DECAYING World War Two shelters home to some of Scotland’s most prized aviation treasures are to get a multi-million pound overhaul.
The revamp for the National Museum of Flight, in East Lothian, has secured the future of the ageing structures, which were only originally intended to last a decade.
The £3.6 million project is the most significant to be carried out at the East Fortune site – which dates back to 1915 – since the arrival of a Concorde aircraft in 2004.
Around £4.5 million worth of improvements have already been made over the last decade, including a dedicated Concorde exhibition, a celebrating of the history of aviation, a series of major new acquisitions, and displays charting the use of the site through two world wars, as well as the Cold War.
The Heritage Lottery Fund has confirmed a pledge of £1.3 million for the project, with the Scottish Government coming up with £1.8 million. National Museums Scotland bosses will be fundraising to make up their remaining amount.
The new phase, due to be unveiled in 2016, is expected to pave the way for further improvements in future years, including a brand new modern hangar, and bringing derelict wartime buildings on the site back into use.
The new-look hangars - work on which is hoped to start within two years - will become home to some of the best-loved aircraft at the site, which is aiming to attract more than 90,000 visitors once improved facilities are complete. Uniforms, photographs and rare military documents will be brought out of storage, while modern technology will revive the heyday of the exhibits.
An existing hangar, where many of the classic military aircraft held at the museum are on display, will also become a major new repairs and restoration facility.
The run-down hangars, which date back to 1940, were at risk of being lost completely due to their declining condition. Modern exhibitions and hands-on facilities for youngsters are also impossible to be deployed at two of the four hangars at the museum, which opened in 1975.
Bosses say the two hangars earmarked for improvement will be restored to their former glory, equipped with ground-source heating and will have a more authentic feel than the two others on the site, one of which is home to the Concorde, as they were refurbished in the 1980s, when heritage demands were not as stringent.
Steve McLean, general manager at the museum, told The Scotsman: “The two hangars we’re restoring are in a poor condition as they are pretty much the same buildings that were put up during the war.
“Parts of them are falling apart, with water able to get inside through the walls, and there are problems with damp and compensation. If we don’t do something about them soon, we just won’t be able to use them in future.”
East Fortune was set up as a defensive airfield by the Admiralty in 1915, with the site deployed for airships carrying out sea-lane patrols due to its close proximity to the North Sea. The collection at East Fortune is now said to be one of the most significant of its kind in Europe due to its collection of historic aircraft, engines, photographs, archives, models, flying clothing and instruments.
A German-built rocket-powered ME 163 Komet, the only rocket powered interceptor ever built; a Hawker Siddeley Harrier, the world’s first vertical take-off and landing jet to enter service; and a Mark XVI Spitfire will be among the highlights for visitors.
Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “These iconic WWII hangers are at risk of being lost. Their restoration will not only ensure their long-term survival but will transform the exhibitions within them with new contemporary interpretation and displays.”
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of NMS, added: “We can now work up more detailed plans for the restoration of our two Second World War hangars and their transformation into two vibrant new display spaces, worthy of our internationally significant collections.
“The work will ensure that the National Museum of Flight remains one of the major aviation museums in Europe.”