Blackpool's Spitfire Heritage Centre museum aiming to fly in 2022

Enthusiasts behind Blackpool's aviation museum are hoping their attraction will take off in 2022 with help from a school visits programme.

The team at the Spitfire Visitor Centre Hangar 42 based in the historic Second World War Bellman hangar on the West side of Blackpool Airport have battled through a difficult year hit with coronavirus restrictions but have enjoyed some stand-out highlights.

But they did manage to welcome 4,000 visitors in 2021 and they played host to some high profile visits.

TV comedian Susan Calman, known for her travel show Grand Days Out driving around Britain in her campervan, popped in to the museum to film and the centre also played host to a air-worthy Spitfire from the Polish Heritage Flight for a number of weeks through the Summer.

The team at the Spitfire Visitor Centre Hangar 42 with the Polish Spitfire in August 2021

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The aircraft was on display for several days allowing enthusiasts to visit and take photographs and even flew from Blackpool airport on a display flight.

Another aircraft on display was the team's replica Spitfire Progress II which spent the year on guard at Gynn Square for the Illuminations.

In November the first of the centre's school visits began, thanks to some funding from the Heritage Lottery, allowing pupils to see some Second World War exhibits and the replica aircraft first hand to enrich their history studies.

Inside Hangar 42

John Coombes from the team said: "We are working hard to build our School Visits programme through 2022, by opening our doors to primary school visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, by prior appointment.

"I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery fund has enabled us to create a new School visits coordinator post, with Melissa Neal being appointed to take forward the school programme."

He said the dedicated volunteers have worked tirelessly through the year to keep the hangar open to the public and also continue the significant amount of restoration works to the various exhibits that to date, have not been on public display.

Another project, “Saving Amy” has been ongoing throughout 2021, with a growing team of engineers and aviation enthusiasts working hard at Blackpool Airport, to rebuild the rare Airspeed Oxford. Once completed, the Mark 5 will be the only surviving aircraft of its type in the world.

Giving the Spitfire some attention

John Coombes added: "It has been a very challenging year for the Spitfire Visitor Centre, with visitor numbers down on 2019.

"We did welcome 4,000 visitors into the Hangar over the eight months of weekends we were open, with a new school visit programme started in November, with the aid of some very much welcome Heritage Lottery Funding.

"We also had some high profile visits this year, with Comedienne Susan Calman visiting us as part of her “Grand Days Out” series and also welcoming Spitfire BM597 from the Polish Heritage Flight based at Duxford for a number of weeks through the Summer.

"Building our team of Volunteers is also a priority for 2022. We still have the Mark IX Spitfire “Mawgan” formerly of RAF St Mawgan to get to a displayable standard for this year's visitors, alongside switching some of this year's exhibits with new.

School children can now have educational visits to the aviation museum

"We hope to be able to put on a fantastic display of various marks of Spitfire in the coming year."

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Volunteers tell the children all about aviation in the Second World War
Youngsters from Mayfield Primary School, St Annes, at Hangar 42 in Blackpool