Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Why plane museum is an idea that could take off

I was in a toy shop recently buying a present for a birthday when I saw the most wonderful model of a Short's Sunderland. (Nerd? You don't know the half of it!) Models are not what they used to be. Male readers of a certain age may remember the Airfix models of old which demanded nimble figures, time and a little prayer to complete.

This one came ready built but it was nonetheless a very fine example of the genre.

I have always had a fascination with Short's and their aircraft. My father worked in the factory for many a long year on the 330s and the 360s. On occasion, he would bring back brochures and I always thought that they were very fine-looking planes.

Needless to say, I have never been inside one — nor have I ever seen a Sunderland up close. (Are there any surviving examples?)

Another aircraft connection was provided by our school caretaker.

He was an American by birth and had serviced B-17 Flying Fortresses during the war. He was part of a club that collected money to keep a surviving bomber of that era — the Sally B, I think — in the air. It was always fascinating to listen to him talk about the aircraft.

Even decades after the war, his regard for the B-17 and its crews was undiminished. He may have lived in Belfast but part of him was forever Boeing.

We are missing a trick here to promote local aircraft heritage. Short's, the company that began life in England, has been part and parcel of the industrial landscape here for donkey's years and yet the aircraft they made are as foreign to many of us as the space shuttle.

That is surely wrong and is something that could — with a little imagination and leadership — be changed.

The Titanic and its links to Belfast is rarely out of the news; the ship that sank on its maiden voyage is being used to promote local tourism.

Any chance of promoting aircraft that actually flew — and flew in many corners of the world?

Tourists like places to visit and a dedicated aircraft museum would be of great interest in a city with so few attractions.



The Sunderland and Stirling bombers are probably the best known aircraft from World War II built here. Short's did build other military aircraft under contract — the Canberra jet being the most famous.

There is no reason that they could not also be included.

It wouldn't have to be the biggest display of aircraft in the world but something as unique as this would be of interest to any visitor — be they from the United States or the Republic.

Indeed, there might be a little neat symmetry here.

There has been talk in Derry about raising a scuttled U-Boat for a maritime exhibition.

Would it not be appropriate for Belfast to put on display the plane, the Sunderland, charged with sinking the U-Boats?

Anything you can do, we can do better ...

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