Strathallan…………the lost air museum (1)

In the mid-1970s, Bill Brown, a friend of mine, and I used to spend time camping around Scotland, the Land of Mountains, Mist and Midges. For the most part, we explored the wild west coast, but one year, probably 1975, on our return home, we stopped at a place called Strathallan, on the eastern side of Scotland, to visit the air museum there. No digital cameras then. At RAF Cosford in 2011 I took 854 photographs. At Strathallan, in around 1975, with 16 shots on each rather expensive roll of film, I took 11 photographs. Strathallan is quite a remote place. Look for the orange arrow, resplendent in his kilt:    

 I didn’t realise at the time that Strathallan was well on the way to having to close, because of financial pressures. As somebody said, it was too remote from any large city and hardly anybody could be bothered to visit it. And back then, the motorway north of Edinburgh, the M90, simply did not exist.

That said, I was happy enough with the museum and I took photographs of the majority of the aircraft. Whether there were any more aircraft that I did not think were worth the cost of a photograph, I do not know. I can’t remember any more. That fact, to me, is plain scary. What percentage of our lives have we totally forgotten? 50%? 70%? 90%?

My favourite exhibit was their very colourful Avro Shackleton T4. The Shackleton was the last of the Manchester-Lancaster-Lincoln-Shackleton line and was used for maritime reconnaissance. I have clear memories of them flying over our house in South Derbyshire in the early 1960s. Presumably, they were following a Severn-Trent shortcut.

Here’s my only photograph:

The stripes on some of the eight propellers are to stop you walking into them. Here’s a photograph taken by a proper photographer. I found it on the internet:

As far as the Avro Shackleton is concerned, the British and the South African Air Force were the only countries to use it.

Here it is in even stripier hue. This particular aircraft was operated by the South African Air Force.

My Dad once saw a man walk accidentally into the propeller of a Lancaster. It affected him for the rest of his life, I always thought. He only ever spoke of it to me once.

Strathallan’s Shackleton was broken up eventually, although its nose is now in the Midland Air Museum in Coventry. Not how I envisage my own eventual fate.

The museum had a Lockheed Hudson, an America  light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft, primarily operated by the RAF. It was a military conversion of the Lockheed Super Electra airliner, and the first ever large contract for Lockheed. Here’s the Model 14 Super Electra:


And here’s the Lockheed Hudson at Strathallan:

I would meet this aircraft again at Hendon and take three photographs of it, rather than just the one:

The kangaroo is the obvious link between the two encounters:

Next time, we’ll continue this mini-tour around the lost aircraft of Strathallan.


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Personal

25 responses to “Strathallan…………the lost air museum (1)

  1. John, what a beautiful aeroplane. I found this on the net. I imagine you have seen it but it is a great story. What a really beautiful plane.

    • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I was about to comment on how ugly I thought it was. Good job we are not all the same.

    • Thanks very much for that. I think it is a beautiful plane personally, but that’s probably because I have childhood memories of seeing one overflying our East Midlands garden, and it is, after all, the grandchild of the peerless Avro Lancaster.

  2. And I also went to your link about the bombing, b y Mosquitos, of the prison to help release French prisoners. I have a very strong, but at the same time a rather tenuous link to Mosquitos. My first ever boss, and a man I am truly proud to have known, was a Mosquito pilot who flew as a pathfinder over Europe . He was missing the first two joints of his finger. It was shot off by a Messerschmitt – that was the extent of damage he experienced through the whole of the war. He would be long gone by now so I am to name him. Mr Cook. of Russell Kennedy and Cook. He was my first boss and I admired him.

  3. Looking forward to seeing more.

    • Entirely coincidentally, there are several connections to the USA, including a rather strange variant of a familiar US Navy bomber of the Second World War. And there’s also an aircraft used for experiments with flying in a prone position, in an effort to combat the effects of g-forces, presumably. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting!

