In the coronavirus pandemic, cleanliness has been a watchword. And this applies equally to some of the aircraft on display at the Royal Air Force Museum in Cosford, Shropshire.
Earlier this summer, ahead of its reopening, the museum got in a team of specialists – as it does every year – to clean and inspect the eight aircraft suspended in its National Cold War Exhibition hangar.
The team from Arco Services had to abseil from the hangar’s 30m-high roof to get access to the various aircraft, which include a Vulcan bomber and an English Electric Lightning, all now ‘flying’ with the aid of suspension cables.
The team wore GoPro cameras during their work, a large part of which involves positioning themselves well enough in order to clean as thoroughly as possible.
‘It’s amazing how much dust can gather over a year,’ said Alexander Picken, a Level 2 rope-access technician. ‘The ones suspended don’t gather too much, because they’re at funny angles and there’s only certain places where the dust can gather. But the Vulcan is massive, so there’s a lot of dust.’
Despite their size, the aircraft now have to be treated gently because of their age. As one of Picken’s colleagues, Simon Holding, explained: ‘We can’t use any chemicals, we’re not really wanting to use any water… because any sort of product on paint as old as this, you know, it could damage the paint, so it is literally a dry mop and some elbow grease.’
And although the aircraft look impressive suspended in the air, it only makes the job of cleaning them harder. ‘The complication is access,’ Holding added. ‘If this was on the ground, it would be relatively mundane.’
Still, there cannot be anything too mundane about maintaining the world’s oldest Spitfire, also in the museum, as well as some rare German and Japanese planes from the Second World War.
Like others across the country, the museum has been closed several times during the pandemic. It is now welcoming visitors again, although they have to stay on terra firma.
Text: Calum Henderson All images: Michelle Worthington/RAF Museum Cosford
RAF Museum Cosford
Shifnal, Shropshire TF11 8UP
Open 10am-5pm (last entry 4pm) daily
Contact +44 (0) 1902 376 200, [email protected]
For more information about both the London and Cosford branches of the museum, visit www.rafmuseum.org.uk.