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Renovated Scottish National Museum of Flight

A Museum Takes Flight

A £3.6-million expansion and renovation program has transformed the
National Museum of Flight into a world-class experience.

BY KEITH AITKEN

There is not much of aviation history that doesn't fit into a timeframe 101-years wide. In 1915, the Director of Naval Air Services at the British Admiralty approved a proposal to construct an air station at East Fortune near Haddington, one of a string of coastal airfields to protect shipping from German attack as the First World War intensified. That September, the first three aircraft were delivered, and months later the airfield was actively engaged against the Zeppelin airships bombing Edinburgh.

Now fast-forward one century. On Good Friday 2016, two new hangars -- or rather, two superbly refurbished Second World War hangars -- were opened to the public at East Fortune, as the centrepiece of a £3.6 million redevelopment of East Fortune Airfield under the name by which it has become rather more familiar: Scotland's National Museum of Flight.

Between those two dates, and in these two hangars, the place pulsates with history. As the First World War progressed, the station was extended to become a base for anti-submarine airship patrols and for fighter aircraft. It worked closely with the naval forces based at Rosyth in the Firth of Forth, providing training and logistical services for early aircraft carriers, and hosting the world's first torpedo-launching aircraft, the beguilingly named Sopwith Cuckoo.

After the armistice, it hit the headlines as the departure point for the first round-trip transatlantic flight, by the R34 airship in July 1919. For the next few years, the base became a tuberculosis hospital, but with the coming of World War Two it reverted to military use, as a key air force training centre and transit camp. After the war its fortunes and uses were mixed: a hospital again for a while, a civil defense centre and a temporary civilian airport while Edinburgh's Turnhouse Airport was being redeveloped. In 1975 it opened as Scotland's Museum of Flight.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2016 issue of Scottish Life.

Large photo © Sean Bell / National Museums of Scotland; Small photo Paul Dodds / National Museums of Scotland

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