It used to be the Southampton Hall of Aviation. After an extensive refurbishment, this interesting collection of aircraft became the Solent Sky Museum. If you’re in the Southampton area and interested in planes – especially the Spitfire – be sure to pay a visit.
Built in 1982, the original structure housed the Sandringham “Beachcomber” Flying Boat. Belfast’s Short Brothers built this plane and I was fortunate enough to be allowed access to the flight deck on my visit.
On board the Beachcomber
David, the guide knew every nut and bolt of the old craft and the stories behind it. Made in Belfast during World War Two, the plane flew regularly until it found a new home in Southampton in 1982. At one time, she flew in the Antilles under the pilotage of Captain Chuck Blair. His wife, Hollywood actress, Maureen O’Hara was a regular in the passenger seat.
As well as the Beachcomber, the Solent Sky Museum holds seventeen other planes as well as many artifacts from the locality. Southampton and the land around the Solent were instrumental in the history of 20th-century aviation. It’s most famous, of course, for the iconic Supermarine Spitfire but was also home of the Imperial Flying Boat.
The Solent Sky Museum Spitfire
Visitors to the museum also have a chance to sit in the cockpit of a Supermarine Swift or Harrier Jump Jet. While the Mk24 Spitfire wasn’t built until 1946, getting up close and personal to the famous craft was a highlight of the trip. The Mk24 was the last of the Spitfires to go into production. By 1946, more than 22,000 had been produced. 8,000 of these were made in the Solent area.
Nearby, at Calshot Spit, the Royal Air Force established a flying boat base on the Solent. They also developed a range of High-Speed Launches with help from an Aircraftman Shaw. He, of course, is better known as TE Lawrence – the Lawrence of Arabia.
Between 1910 and 1960, the Southampton area produced planes, experimental rocket fighters, hovercraft, helicopters and even spacecraft.
Currently on display at the Solent Sky Museum are:
- Avro 504J
- Britten-Norman BN-1
- De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW Mk.1
- De Havilland Tiger Moth
- De Havilland Vampire
- Folland Gnat
- Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.3
- Mignet HM.14
- Saro Skeeter
- Saunders-Roe SR.A/1
- Short Sandringham S.25/V
- Slingsby Grasshopper
- Slingsby Tandem Tutor
- Supermarine S.6A
- Supermarine Seagull
- Supermarine Spitfire F.24
- Supermarine Swift
- Wight Quadruplane
The work of the Solent Sky Museum is supported by the RJ Mitchell Memorial Museum Limited. Mitchell was the designer of the Spitfire and the charity was established to:
advance the education of the public in matters relating to aviation by establishing and maintaining a museum as a permanent memorial to R. J. Mitchell, the designer of the Schneider Trophy S6B seaplane and the Spitfire.