar, not needed now that the front wheels were on the hard surface of the hangar floor. With several pushing and pulling she was moved through the NAAFI, behind the Provost, and into what has now become “Cockpit Corner”. The Provost was moved back, and the Lightning tucked in between its wings and tail.
This now means that the Gnat, Sea Hawk, Canberra mock up and Lightning cockpit section are in an area which will allow us, once we have created steps for the Lightning, to give people access to view the cockpits.
Welcome to Flixton XP743, we hope you enjoy your time with us.