First opening to the public on the 15th May 1959, the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre was the first aviation museum in Britain and as a registered charity, the proceeds were donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund as they still are today. Jack Goward takes a look at the Museum for AeroResource.
The museum is situated just next to Salisbury Hall only a short distance from the M25. On approach to the museum as you drive through the grounds of the hall it is hard to imagine that there lies such an incredible collection of aircraft just around the corner. It is often asked why there is an aviation collection housed so far from an airfield and the answer is fascinating story. In 1939, de Havilland took over the site at Salisbury Hall as their design office for the new top-secret Mosquito. The first prototype (EO234/W4050) was built in a hangar disguised as a farm-house on a site that is now occupied by the workshop section of the museum. This airframe was taken by road to Hatfield where it was reassembled before its test flight on 25th November 1940, where it was piloted by Geoffrey de Havilland Jr. The building in which W4050 was assembled was later doubled in size to aid the completion of a further four Mosquitos. The final three of these Mosquitos were flown out of fields situated next to the site at Salisbury Hall, the decision was taken to save the time it would take (approximately a month) to dismantle, road transport and reassemble each aircraft. The Night Fighter prototype (W4052) was the first of the three to fly from Salisbury Hall where it was flown once again by Geoffrey de Havilland Jr.
Upon arrival you can expect to see the first of the museums two de Havilland Doves – the DH.104 Dove 8 (G-AREA). Situated just behind the Dove 8 there are toilet facilities and the entrance to the museum where the reception desk and Aeroshop are located. On entrance to the museum you can expect to be greeted by the helpful and friendly members of staff and be issued with a site map on admission. The shop itself is well stocked with models, books, magazines, gifts and plenty of literature on de Havilland aircraft, as you would expect. Before leaving the reception area to begin looking around the museum, you won’t be able to miss the large collection of de Havilland engines situated towards the back of the building which are well worth a look.
Moving on from this area, you exit the building and then make your way passed the ex-Dan Air Comet 4 simulator towards the main hangar where a total of three different Mosquitos are housed along with a Vampire FB.6. Leading on from here, visitors make their way past the Sea Vixen and other outdoor exhibits into the Pre-War Aircraft hangar where you’ll find some fantastic aircraft along with many other interesting artefacts all relating to the history of de Havilland at Salisbury Hall. When exiting this hangar visitors can then take a look around the aircraft situated outside before making their way towards the Trident 2 fuselage, Members Club, the History of de Havilland Enterprise and the Workshop where you can catch a glimpse of the restoration work that is currently taking place on the DH.89 Dragon Rapide (G-AKDW). Most of the outdoor exhibits are open to the public and even if they’re not at the time of the visit, the museum staff members are more than happy to open up an aircraft if you wish to have a look inside.
Housing upwards of 20 different aircraft, cockpit sections and fuselages the museum holds a fascinating collection of de Havilland types as well as some non de Havilland variants that still hold a link to the museum and its location. Two examples of these are the recently acquired fuselage section of British Aerospace BAe 146-100 (G-JEAO), which was the last of its type to be built at Hatfield and the forward section of an Airspeed AS.58 Horsa Glider. The first two Horsa troop-carrying Gliders were designed and built at Salisbury hall from October 1940 with the first making its maiden flight on 12th September 1941. The Cierva C.24 Auto Giro (G-ABLM) is another non de Havilland aircraft but was powered by a single 120hp Gipsy III engine and it was also test flown from the de Havilland Aerodrome at Stag Lane in September 1931. Other noteworthy variants include –
de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito FB.VI (TA122) – This Mosquito was one of the few fighter variants to be built. On 3rd April 1945 it was posted to 605 Squadron at Coxyde in Belgium before moving to Volkel in Holland on 25th April where 605 Sqn re-numbered as 4 Sqn on 31st August. TA122 is currently under restoration and when completed the port side will be painted as Grp Capt Pickard’s aircraft, which was lost on the Amiens Prison Raid and the starboard side painted in 4 Sqn markings.
de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito B.MK.35 (TA634) – TA634 was one of the last Mosquitos to be built at Hatfield in 1945 and was powered by a pair of Merlin 114s. The aircraft entered service with No.4 CAACU (Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit) in November 1953 and its final posting was with No.3 CAACU at Exeter in September 1959. The aircraft last flew on 16th July 1968 after undertaking filming for “Mosquito Squadron”, taking its total flying time to 742 hours and 50 minutes. Seen today, it wears the markings of Graveley based 571 Squadron, the Light Night Strike Force.
