Museums are not an unusual commodity within the Borough boundaries of Southend. One such place that no longer exists was the Southend Historic Aircraft Museum. Located on Aviation Way, opposite the County Hotel, just a propeller spin from the airport, the museum first came to the public attention with a grand opening on 26th May 1972 by Air Marshall Sir Harry Burton, KCB, CBE, DSO, RAF an important man in military circles as the Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Air Support Command, RAF. The opening was a tribute to the few local enthusiasts who volunteered their time and a company pulled together by like minded business men.
The concept of an aircraft museum based at Southend had been the hope of a group of enthusiasts for a number of years. It was in 1967 that the first tangible steps were taken, when a number of aircraft were situated on the Eastern boundary of the airport. These included among others, the Sea Fury W.J.288, Sea Hawk XE 489 and the Proctor G-ANZS. Enthusiasts were recruited to work in their spare time in renovation, which included complete re-sprays and the fabrication of new parts. The project collapsed and the future of the exhibits left on the site was in jeopardy, however, thanks to the local interest and the co-operation of the Airport Authorities, this did not happen.
At this time a group of Essex businessmen, who were themselves aircraft enthusiasts and amateur pilots, formed an operating company and in October 1970 the original collection of aircraft were moved to the museum site.
Meanwhile, the team of volunteers formed the Historic Aircraft Society, Southend, whose members worked alongside the regular Museum staff, in maintaining and improving the collection.
Much research and technical advice was also necessary and the Museum enjoyed the invaluable assistance of an Honorary Advisory Committee. The Committee was made up from members of the Airport Authority, local aviation companies and various interested personalities, including Mr Leslie Hunt FRGS, who as Honorary Historical Adviser did much to ensure the accuracy of the detail.
The Aircraft Collection
Skeeter AOP. 12 Helicopter - XL811 - Previously with the Army it carried the badge of the 9th-12th Hussars, and coded '157'.
Spitfire 9 - TB863 - Built as a mark 16 this aircraft was delivered to 19 MU at St Athan in February 1945. First Squadron to receive it was No. 453 followed by 183 sqn; later served with 567 and 691 sqns; at RAF Chivenor and 17 sqn coded 'UT-D'.
Gloster Javelin FAW.9 - XH768. This exhibit was built in 1958 converted to Mk 9 in 1959 and delivered to 19 MU; it served with 25 sqn, coded 'E', 11 sqn 'E' and 29 sqn '0'. It was in service with 27 MU in 1966 and finally moved to Cranwell as an instructional airframe, 7929M.
B.25J Mitchell - N9089Z - Built for the USAAF, serial no 44-30861, this aircraft went to Aero Associates Inc. of Tucson, Arizona in 1966. The nose was modified, and this versatile aeroplane was used as camera ship for filming "The War Lover" and "633 Squadron". It was displayed to represent a Mitchell 3HD368, 'VO-A' of 98 sqn RAF 2nd TAF.
North American T-6G 'Harvard' - Produced in 1938, the 'Harvard' or 'Texan' was the world's most widely used training aircraft. More than 10,000 were manufactured in the USA and Canada. the aircraft was also produced under licence in Australia, to be known as the Commonwealth "Wirraway" and had its first flight on March 27th 1939.
De Havilland Dragon G-ACIT "Orcadian" - Built in 1933, the first Certificate of Airworthiness was issued to Aberdeen Airways. the aircraft was later purchased by Captain EE Fresson on the formation of Highlands Airways and on May 29th 1934, piloted by the owner, became the first aircraft to carry HM Mail between Inverness and Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. A First Flight Cover was issued to commemorate the occasion. The aircraft later saw service with the Air Navigation and Trading Company of Blackpool and was purchased for the Museum in 1971. This was one of the exhibits that was still airworthy.
De Havillland Moth Collection - on loan from Mr A Haig-Thomas; this collection was made up of 4 aircraft: 60G Gipsy Moth, 83 Fox Moth, 87B Hornet Moth and 94 Moth Minor.
Heinkel HE 111H - This aircraft known as the CASA 2111, was built for the Spanish Air Force in 1951, the serial number being B2-137. The aircraft was acquired by Group Captain TC Mahaddie and has featured in many films including the "Battle of Britain", when it appeared as "6J-PP". The Heinkel was purchased by the Museum in May 1972.
Humber Bleriot - This aircraft was a licence built version of the Bleriot Monoplane.
Sea Hawk FGA. 6 - Painted XE364, coded '485' of 899 sqn.
Fiesler Storch - D-EKMU - This German built aircraft was one of a batch of C-3 tropical variants used in the North African desert. It was supplied to the Swedish Air Force (F3 Wing at Malmslatt), in June 1943, and it was modified to render it compatible with the Swedish environment; being given the serial No. 3812. Eventually it was disposed of in Austria in 1960 as OE-ADR and later returned to Germany. On display this aircraft was repainted in full Luftwaffe, African desert colours.
Saab J.29F - Painted in Royal Swedish Air Force colours '08' of F20 Wing.
Lincoln B.2 - G-APRJ, fitted with modified Lancaster nose by Napier Ltd.
Beverley C.1 - XB261 - Handed over to A & AEE Boscombe Down in 1955. possibly the only Beverley to fly the Atlantic.
The Museum prided itself of being a hands-on museum with few 'Do Not Touch' signs. The large Exhibition Hall displayed aircraft dating from World War 1, plus many exhibits of parts of aircraft including engines, hydraulic components, even a Concorde wheel. A full shop (Kit Room) and cafeteria was also available for visitors.
Before thinking of booking your trip to view the museum, unfortunately it now is no more, and was finally consigned to be remembered in the Southend Timeline in May 1983, when all the exhibits, if possible, were put up for auction. Those that did not sell were destroyed and scrapped. As a small legacy one of the Gipsy Moths from the museum is now still flying at Duxford Aerodrome providing 'flight experiences'. The site of the museum was completely demolished and in its place is an exclusive health place called the Athenium.