From little acorns …

50 years ago today, on 7 April 1974, the historic aircraft collection at RAF Cosford had its first public opening.

Here, we give a brief history and our thanks to visionaries who opened the collection up to the public establishing, over time, the second site of the Royal Air Force Museum.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had already opened the Royal Air Force Museum on the site of RAF Hendon on 15 November 1972. The 36 aircraft that were initially on display at this site were just a small part of the Museum’s historic aircraft collection, which were stored at various sites around the U.K.

The RAF Cosford Aerospace Badge

The badge of the Royal Air Force Aerospace Museum Cosford depicts a pterodactyl, the earliest flying machine, on a Royal Air Force roundel.

By 1974 these non-display aircraft had moved to RAF Cosford and in 1974, the responsibility for the stored historic aircraft at our Midlands site rested with RAF Cosford’s Training Aircraft Maintenance Team, under Chief Technician Brian Le Brun. Public interest in the growing collection led to suggestions from the team for opening Cosford’s airfield site to the general public.

The RAF Aerospace Museum Cosford GuidbookThe RAF Aerospace Museum Cosford, Guidebook, 1979

The Station Commander at the time, Group Captain C L Parkinson, gave a favourable response. It was therefore decided to open the collection to the public on the first Sunday of the month from April to October. The main concern, however, was the lack of heating in some of the hangars, which could become very cold during the winter months.

A committee led by Squadron Leader Warren, with Flight Lieutenant Josh Wort as Deputy, worked tirelessly to prepare the aircraft collection at Cosford for its inaugural public opening. Chief Technician Wilf Howcroft served as Curator/Secretary, overseeing the organisation of the exhibits.

RAF Falcons parachute display team at RAF Cosford

The Cosford Air Show 1980 – an annual air display has been held at RAF Cosford for many years. The Falcons parachute display team is one of the RAF teams featured.

Chief Technician Brian LeBrun and others played key roles in sorting and arranging the collection. Despite initial challenges, including securing resources for refreshments and souvenir sales, the team pressed on.

They gathered historical information and photographs for display boards, creating a captivating experience for visitors. Local support, including a generous donation of photographs and a propeller, added to the collection’s allure.

Staff of the Aerospace Museum, Cosford, June 1993

Staff of the Aerospace Museum, Cosford, June 1993
The staff of the Aerospace Museum, Cosford, in front of the De Havilland Dove.
The full-time staff of the Aerospace Museum. In the front row are Jonathan Edwards, Bill Roseby, John Francis, Maureen Bracegirdle and Sonia Hill. They were supported by a large team of volunteers from the Society of Friends of the Aerospace Museum.

With meticulous planning, the team opened the collections doors to the public in 1974, attracting enthusiastic crowds. The success of the open days enabled them to pay off loans and invest in further improvements. Despite early reliance on volunteers, the site soon became a self-sustaining institution, the Aerospace Museum, drawing visitors from far and wide.

Today, from those humble beginnings and thanks to the hard work of its passionate staff and volunteers throughout the last five decades the Museum has grown into the institution it is today, the RAF Museum Midlands and now welcomes over 433,000 visitors a year.

Colour photograph of cheque presentation, Aerospace Museum, Cosford, 1 December 1994

RAF Cosford and the Aerospace Museum receive cheques, the profit from the annual Cosford Air Display. Profits from the annual air display at Cosford were shared equally between the station’s charities and the Aerospace Museum (now called RAF Museum Midland). John Francis is receiving the cheque on behalf of the Museum

We’d like to thank those early visionaries for this first opening on 7 April 1974 and look forward to ensuring that their legacy continues to thrive for future generations to enjoy.

About the Author

Paul Hudson-Knight: Senior Campaigns Manager

Paul Hudson-Knight joined the Royal Air Force Museum in early 2008, having previously worked in event organisation & commercial radio. He first visited the RAF Museum in London in 1982 and fell in love with it then. His intention is to introduce the Museum to a new generation of young men and women so that they may be as passionate about it as he is.