de Havilland DH.100 Vampire FB.6 (J-1008) – The iconic Vampire was the first jet-powered aircraft to be designed by de Havilland. Initially it was designed at Salisbury Hall and later built in great secrecy at Hatfield with the code name “Spider Crab”. J-1008 was built at Hatfield in 1949 and was the eighth aircraft for Switzerland. First taking to the air on 23rd March, it was delivered to Dubendorf on 4th June before being allocated to No.8 Sqn in 1950. It later moved to No.7 Sqn before finally resting at 11 Sqn in 1951. This aircraft was donated to the museum by the Swiss Government making its final flight to Hatfield on 20th August 1974 before being moved to the museum.
de Havilland DH.110 Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ565) – On 9th April 1952, the Sea Vixen became the first operational British aircraft to exceed the speed of sound when it performed a shallow dive. Since then it has gone on to become one of the most successful all weather aircraft to be operated by the Royal Navy. XJ565 started life as a Mk.1 before being converted to a Mk.2 and served with every Fleet Air Arm Squadron but one. It made its last flight in 1969 landing at Bedford having accumulated a total of 1,445 flying hours. XJ565 was retired in July 1976 before moving by road to the museum in October where it was restored to the markings of 899 Sqn.
de Havilland DH.114 Heron 2D (G-AOTI) – First flown from Chester on 20th July 1956, G-AOTI acquired a total of 10,521 flying hours. Following prolonged storage outside at Biggin Hill, the aircraft was acquired by the museum in April 1995. Initially designed to be an enlarged version of the ever popular Dove, the Heron had a shining service life with the highlight being its operational involvement with the Royal Flight from 1954 to 1964, when it was replaced by the Andover.
de Havilland (Hawker Siddeley) DH.121 Trident Two (G-AVFH) – This aircraft first flew from Hatfield on 17th July 1968. Delivered to BEA at London Airport on 1st August, G-AVFH was withdrawn from service on 24th October 1981 with 27,443 flying hours and over 15,000 landings. Upon scrapping at Heathrow in 1982, the nose and front cabin section were donated to the museum and then delivered on 13th August. The radios have been restored to working order and the dedicated team at the museum have hooked up the electrics to a 25v transformer so the cockpit can now be lit up, making it a more interactive experience for their visitors.
The Pre-War Aircraft Hangar houses some fantastic information and memorabilia linking to Salisbury Hall as well as a selection of Moth aircraft. A DH.82a Tiger Moth (G-ANRX), DH.82b Queen Bee (LF789) and DH.87.b Hornet Moth (G-ADOT) can all be found inside along with a DH.53 Humming Bird (J7326) that is currently being restored to flying condition. Three additional de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito’s can been found in the museum including a prototype wearing the registration W4050. Situated alongside the other two mosquitos, W4050 can be seen in a dismantled state whilst the restoration work on TA122 takes place. Outside, the museums second DH.104, a Dove 6 variant (D-IFSB) is positioned alongside a de Havilland DH.125 (G-ARYC). This aircraft was the third to be built and in turn, the first production example. Later in its service life following numerous upgrades the DH.125 was flown by the Royal Air Force designated the Dominie T1. Behind the Dove 6 and the DH.125, the de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1a (F-BGNX) fuselage is tucked away under cover where it is currently being restored. The final three aircraft are located in front of the BAe 146-100. The de Havilland Canada DHC.1 Chipmunk T.10 (WP790) and DH.112 Venom FB.54 (J-1790) are currently covered over to protect from the winter months and the museums DH.115 Vampire T.11 (XJ722) is sat just behind WP790 wearing the markings of CATCS (Central Air Traffic Control School) from its time at RAF Shawbury. Many of the systems, including the hydraulics and electrics have been reactivated since it arrived at the museum in early 1994.
Photography at the museum is definitely a challenge. Due to the small size of the grounds, the aircraft are positioned very close together so it is very hard to get pictures without parts of wing and other aircraft obscuring your shot. However, because a large majority of the exhibits are outside, lighting is not a problem. Within the main hangar the lighting is excellent due to the hangar doors being left open exposing TA634 and making for some nice head on shots. The Pre-War Aircraft hangar is very small and quite a tight space to shoot in so it might be worth experimenting with your camera mounted on a tripod or monopod to give a height advantage thus showing more of the aircraft. A wide-angle lens would definitely be recommended to open up options a bit more. You can really get up close to the magnificent aircraft around the museum so it’s a great place to experiment with close-ups with the ability to photograph parts of aircraft that are usually off limits at the average aviation museum.
The de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre is truly a wonderful place. With the heritage of the location and the rarity of some of the aircraft, it is somewhere that anyone with a remote interest in aviation should take the time to visit. Nearly every aircraft is opened to the public, which gives you the opportunity to experience a pilot’s eye view and get some wonderful images of the cockpit areas and cabins. The museum staff members are all extremely helpful and willing to show you round any of the aircraft in addition to answering any questions you may have. Not only is the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre the oldest museum in Britain, it is also undoubtedly one of the best – where else can you see 3 Mosquitos under the same roof?