The Michael Beetham Conservation Centre


Urs Schnyder


Urs Schnyder


The conservation centre is named after Marshal of the RAF Sir Michael James Beetham. He served the RAF from 1941 when he joined up, until his retirement as Marshal of the RAF in 1982. Flying Lancaster bombers in World War 2, he was involved in another war when Argentina invaded the Falklands. As Chief of the Defence Staff he was involved in the decision to send a Taskforce to the islands. The use of the Avro Vulcan was his idea.

 The conservation centre moved to the present site in 2002, next to the Museum. Work undertaken by the staff varies from regular inspections of the museums static exhibits to the complete restoration of unique aircraft. Contrary to what most people think, Museum aircraft are not just put into the Museum and left there to gather dust.

They are also experts in dismantling and transporting big aircraft. For the 100th anniversary celebration of the RAF they were tasked with erecting some of the aircraft on Horse Guards Parade ground, among them a Gloster Meteor Mk 4.

The centre has a staff of 12 paid technicians and 7 apprentices. As the practical training of the apprentices in the conservation centre is obviously of a very unique nature an open position attracts many applicants. According to Mr. Priday the manager, the last time they were looking for two apprentices, they received 100 applications. Being able to acquire such diverse skills as working with fabric covered wings to stressed skins and piston engines during their training, they find jobs all over the world.

There are also 70 volunteers that help the centre with their various skills. Many of them are former RAF technicians who want to do something useful after retirement. 

I was fortunately able to pay them a visit as part of the planned report about the Cosford Museum. Mr. Priday the manager of the conservation centre took the time to show me around and inform on the current projects. 

When the Battle of Britain Hall in Hendon closed it was decided to give the Vickers Wellington a much needed restoration. The staff of the conservation centre disassembled the Wellington and oversaw its transport by road to Cosford. The fabric has been removed from the fuselage and it is interesting to see the geodetic structure that is normally hidden by the fabric covering. One of the wings was already recovered with fabric and it was interesting to see that there are no depressions in the wing surface from the geodetic structure as modelmakers are so fond of displaying. Standing in front of the tail turret, it is sobering to think that a gunner was sitting in it for hours, with only some thin Perspex separating him from the elements and the German night fighters.

Wellington fuselage (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder) Wellington fuselage  internal (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder) Wellington turret (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder) Wellington wing new  Fabric (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)

The LVG CVI was on loan to the Shuttleworth Collection for many years where it took part in their flying displays. It was the last and only German aircraft build during the Great War that was still flying anywhere in the world. It undertook its last flight in 2000 when the RAF Museum requested its return. It is incredible to imagine that it was still flying almost 100 years after it was built, something its makes never anticipated.

LGV fuselage (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)

The conservation centre is now trying to find out its original paint scheme by carefully removing the existing paint layers so it can eventually be restored to its original configuration.


The Dornier Do-17Z is probably the most talked about project at the moment. After stabilizing the wreck, so its long term survival is granted, a decision needs to be taken on how to display it. It is presently under cover, also due to staff being heavily engaged in the RAF 100 years celebrations.

Do-17 engine prop (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)

Do-17 prop gear (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)


Some smaller items have been put on exhibition however and it is amazing in what good condition they have survived. According to Mr. Priday, especially the steel parts show very little corrosion considering how long they have been exposed to the seawater.

So we will still need some patience until we can see the Do 17 in a Museum.

The Range Safety Launch 1667 is a project that is done by the Museum volunteers. As most of these ships were built of wood, they are affected by the weather if kept outside the whole year. Just repainting them once a while is not enough to prevent them deteriorating.


Range safety launch (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)

The Westland Lysander of the former Battle of Britain Hall is also undergoing restoration in a second smaller building. As the fabric was removed from the wings it was possible to see how the actuation of the wing slats and flaps are working. It is interesting to compare how the designers of different aircraft have used different means to solve the same requirement. On the Lysander the sides of the canopy for example slide downwards into the fuselage.


The most interesting project for me was the restauration of the Handley Page Hampden ever since it was found in Russia in 1991.

After being converted to carry a torpedo, P1344 was flying to the Russian Kola Peninsula together with 31 other Hampdens, where they were to work on Arctic Convoy protection. After a temperature drop the aircraft experienced icing that would make it impossible to cross the mountains ahead. The pilot changed course to fly lower but this brought him over the German base of Petsamo in Finland. From there two Messerschmitt 109 took off and engaged the Hampden. In the ensuing battle, the two air gunners lost their life and the aircraft was damaged so the pilot had to do an emergency landing. During the ensuing crash the Navigator also lost his life. Only the pilot and an engine technician who was a passenger on board survived to be taken prisoner.

Looking at the restored fuselage, it strikes you how narrow and cramped it is. The only way the pilot can get into his seat is by putting the seatback into a horizontal position. As the Hampden had no guns to protect it from a side attack, there are provisions in the windows on each side behind the pilot to take guns. The gun however has to be removed from its usual location, and fixed to the side window. That might have worked under normal conditions, but during an air fight? As the fuselage is so narrow, it is impossible to have a gun on each side as they obstruct each other. Against the cannon of the Messerschmitt’s the fight was hopeless. On the restored aircraft it is still possible to see the holes in the fuselage that were caused by the German guns.  It is hoped that the restoration of the fuselage will be completed by November so it can be put on display during the open week. The wings however are another matter because the main spar was cut when the Russians recovered the aircraft from its place in the forest. Restoring the wing and the engines will require enough funding. So it will be some time still until we see a complete Hampden in a Museum.


Hampden front fuselage (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)


Hampden front (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)


Hampden cockpit  right (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)


Hampden cockpit left (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)


Hampten rear (Picture courtesy Urs Schnyder)


The conservation centre is not normally open to the general public, except for one week in November. In 2018 it is the week from the 12th until the 18th of November.

My thanks go to the manager of the conservation centre Mr. Priday for taking the time to show me around.



last update 30. September 2018

Written 30. September 2018


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