Lunchtime Lecture (Midlands) – What Makes A Famous Warplane? Britain’s iconic and overlooked aircraft of the Cold War

22 August 2024

On Thursday 22nd August 2024 at 12pm, Alex Gilbey will examine the resting place of unremembered war planes and their public memory. This lecture will be hosted in-person at our Midlands site and live-streamed via Crowdcast.
 
Talk Outline

In this lecture there will be an examination of the resting place of unremembered warplanes and how public memory can deify some aircraft whilst others fade into obscurity.

The Cold War era was replete with iconic aircraft – the Avro Vulcan, the English Electric Lightning, the Hawker-Siddeley Harrier, the list goes on.

But there’s a similar list of aircraft which have rather faded from the public memory – the Supermarine Swift, Gloster Javelin and Hawker Seahawk are all examples of lesser known aircraft from the same or similar eras. Why is this, and do they deserve a more prominent place in our memories – and perhaps in our museums?

There are, of course, sound technical reasons why some aircraft are overlooked. Reasons can include rapid technological progression, a changing world and shifts in defence policy.

Some aircraft arrived too late for the wars they were built to fight. Some never got beyond the prototype stage, while others were rapidly surpassed in an era of rapid technical change – all of these things have been examined by others!

There will also be an examination of the question of what makes an aircraft iconic. Is it remarkable performance, famous operations, perhaps its connection with a certain era? Perhaps so.

But from an artistic standpoint, the speaker will argue there’s an aesthetic reason behind it – the classic example is the instantly recognisable delta wing of the Avro Vulcan, a shape not seen in the air before or since, which anyone whose seen one will not soon forget. The speaker would like to pose the question of whether this type of instant recognition is a factor in an aircraft’s later fame.

Location
This hybrid lecture will be hosted in-person at the RAF Museum’s Midlands site in the Lecture Theatre. Attendance in-person is free but registration is required via Digitickets.
Livestream
To attend virtually, register via Crowdcast.

About Alex Gilbey

Alex John Gilbey has been, at various times, a writer, an artist, a lecturer, and a performer. He gained an MA in Fine Art through photography in 2019, and from 2020-23 he was a lecturer in Fine Art and Photography at Aberystwyth University.

He returned to Postgraduate study at Aberystwyth in 2023, and is now working on a PHD project which documents the remnants of the Cold War – this includes aircraft, memorials, landscapes and other ephemera with the object of recreating the Cold War era through what it left behind.

Previous work includes the paper “Can the concept of the military memorial be considered in broader terms than the traditional?” presented at the British Commission For Military History’s conference in October 2023.


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