During this Conservation week we have highlighted some of the aircraft which are undergoing conservation in the MBCC at Cosford. However, this is only part of the Museum’s conservation work. We have a wonderful team of volunteers who help us with conserving the objects in our collection, both small and big. Today we tell the story of the Large Object Volunteer team.
In order that you, the visitor, can see our exhibits in the best condition, the Large Object Volunteer team regularly clean the aircraft, vehicles, engines and other items. They use long-handled mops, fibre clothes and other tools to clean the exhibits once a month. It is quite a privilege to get up close and personal with such famous aircraft like the Spitfire and be able to see and touch this famous fighter; to see the panels where the machine gun ammunition was loaded, the 1940s colour scheme and in some cases, actual repairs that were undertaken in wartime.
Aside from ensuring that our exhibits are in the best possible condition for our visitors, cleaning is a key part of conservation. Dust, over time, can damage the fragile parts of the exhibits – for example the fabric covered fuselages and wings of World War 1 aircraft.
As easy as cleaning an aircraft may sound, it is imperative that this is done in a safe and non-intrusive manner. And in a practical sense, it is often a challenge to reach every part of every aircraft, especially if they are very large, like the Lancaster or Sunderland, or if they are hanging from the ceiling, such as the DH9a. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mdq0p_hFss
Beyond the cleaning of the aircraft, the Large Object Volunteer team assist David Green, the Conservation Technician with the regular checks of the aircraft on display. Sometimes these need to be ‘opened up’ to see if the structure is still sound. As much as we like to see these aircraft as sturdy combat veterans, they suffer degradation as any other object. It is important that we find out any issues on time so we can take appropriate measures and start with an interventive conservation.
Recently, the Team was tasked to make special checks on some of the aircraft displayed in Hangars 3,4 & 5. The focus was on the bolts that secure the wings and tailplane to the fuselage, and ensure they were in good condition. Over several Sunday and mid-week sessions the volunteers removed panels in the appropriate areas, such as wing roots, so that the bolts could be observed. This involved the unscrewing of hundreds of screws, carefully labelling them and keeping them secure and then removal of the panels, to reveal the bolts, nuts, etc. To reach the screws, the volunteers had to safely lay on the floor, or reach up to shoulder height areas, and in some cases, carefully use the walkways on some aircraft inner wings.
The aircraft included the Chipmunk, Thunderbolt, Spitfire F24, Vampire, Meteor, Harvard and Hudson. The team enjoyed this unique experience – being able to get up close to these iconic aircraft, learning about some elements of their construction. The Conservation Manager, Brendan O’Gorman, commented ‘It’s great to have a wealth of responsible volunteers willing to assist in such an important task. By carrying out these checks and flagging any issues, David and the volunteers are ensuring the safety of the objects, as well as the public’.
To find out more about volunteering at the RAF Museum, please have a look at our website https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/support-us/volunteering.aspx