In April 2015 I decided to take early retirement. I knew I wanted some volunteering work and identified a number possibilities. My working life started in aerospace manufacturing followed by work for an airline but after a few job changes I drifted out of the industry. I spent my last 20 years making bathroom furniture i.e. toilets!
I’m clearly not an aviation professional, but I am an enthusiastic amateur! I grew up in Kent during the 60s and 70s and my interest in aircraft was sparked by my father. He was a member of the Royal Observer Corps and would recount stories from his youth of the Battle of Britain, the Second World War and the later Cold War. During the 80s I became involved in a team restoring a Spitfire back to flying condition and I organised a couple of small airshows, but as time went by I became an “arm chair” enthusiast. Joining the volunteers at Cosford has enabled me to get back to being hands on.
I targeted Cosford for a role and when one opened up finally, I was accepted and began volunteering at the Museum in November 2015. It always takes a bit of time to settle in to an organisation, but I like to think I’m now starting to find my feet. I work as both an engineering volunteer and as a tour guide.
There are different engineering teams working mainly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays – but Tuesday is my day. During the first 12 months I was involved with various aircraft, but finally settled into Hangar 3, the War Planes Hangar. I have just finished my first project with a fellow volunteer. We undertook a full airframe inspection of the Fiesler Storch, one of 62 Storches captured at the end of the Second World War. Under guidance from our Team Leader, this involved a systematic visual inspection of the engine, fuselage, wings and undercarriage, including the removal of all access hatches. Over three months we noted all the defects, rectified what we could and reported those that needed more specialist attention. The work varied from treating surface corrosion and repairing minor fabric skin damage to re-fixing loose fittings/fixtures and freeing up the flying control mechanisms. The most complex job was recommissioning the landing flaps; this necessitated the removal of the control assembly, the re-manufacturing of a missing linkage, then re-assembly and adjustment. The result is that the aeroplane is now clean, all flying controls are operational for the first time in many years, everything is secure and a couple of bigger issues have been logged with the museum’s engineering management for further work. In addition there is a detailed condition report on file.
Tour guiding is a more ad hoc activity, the guides react to online/ phone requests for one, two or five hour tours. The groups vary enormously: they range from families celebrating a birthday, through clubs and organisations having a day out and to RAF personnel learning about its history. Taking a group around the Museum is an opportunity to educate them about the Royal Air Force, about British aviation in general and about the people who brought it all to life. When first meeting visitors on the tour it’s a good idea to find out if anyone has any special knowledge or experience of what’s on show. This provides an opportunity to learn from the experts and to avoid being tripped up by difficult questions! All the tour guides are self-taught and when they start most begin by shadowing a few tours as well as doing some of their own research and when they feel they are ready, they lead one themselves. For me that was really just the start because the more tours/ reading you do, the more information you pick up and hopefully, the more your visitors enjoy the experience. But the first tour was pretty nerve racking!
I have to say that coming into Cosford is one of the highlights of my week. The engineering guys are a great bunch and it’s a pleasure to work with them. The banter and camaraderie remind me of my working life. Plus there is a really professional approach to conserving some old, valuable and in some cases, unique aeroplanes for future generations to enjoy. Having just finished my first project it’s given me a real feeling of achievement.
Tour guiding gives a different kind of buzz. When meeting the visitors for the first time they’re strangers, but over the next one, two or five hours my aim is to build a rapport, to tell them a story and to leave them having enjoyed the experience. Hopefully they’ve also learnt about a part of history that they didn’t previously know. You can always tell when a tour has gone well by the thanks you get and the smiles on their faces. It’s a great feeling!
So, for me, getting involved here at Cosford was the right move and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the field.