A flying visit to the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, London Colney
PUBLISHED: 17:20 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:19 20 February 2013
Steeped in history and a haven for aeroplane fanatics everywhere, the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre is one of the county's hidden secrets - until now. Clare Bourke throws open the hangar doors
IT is safe to say I know very little about aircraft but that did not stop me wanting to pay a visit to this unique little gem. The de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre is tucked away at the edge of London Colney and certainly does not seem to shout about its existence. But now members are keen for more people to learn about its history and how the de Havilland Aircraft Company contributed to the war effort.
Secrecy had a huge part to play in the development of the infamous Mosquito. At the start of World War II, the British Government made the decision to concentrate the resources of the aircraft industry into producing existing designs, rather than attempt to create new higher performance combat aircraft.
Unfortunately most of the existing aircraft were obsolete, lacking in performance and protection for the crews.
At Hatfield, the de Havilland Aircraft Company was busy producing training aircraft and the vital task of repairing Hawker Hurricanes damaged during the Battle of Britain. Captain Geoffrey de Havilland, one of Britain's aviation pioneers, and his team, reasoned that one of the new aircraft required was a high speed unarmed bomber, which could out-fly and out-manoeuvre the enemy fighters. Thus the unique Mosquito concept was born.
This new aircraft was designed in great secrecy at the remote location of Salisbury Hall and the first prototype was hand built by craftsmen in a hangar disguised as a farm building just across the moat from the hall. The great security was required not only to protect the aircraft from prying enemy eyes, but also from the British Government, which would have stopped the highly innovative work if it had been aware of it, because de Havilland had decided to go it alone, as a privately funded venture, without Government approval.
The Mosquito was designed in great secrecy in a hangar disguised as a farm building
With a Government embargo on new aircraft development, de Havilland were unable to order suitable raw materials for the project as all that was available was allocated for Britain's defence. However, the company had a vast experience of working with timber, which was not only a non strategic material, but there was a plentiful labour resource available, such as furniture manufacturers, piano makers and quality car body builders, who would otherwise not be able to contribute to the war effort.
The Mosquito was eventually produced in more than 40 versions, as a bomber, night fighter, unarmed reconnaissance aircraft, intruder, target marker, pathfinder, high speed courier, trainer, target tug, ship buster and photo survey aircraft, making it the original multi-role combat aircraft.
The first of more than 7,000 Mosquitos, W4050, the prototype, was flown for the first time from Hatfield Aerodrome on November 25, 1940 - returning to its birthplace in May 1959 as the sole surviving WWII prototype in the world. This was the start of what is now the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, the first aviation collection to open to the public in Britain, which will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in May 2009.
The main aim of the museum is to preserve the de Havilland aerospace heritage for future generations in an informal atmosphere. As well as housing three Mosquitos, there are examples of jet fighters, Moth light aircraft and a range of transport aircraft including an example of the world's first business jet. Run as a charity by volunteers, there is always a need for additional helpers with training provided where required.
With so much to learn and so many surprises to uncover, now really is the time to discover one of the county's hidden secrets.
PAY A VISIT
de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre
London Colney AL2 1EX
Museum open from first Sunday in March to last Sunday in October.
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 2-5.30pm
Sundays and Bank Holidays