Today I bring you something a little different. Half an hour away from where I live we have the Stow Maries great war aerodrome. The last aerodrome of that period in existence.
The site is unique to say the least. Following WW1 the site became a farm and luckily the farmer decided to re-purpose the original structures into barns and chicken coops and the such. However, 90 years had passed between the end of the war and the beginning of proper conservation so as you can imagine a lot of restoration was needed. There is still a long way to go but in 2013 the National Heritage Memorial Fund recognised the significance of the site and granted £1.5 million to be spent there and saved it from potential redevelopment.
They already have a number of interesting aircraft on site and an indoor museum with lots of interesting displays. It’s fascinating to see the level of craftsmanship built into these early machines, even a ‘mass produced’ aircraft such as a Sopwith Camel is a work of art when fully stripped down.
It’s incredible to think that this would have been designed by hand. Even more incredible to think that boys, pretty much, who had probably never driven anything faster than a bicycle were expected to fly these things into combat with the minimal amount of training and that in this frame built of wood and covered in canvas they would be being shot at and performing acrobatics during dog fights!
A number of engines were attached to this airframe over the course of its life, Most carried either the Bentley BR1 or the Clerget 9B which is pictured below.
These somewhat unusual looking contraptions are called rotary engines and are absolutely nothing like the engines offered in Mazda sports cars. Basically you have a stationary crankshaft and the pistons rotate around it this spinning the propeller which is bolted onto the rotating engine housing. They are a lot lighter and smaller than a conventional engine and I suppose they are self cooling as they cool whilst they spin. I can’t imagine that trying to fly something with that much rotating mass would be particularly enjoyable though! However, it worked!
A replica cockpit gave an idea of the size of the space the pilots would have had to have sat whilst flying and allowed you to see the instrumentation they would have used. I’m unsure if these are for fuel and oil pressure or level but it’s a bloomin’ cool idea!
The museum also had this replica front section of a German Gotha bomber. Can you imagine flying in an open canopy all the way from Germany to London in the middle of the night? They must have been freezing! Also note the cool pattern of the camouflage. The patterns of German aircraft of this period were so creative!
Talking of creative German designs the Albatross in their hanger was absolutely beautiful!
The second hanger contained this electric truck. Yes an electric truck from WW1. Underneath it ran pretty much like a slot car. A big electric motor sat in the centre which directly drives the propshaft leading to the diff. Inside you just have a handbrake, a lever to select which direction you would like to go and a pedal to control the speed! Amazing technology for the time!
A couple of traditional petrol powered trucks were also scattered about the site. Super cool to see and I would imagine great fun to drive!
The RFC on the side refers to the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor to the Royal Air Force.
The last thing I would like to point out in their collection is actually pre-war. This machine is called a Metrostyle Pianola and it blew my mind.
Basically you put this machine next to a piano and it reads music off of a a scroll with lots of holes punched into it. Somehow this information is relayed to these bag things which ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ air, the movement of which tuns a sort of crankshaft…
Which turns that gear on a chain which is linked to a big pin that runs through the ‘fingers’ which play the music…
… I don’t know, the thing is far beyond my mechanical understanding. It’s insane to think that someone over 100 years ago designed and created this machine by hand.
I could write for ages about the things there but my best advice would be to go and check it out for yourselves. It’s only £8 to get in for the day, you will be keeping a historically important site open and more importantly I guarantee your mind will be blown away by something.
Thanks for reading