Visitors to Cornwall this summer may be forgiven for thinking they have stumbled on to the set of a remake of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines as the skies are filled with classic aircraft.
Preparations for the opening of a Classic Air Force attraction in March continued this week as the first flyable aeroplane arrived on the tarmac at the former RAF St Mawgan air base.
A collaboration between the Classic Aircraft Trust and Newquay Airport, the intention is to create a permanent home for some of the most famous machines from an era which enthusiasts regard as the heyday of aviation engineering.
CAT chairman Tim Skeet said yesterday work on the project was "moving along very nicely" and that the centre would be on target to open to the public by the end of March.
"It is wonderful to see aircraft start to arrive at the Classic Air Force hangar and everything coming together," said Mr Skeet. We are very excited about the opportunities the new facility has to offer and I am very pleased with our progress to date."
Among the 40-plus aircraft expected to make their home in Cornwall is an ex-RAF Gloster Meteor T7 – the world's oldest flying twin jet – and three De Havilland Dragon Rapide biplanes, which will be available for pleasure flights across the South West. The first flyable aircraft to arrive was an Auster J1 Autocrat, G-JAYI, which had been flown to Cornwall from its previous home at Coventry by experienced vintage aircraft pilot Trevor Bailey. It has now taken its place alongside two static Hawker Hunters and a newly-acquired Hawker Sea Hawk. The fuselage of a Vickers Varsity WJ945, recently acquired from the Imperial War Museum at Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire, has also arrived and will be joined shortly by the wings and engines.
"Depending on weather, serviceability and pilot availability, other aircraft from the combined Classic Aircraft Trust and Air Atlantique fleets will be flying in or being moved by road over the coming weeks," said Mr Skeet.
The trust announced its move to Newquay in July last year, when development plans at Coventry made a move to a new location inevitable. Considerable time and money has been spent by Cornwall Council and the trust to upgrade and renovate the former RAF facilities, where Hangar 404 offers 70,000 square feet of display and engineering space.
Work is continuing on other important aircraft destined for the St Mawgan site, including renovations to the world altitude record-breaking Canberra WK163, which is being fitted with a new Rolls-Royce engine.
As the collection grows, the CAF said it was keen to acquire and house more aircraft – both static and airworthy – in order to build up a representative memorial to the heyday of British aviation manufacturing in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
"I am very pleased with our progress to date," said Mr Skeet. "In total, the Classic Air Force fleet numbers about 40 aircraft, of which approximately half are flying. Arrangements are also being made to fly in a De Havilland Vampire and BAC Jet Provost, hopefully later this month, and also our Avro Anson RAF transport aircraft. These arrivals will undoubtedly prove spectacular."
Mr Skeet added there are opportunities for local people to get involved with the project as volunteers. He said the trust welcomed enquiries from aircraft engineers, both current and retired, to assist with the enterprise.
"This is a great opportunity for us to hand down vital skills to the next generation," he said.
"The change in methods, materials and techniques mean that many skills are at risk of fading away if enthusiastic youngsters do not get involved in the maintenance and operation of these historic icons. This is a project that will benefit young and old alike and presents a number of opportunities."
An official opening day for what the trust hopes will become a major visitor attraction, is being scheduled for the end of March.