WONZ 280 – Wings Over Britain: The Fleet Air Arm Museum

Guest:  David Morris, Principle Conservator at the Fleet Air Arm Museum

Host: Dave Homewood

Recorded: 28th of June 2023

Published: 15th of August 2023

Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes, 31 seconds

In this episode Dave Homewood visits The Fleet Air Arm Museum, part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, at Yeovilton in Somerset. There he got a guided tour of the main halls and the conservation area by principle conservator Dave Morris.

Naval aviation in Britain began in 1909, initially with he building of an airship, and by 1911 the Navy had their owned trained fixed-wing pilots. In July 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service formed, becoming the air arm of the Royal Navy. They led the way in naval aviation and the development of aerial warfare through WWI. On the 1st of April 1918 the RNAS was merged with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force.

The Fleet Air Arm formed within the RAF on the 1st of April 1924, marking out the specific RAF squadrons that would deploy to aircraft carriers and perform other naval duties. Then on the 24th of May 1939 the Fleet Air Arm was divided off from the RAF and placed under Admiralty control.

The Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm entered the Second World War as an underfunded, undermanned force with inferior equipment. A massive expansion got underway as more and more aircraft carriers were brought on strength, with the Royal Navy directly recruiting aircrew from New Zealand as well as Britain. Aircrew training was carried out through WWII in Britain (with initial flying training done by the Royal Air Force), Canada (with flying training done by the Royal Canadian Air Force under the Empire Air Training Scheme), and, from mid-1941, in the USA (with flying training conducted by the United States Navy). Much development in naval fighters and torpedo bombers took part both in Britain and, with the introduction of the Lend Lease scheme, in the USA. The Royal Navy ended up with one of the best carrier forces in the world by 1945, and the Fleet Air Arm flew off ships and land bases in every theatre of the war.

The Fleet Air Arm continued into the post-1945 world, and remained a potent part of the Royal Navy’s strength, with jets and helicopters as the main equipment aboard the carriers.

This museum reflects the long history of naval flying in Britain, from the earliest days of biplanes on floats in World War One, to the fighters and bombers of WWII, and the jets and helicopters through to the modern era.

Two particularly interesting WWII fighters discussed are the Corsair IV, KD431, and the Grumman G-36 Martlet I, AL246. Both have been conserved in such a way that postwar paint coats have been removed to reveal the original wartime paint schemes beneath. The current restoration of the Fairey Barracuda is discussed, among other topics from air sea rescue to the first jet to operate from a carrier.

Quick Links:

 The National Museum of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm Museum Website

 The Fleet Air Arm Museum’s Facebook Page

 The Fairey Barracuda DP872 Rebuild Facebook Page

Special thanks to Dave Morris and Catherine Hallett of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, and to Kieran Lear who for doing the driving, for being good company and for providing some of the photos below.

Short S.27 replica (Dave Homewood)
Sopwith Baby N2078 (Dave Homewood)
Short Admiralty Type 184 8359 (Dave Homewood)
Supermarine Walrus L2301 (Kieran Lear)
Supermarine Walrus L2301 (Dave Homewood)
Fairey Fulmar N1854 (Dave Homewood)
Fairey Swordfish P4139 (Dave Homewood)
Fairey Fulmar N1854 (Dave Homewood)
Fairey Fulmar N1854 (Dave Homewood)
Fairey Fulmar N1854 (Dave Homewood)
Fairey Fulmar N1854 (Kieran Lear)
Grumman Martlet AL246 (Dave Homewood)
Grumman Martlet AL246 (Dave Homewood)
Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair KD431 (Dave Homewood)
Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair KD431 (Dave Homewood)
Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair KD431 (Kieran Lear)
Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair KD431 (Kieran Lear)
de Havilland Sea Vampire LZ551 (Dave Homewood)
Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 WJ231 and MiG 15 (Dave Homewood)
Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 WJ231 (Kieran Lear)
Vampire LZ551, Corsair KD431, Grumman Hellcat KE209 and Grumman Avenger ECM.6B XB446. (Dave Homewood)
Supermarine Seafire F17 SX137 and Sopwith Pup replica N6452 (Dave Homewood)
Supermarine Seafire F17 SX137 (Kieran Lear)
Sopwith Pup replica N6452 (Kieran Lear)
Supermarine Attacker F.1 WA473/102/J, Westland Wyvern TF.1 VR137 and Seafire SX137 (Dave Homewood)
Westland Wyvern TF.1 VR137 (Kieran Lear)
Supermarine Attacker F.1 WA473/102/J (Kieran Lear)
McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT596 (Kieran Lear)
BAe Sea Harrier FA2 XZ499/003 (Kieran Lear)
Hall 4, which does not get covered in the podcast due to time constraint. (Kieran Lear)

Below: The Barracuda restoration

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