Malcolm Lambert - Chf Eng M.A.M.


WF922 Winters Well In 2006

Perhaps another article about MAM's Canberra might be seen by some as gilding the lily a bit but I must confess that such is the attraction of this Canberra PR.3 that I feel it almost asks me to keep it in the limelight. The Webmaster will confirm that this is one Canberra with a personality all of her own, WF922 is an undoubted survivor and a prime example from the best of British built engineering stock.

However this article is not going to be one of those 'how' or 'why' I did it type essays, more of a narrative on how it has been received by the viewing public. I have to say, happily, that all the systems that worked at the end of the main restoration period are still working today. In fact just about the only fly in the ointment has been with me trying to remember the many and various switch positions to get it all to work correctly!

Seeing it at dusk or in the black of night with all the internal and external lights glowing conjures up a warm nostalgia. Memories, particularly of the early 1960s when I was on 58 Sqn at RAF Wyton. Memories of walking out of a warm crewroom into the night to carry out Canberra night flying checks - generally in the cold and rain as I recall.

But WF922 is still frisky and bounces around in the wind with the pilot's ROC (Rate of Climb) indicator swinging wildly in sympathy with the wind gusts. Even the G meter can register and needs the odd prod to reset it after a bad storm. The rudder lock dutifully stays in place as it is pip-pin secured but she occasionally shrugs off her aileron and elevator locks as if to say I want to be free.

Every couple of weeks she gets a paint de-streaking (a good wipe-down really) with attention paid mostly to the front end as this is the bit that's most noticable to the visiting public. Usually the engine cowlings are de-streaked at the same time. The painted surfaces, as was expected, are showing signs of sun fading (UV action) on the cowlings and fuselage, consequently this year she has had to endure a run-in with the 'T-Cut' in these areas. Thorough pre-winter prepping seems to have paid dividends though in the under carriage areas as, (sadly for me), no attention is needed at all. She seems to sit there waiting, almost asking for her covers to be taken off and wanting fuel for her thirsty tanks, power for her systems and oxygen to breathe life in to her again. I have to admit to having to not look her in the eye when I walk past and carry on getting to grips with some of the other of MAM's airframes that requires my attention (eg, the Argosy). Sad, may be, but I am extremely proud to have been associated with her and I fully expect her to long outlive me.

Pondering on it, having a 'live' aircraft has proved itself in some ways to be a bit of a liability, in as much as you DO have the ability to power it up. Powering up the cockpit with its working lights and indicators clicking and humming away is a magnificent way to show off the atmosphere inherent in this (or any) Cold War aircraft. It lends another dimension to the experience with an extremely realistic display (especially when the radio is tuned to the Baggington's ATC Tower frequency). However it is not always desirable to have a boistrous young child (or clumsy adult) in the cockpit when you have power applied. So a dilema exists.

There's no easy solution to this dilema either. Are you prepared to accept the chance of someone 'fiddling' with the possibility of broken or miss-used equipment? Or do you become very selective about whom and when you allow visitors to climb in to the 'live' aircraft?

Does being selective in this way smack of discrimination, or worse - elitism? Or can it be construed as concerned value-judgement? In this case you may automatically find yourself doing mini risk assessments on your guests and visitors. Personally I donít think this is a desirable situation to find yourself in when you are in the museum business. So what is the answer? Do you accept a certain breakage quotient or do you lock it up using Health and Safety as a global excuse and let no one enter at all. National museums seem to have opted for the latter in most cases, to their detriment I think.

I have tried wherever possible to show off WF922 to those visitors that express an interest in Canberras in particular; or perhaps to those who know a little about its workings and heritage and display interest in learning a bit more. This scheme has worked to a degree but I am not convinced that it is the solution to the problem of showing a working Cold War aircraft to the museum's best advantage. And it obviously leaves out a lot of the casual walk around visitors. But how to do it better?

On this subject I would like to hear any practical inputs to resolve this dilema that spring to mind. No one in the museum community should consider themselves above reasonable comment about their displays - there might just be the right answer out there. But Iím sure that hanging a shiny, painted airframe from the ceiling is definitely not the way to go.

Even so, given the considerations I have mentioned, I have powered up WF922 many times in the last year for the general public and ex-air and -ground crew from all nations. Almost without exception the first reactions are, how cramped, noisy and uncomfortable it all seems. Were our crews made of sterner stuff in the Cold War days? Or did we just accept working conditions and get on with the job in hand?

Then to the visitor, having absorbed the ambience of a 'live' cockpit will come the noticable and unique smell factor. Just what is it that makes our British built aircraft of the 50s and 60s smell the way they do? Whatever it is anyone who has experienced this aroma before instantly recognises it! And those who havenít will never forget it after exposure to it. It is, letís face it, absolutely unique, especially for some reason with Canberras. It is the one factor that is always mentioned at some stage during the viewing. We would love to be able to bottle it and sell it but it is un-reproducible outside of its cramped working environment.

Given that the Canberra was almost mass produced and that so few complete examples survive readily accessible in a 'live' museum environment if you feel that you want to sit in and get acquainted with a fully electrically powered-up Canberra please visit the Midland Air Museum and do ask about our magnificent PR.3.

I canít think of any other museum that you will be allowed the privilege of ready access to experience such a live and working Cold War airframe. No friendlier bunch of blokes will you find anywhere in the museum world and we will hopefully do our part to make your visit a memorable one.

Remembering days (and nights) past.

Malcolm Lambert
Chf Eng, M.A.M.