Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum

(RAF Dumfries, RAF Tinwald Downs)

Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum

Located in a former military airfield control tower at Heathhall, 2¼ miles (3.5 km) northeast of Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum has a modest collection of aircraft, helicopters and aircraft engines, yet an extensive indoor display of artefacts and memorabilia, together with an archive and library.

Exhibits include a Supermarine Spitfire, which crashed into Loch Doon in 1941, was recovered in 1977 and is being restored; a Gloster Meteor, built in the 1940s as Britain's first jet powered fighter aircraft; a French Dassault MD-452 Mystere (1951); an American F-100 Super Sabre (1951), which served in Vietnam; an English Electric Canberra T4 (1955); a Fairey Gannet (1960), that served on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal; a Saab Draken (1961); a Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer, which was built in 1965 and served on board both HMS Ark Royal and HMS Hermes; an English Electric Lightning (1968); a Hawker Siddeley Trident (1971); a British Aerospace Jetstream T2 built at Prestwick in the mid-1970s; and a Westland Wessex helicopter which served in the Falklands War in 1982. The engines include examples of Rolls Royce Merlin and Griffon models that powered several British fighters and bombers during World War II, and a Rolls Royce RB211 turbofan which powered a Boeing 747 commercial airliner. Other exhibits include missiles, communications and navigation equipment. The museum's archive is open to researchers and houses a miscellany of photographs, aviator log-books, notebooks, magazines and air-show programmes.

The building is an unusual three-storey example of a Second World War Royal Air Force (RAF) control tower. It was constructed of cement-rendered brick and precast concrete in 1941. The tower has survived virtually unaltered, retaining its wrap-around balcony, original windows, internal layout, and many other period fittings. It was C-listed in 2006, owing to its historical importance.

Recorded on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map as a horse-racing track, close to the large mansion of Tinwald Downs, the use of the area for aviation began with the construction of a landing strip here to serve the Arrol-Johnston car factory at Heathhall, which built aircraft engines during the First World War. The strip was used occasionally between the wars.

RAF Dumfries (also known as RAF Tinwald Downs) began operations in June 1940. Given its distance from mainland Europe, the base was used for the storage and maintenance of aircraft, away from imminent danger of attack, and was the base for No. 18 Maintenance Unit. It also became home to a training school (No. 10 Bombing and Gunnery School), which taught bomb-aimers, gunners and navigators. By the end of the war more than 400 training courses had been run here and it is estimated that over 5000 aircraft had passed through its workshops.

RAF Dumfries was attacked by a solitary German aircraft on 25th March 1943. It crashed shortly afterwards, killing the pilot, Oberleutnant Martin Piscke, who was buried in Troqueer Cemetery in Dumfries.

After the war the station became a training base for RAF national service recruits. This and its maintenance functions continued until 1957. Thereafter the airfield was abandoned and much was lost with the development of housing, with only short sections of the former runways remaining. A number of buildings have been demolished, although many are reused to form the extensive Heathhall Industrial Estate, which now surrounds the museum.

The museum is run by the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Group and is the only private aviation museum in Scotland. It began in the former pilot's hut nearby but more space was soon required and it moved to the control tower in 1979. The tower was subsequently reroofed and the museum has been extended into adjacent new-build hangars in recent years. It has adopted a mission to preserve local aviation heritage, many of its exhibits having come from various recovery activities.

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