Grand reopening of the Wight Aviation Museum

By IW Apr 26, 2022

The Wight Aviation Museum at Sandown Airport was reopened with a special ceremony on Saturday, April 9.

Lora Peacey-Wilcox, leader of the IW Council, cut the opening tape alongside the museum’s chairwoman, Helen Blake, saying: “It’s like going back in time. It’s a remarkable achievement especially with the Covid restrictions.

“The volunteers who have achieved this are all superstars who have created something different for the Island.”

Brian Curtis, the museum’s marketing, media and education director, gave the IW Observer a tour of the building, saying: “We have so many interesting displays and so many interesting stories to tell about the history of aviation on the Island.”

As you enter the museum, there is the popular upgraded flight simulator where visitors can fly over the Island. There follows a series of interesting displays focussing on Island aviation, the early years building up to World War I, the Sanders Roe flying boat built at Cowes and the Black Arrow rocket, a full-size replica of which is outside the museum, which was originally tested at High Down, Totland Bay.

There is also a collection of Richard Holleyman’s vintage material in a shed in the middle of the room. Richard explained: “The collection goes from 1910 until the 1950s when the Island had five airports – Ryde, Apse Heath, Somerton, Bembridge and Sandown.

“I have collected memorabilia all my life, going back to when I used to spot aeroplanes at Heathrow Airport. The collection has taken me about 25 years to put together. I have been to all sorts of collectible and memorabilia sales to get this far.”

One of the features is based on Robert Loraine, an early 1900s actor, who was the first person to land on the Island by plane – as a mistake. He was taking part in an air race to Bournemouth when he crash-landed on Freshwater Bay golf club. His plane was repaired a couple of days later and he was pushed off the cliff to get it going. Fortunately, the engine started and he flew back to the mainland.

Other features include World War II crash sites and a tribute to the late Mary Ellis, who used to live next to the airport. Mary was a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) during World War II, delivering Spitfires and bombers to the front line during the conflict. She is said to have flown more than 1,000 aeroplanes during the war.

There is also an ops room, used by local schools and groups to learn about the history of Island aviation, and veterans who meet there monthly for a bacon roll and a cuppa.