Rare aircraft’s new spiritual home in an Angus museum

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The volunteers at Montrose’s former air station are no strangers to welcoming veterans from conflicts in which the base was involved.

And they recently welcomed a special vet to their ranks – a very rare aircraft has just been added to the heritage centre’s collection and, in a sense, returned to its spiritual home north of the border.

Only 145 Miles M.2H Hawk Majors were built and Montrose’s is one of just two remaining in the UK.

This particular aeroplane saw service in the Second World War and its recent arrival in Angus is a coup for the volunteer-run centre, formerly an operational RAF base to the north of the town and the only RAF museum in Scotland.

Designed in the 1930s by FG Miles, one of Britain’s most prolific aircraft designers, the Hawk was developed as a training aircraft for RAF pilots.

Sleek and streamlined, it was considered to be a revolutionary concept at a time when all of the air force’s aircraft were fabric-covered biplanes which had changed little since the First World War.

The RAF realised, however, that new aircraft such as the Spitfire and Hurricane, which would be coming into service, needed more modern aircraft to train their future pilots.

With a few modifications the Hawk became the Miles Magister, the RAF’s first monoplane elementary trainer, which was followed by the Miles Master, the RAF’s first monoplane advanced trainer.

Both saw extensive service at Montrose and the Miles Company even had its own maintenance and repair facilities at the air station.

This particular example was acquired from the RAF Museum in London – which had kept the aircraft in storage in Stafford – after it was deemed surplus to requirements.

Daniel Paton, heritage centre curator, said the close links between Montrose Air Station and Miles aircraft make the Hawk an extremely important acquisition in telling the area’s World War Two story.

He continued: “Museums can’t give their artefacts away. They have to offer them to other museums and there was a lot of interest in this machine, one of only two in existence.

“They contact museums all over the country telling them that an item’s available for free and bids are submitted saying why they should take ownership of it.

“Although we were up against a lot competition, we were successful.

“It’s a real achievement for a small museum like ours, run entirely by volunteers, to be able to convince one of the largest museums in Britain we had the capability to look after this rare aircraft and the flair to display it to the visiting public.

“It will go on show in our largest building as the focal point of an exhibition on training pilots, up to and during World War Two.”

Although the heritage centre did not have to pay for the aircraft, the problem of transporting it from Stafford had to be addressed.

Help came in the unlikely form of department store chain John Lewis.

Simon Law, one of the volunteers, is a transport manager with the company in Edinburgh and the company sponsored the Hawk’s move.

Accompanied by Daniel, Simon drove to Stafford last week to collect it.

Daniel said: “We are very grateful to the John Lewis partnership for its support.

“The aeroplane is going to need a bit of work but it’s a real aircraft and of the type that was used at Montrose, which makes it highly appropriate.”

Montrose Air Station’s history goes back to the very early days of military aviation. Established for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in 1913, it was from Montrose that the first aircraft to land in France in 1914 departed, on August 3.

The Hawk will now sit alongside a replica of that aircraft as well as a replica of a Sopwith Camel, a biplane used by the RFC.

In April next year the RAF will celebrate its centenary and the heritage centre volunteers are preparing to renovate the Sopwith Camel for the occasion, but some rearranging of the site had to be carried out first.

Daniel added: “We moved one of two Park Homes we were given by Angus Council and are using the ground on which it sat to erect a new building.

“We were given a grant of £40,000 from Museums Galleries Scotland to erect a building for conservation and restoration projects.

“We have to complete that before we can start, which won’t be until May or June.”