Over the weekend of the 15th and 16th of June, the South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum (SYAM) at Lakeside, Doncaster, held a very successful event with record numbers of visitors.
The English Electric Canberra, which first flew on the 13th of May 1949, remained in front line RAF service for almost 60 years. Some are still flying in other parts of the world. This very versatile and successful aircraft was exported to 15 countries and, although originally designed as a high altitude, high speed bomber, found its longevity as the best photo-reconnaissance aircraft in the world. It gained the name Canberra in honour of the capital of Australia, the first country to place an export order.
The Museum has seven different Canberra cockpit (nose) sections at Doncaster and several of them are kept in electrically ‘live’ condition. When switched on, all the lights and instrument function. This is great for the visitors who get to see inside them on open days. For this very special weekend a further six cockpits joined them from as far away as Kinloss, in the north of Scotland, to Norfolk. Some are kept at other museums but a few are lovingly cared for by private enthusiasts.
One of the SYAM volunteers and cockpit owner, Darren Headleand, who was at the forefront of contacting all the different owners, former Canberra aircrew and groundcrew and associations of squadrons which once flew these magnificent aircraft said “Without the participation of all these people, there wouldn’t have been an event. It was a great tribute to our museum that they all pitched in to support us. We couldn’t be more grateful.”
We were also honoured by the attendance of the Lancaster bomber from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which gave the visitors a wonderful flypast, overflying the museum three times, at low level, to the great delight of all the waving kids (of all ages).
Throughout the weekend, there were visitors dropping in from all around the world. Doncaster was host to at least two former Canberra Squadron weekend re-union events and many of those who had come for their re-unions also bumped into more old comrades whilst visiting the Museum. As SYAM Chairman, I met people from South Africa, New Zealand, USA, France and Germany, all countries which flew Canberras. From the UK, there were visitors from Kinloss to Cornwall and Anglesey to Kent. I am sure we could have found someone from every county if we had looked. We were also delighted to be visited by some of the family of ‘Bee’ Beaumont, the first test pilot of the Canberra and the pilot who flew many of the distance, altitude and speed records which the Canberra set in the 1950s.
The museum volunteers are now winding down and busy returning the Museum to its usual exciting treasure trove of aviation goodies, open every day except Mondays. For a few weeks yet we will still have a couple of the visiting cockpits on view before they return to their usual homes.