  4. John, I can see you as a pilot in another reincarnation 🙂

    • Not at my current weight, I’m afraid, unless attempts are made to revive the bouncing bomb! More seriously, after his time in the RAF, my Dad never flew again, and after hearing all his tales, I have not flown on many occasions, preferring to explore historic sites in this country.

  5. I think the Shackleton is a beautiful looking aircraft and have always admired those contra rotating props. As an engineering piece they simply amaze me! My own father also witnessed someone walking into a spinning prop, he too never went into detail but said enough for me to know it wasn’t a sight he’d ever wish to repeat. It’s always a shame when a museum, especially a small one, closes, invariably the pieces on show end up being melted down for new cans or other such commodity. The fenland museum is also sadly closing, some artefacts I know are going to other homes, but I don’t know the fate of the rest!

    • I remember that I asked my Dad “Did he survive?” and he said, “Oh yes, he was fine.” I was far too young to recognise sarcasm, but it affected him, because in his other main trauma that he told me about, namely trying to rescue the crew of a crashed Mosquito, he repeated the idea of spinning propellers, although the details of the story, and the layout of the Mosquito itself, made it difficult to imagine how the propellers actually kept spinning after a crash on the runway.
      His days with the RAF really affected the rest of his life, and he was in his late forties before he lost all of his facial tics and other involuntary movements. If you get a chance to see it, the ITV (I think) made a superb programme about Falklands veterans and their PTSD. With most of them, even now, it had not disappeared. It may have been called “The Falklands War – The Untold Story” and it was immensely moving.

      • Thank you for the recommendation John. It sounds familiar but I can’t say I have seen it so I’ll take a look. It certainly sounded very traumatic for your father and long lasting too!

  6. Chris Waller

    I’ve always been intrigued by the Shackleton. It seems, in a way, an anachronism – the last hurrah of the piston-engine/propeller era. Was its maritime reconnaissance role related to the Cold War? Was it a stop-gap measure until a jet-powered equivalent became available? I saw a documentary on television many years ago about the Shackleton – one contributor described it as ‘18,000 rivets flying in close formation’. I’m sure I heard someone say that it could remain airborne for 18 hours, but perhaps I misheard the comment.

    • Hello Chris. I hope you are well. The Shackleton was very much a Cold War aircraft, used to keep an eye on Soviet submarines and surface craft.
      I think its endurance was around 14 hours at 150-200 mph. Overall around 2,250 miles was an average figure. It carried a good load of ordnance, but most of its cargo would have been fuel for its patrol. It replaced the Sunderland and the Catalina, and I don’t think that it would have been a stop gap. It was finally replaced by the jet powered Nimrod.

  7. Having the artist eye that I do, I agree with others here that this plane is particularly beautiful. Really enjoyed this post, John. I can just imagine you as a boy carefully, ever so carefully taking precious pictures with your film camera. Thank you for sharing.

    • My pleasure, Amy. Back in those days, we only used to take photographs when we went on holiday. Usually, it was just one film for the whole two weeks at the seaside, which meant just twelve shots. If the place was very interesting, or the weather was very warm and bright, we might buy a second reel at the chemists.
      Photography back in the day was for the rich people and most ordinary people bought postcards to remember the place they had been to.

      • I started out with a film camera, John, and I was very conscious just how many frames I had on each roll. It’s nothing like today when you have the leisure of reshooting if the picture wasn’t good. How times have changed!

  8. When I read my grandfather’s memoirs, I wonder why I do not remember as much as he did at the age of 85. Just thinking of someone walking into a moving propeller is difficult to imagine. Hope the person did not die a lingering death. Thank you for this post.

    • To be honest, the first blade of the propeller would have killed him, so he definitely died a quick death.
      Memory is extremely strange and I have yet to understand why I remember certain things, and yet have no memory at all of others. Even worse is when two memories are confused with each other and seem to be remembered as just one event.

  9. Pierre Lagacé

    Thanks for the tour John.

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