Hi... I'm Carly..
I know! I felt the need to reintroduce myself as it feels like a long time ago when I last sat at this desk and wrote a blog. It's been busy over the winter with plans being put into place for an awesome few months over the Spring and Summer.
Just after New Year, I was lucky enough to be contacted by Ryan Tomlinson from the Coningsby Heritage Centre regarding some of the typhoon images I had posted on Twitter. Ryan is one of the incredible volunteers at the centre based just inside the main gates at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. I sent Ryan the desired images and a selection of others he had spotted on my Instagram stream from inside the hangars at The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). In exchange for using the images for his displays, Ryan kindly offered to host me for an afternoon in April when I would visit Lincolnshire for the week. Weeks passed and it was my time to drive North (and then East) to see my images in print. Here's my review of the centre:
"At first it struck me as odd that the centre should be inside the main gates of RAF Coningsby, especially when there was already a visitors centre over the way at BBMF and security status was on an all time high. However, with other heritage centres in the locality operating on similar models, it makes the experience more exciting for visitors who would not normally have access to the base. Once passing through security (apparently I look younger now than when I first visited in 2015 so had to have my photo retaken - flattery gets them everywhere!) the first thing I noticed were the gate guardians standing proud on either corner. The Phantom looked quite menacing as I made the first turn towards the centre.
On the short drive, Ryan explained that the centre was now officially open and would host up to 10 guests on a given Sunday, in addition to school and college visits during the week. The collection of historic artefacts was increasing with each visit as families of former servicemen were bringing notes, books and pictures to add to the collection.
As I entered the centre, it was clear a lot of hard work and energy had gone into making the displays look professional and in keeping with Royal Air Force branding. Open space and a seated area welcomed me with the walls adorned with images of aircraft from both days gone by and current front line jets.
Beyond there is an auditorium where guests will be taken through the complete history of Coningsby. I was fortunate to have this delivered by Andy Copley, whose knowledge of not only the base but also the local area added real interest to the presentation. I was amazed to learn that Coningsby had been home to such a wide variety of aircraft; the Vulcan Bomber being the biggest surprise amongst the collection. During the presentation, I was fascinated by the use of old and new maps that showed how the base had developed over the years: runways extended, building torn down, hangars built up - an ever changing and adapting environment responding to the fast pace of aircraft advancement.
Further back came an area that I imagine will continue to develop over time - the display area. A wonderful glass-encased model of RAF Coningsby takes centre stage (dominating the floor space), surrounded by a wonderfully informative timeline peppered with images from past and present (Eagle-eyed visitors will recognised the names of some of the contributing photographers!) Models of aircraft are displayed in the corners and a Browning cannon rests proudly on the fire guard.
Moving into the next section of the building was a great treat for me. Firstly, you are met with a selection of artefacts that on the surface look like remains of an archaeological dig. I was therefore quite shocked when Ryan told me I was centimetres from the remains of the Lancaster Bomber engine fire. It was fascinating to see up close and to appreciate how that fire could have ended with extremely dire consequences. I don't want to use the word lucky so flippantly but when you think where this could have happened... well it doesn't really bear thinking about at all.
As an educator, I was thrilled to hear that the centre would offer its facilities for school and college tours, not only for the historic aspects but also because of the superb STEM classroom they have in development. Living in Devon, we are rather starved of both aviation history and engineering (more focusing on the Naval aspects of our heritage) so I know my own son would have relished at the chance to spend an hour or two here.
The next part of the tour is still in the planning stage so I was honoured to be taken to a bunker which was designed to be used during a chemical attack. As many of you know, my love of aviation was borne from my love of history and oh gosh, I just geeked right out here. The doors opened to relative darkness but beyond was an untouched world. The smell, the debris, the artefacts left in situ were overwhelming. I had not felt this engrossed since my visit to Bletchley Park. From the bags of powder to dowse oneself in, to the hanging pegs, the old telephones and the bunks, this Cold War section of the tour will be the jewel in the Centre's crown when she is fully set up and operational. The conditions inside were cramped and dank and a far cry from the Mess that is situated across the way. "
I would like to thank Ryan and Andy for their time. I would strongly recommend everyone applies for a tour when in the area. You can do this by contacting the centre via Facebook or Twitter. It was really great to see my images in print and I'm proud to be able to contribute to such wonderful collection of history. The centre is run for non profit and all the hosts are volunteers, giving up their own time to impart their knowledge and wisdom. Well done guys, keep up the good work!