On International Museum Day we thought today would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on a trip to the wonderful Morayvia Air Museum in Kinloss.
Last July we made the decision to visit family who now reside in Lossiemouth and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to also get an aviation fix at the same time. It was a weekend visit though so we expected there to be very little activity at RAF Lossiemouth a few miles away, and of course at this stage the P-8As had yet to arrive at Kinloss Barracks further along the road.
It’s quite a trek to the small sleepy seaside town of Lossiemouth from our base but it’s an excellent scenic trip depending on which route you decide to take. After near enough five hours on the road we passed the infamous Buccaneer aircraft on the petrol station forecourt as we passed through Elgin so we knew were only a matter of miles away.
As well as a great opportunity to catch up with family who recently moved to the area, the trip was also being used for a bit of recon for visits to the area for future exercises hosted at RAF Lossiemouth and of course planned visits to document the P-8A Posideon developments.
Morayvia sits beside the former RAF base in Kinloss which has a long and distinguished history both with search and rescue and anti-submarine warfare being the former operating base of the now-retired Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Kinloss is now an Army Barracks albeit still retains a useable runway with the first two RAF P-8A Poseidon aircraft operating from the base while the final upgrades are completed at RAF Lossiemouth.
The history of Morayvia goes back to 2011 to continue the work started by the Nimrod Heritage Group to preserve the last Nimrod Airframe XV244. Through a significant amount of work over a number of years the museum officially opened to the public in October 2015 and has continued to grow providing an excellent visitor attraction in the north of Scotland.
As soon we arrived in the Morayvia carpark the search and rescue connection with the area was clear with several distinctive yellow RAF helicopters visible and numerous pieces of artwork and plaques both outside and in the main foyer into the museum.
The displays inside were nothing short of fantastic including numerous aircraft cockpits and also an impressive recreation of a helicopter search and rescue crew and briefing room. The authenticity was incredible and it literally looks like the old briefing room at RAF Lossiemouth was literally just picked up and placed in the museum.
For anyone who remembers the classic 13-part documentary series called RESCUE which was aired in 1990, this series followed the Lossiemouth-based RESCUE 137 from 202 Sqn over a course of a year with a number of challenging incidents including the Piper Alpha disaster. There’s a special display within Morayvia for this TV show including a framed vinyl record of the theme tune -something which still to this day I routinely play on YouTube and brings back some wonderful memories from our younger aviation days.
Inside also hosts some excellent displays including aircrew survival equipment, radio equipment and machinery and a fantastic display of Nimrod consoles and anti-submarine warfare technology both past and relatively present.
The displays inside are brilliant but the real fun comes when you venture outside onto the ‘dispersal’ and take a look at the wide variety of aircraft on display including a fully preserved RAF Search and Rescue Sea King, two Westland Wessex Helicopters, a Westland Whirlwind, a Jaguar and numerous cockpits including a Lightning, Valiant B1 and Vulcan B2. And no display here would be complete without the full cockpit and large section of the venerable Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
What is unique about the museum is the vast majority of the aircraft are open for the public to enter and explore at their leisure. Climbing into the Westland Wessex aircraft brought back so many memories thanks to the distinctive smell which can only be found in a military helicopter. Hanging out the side door you start to imagine and visualise all the things the aircraft must have been involved in and all the things the aircrews must have seen and experienced.
It’s all too easy to look at an aircraft as a mechanical machine but we always want to find out more about the history of each airframe – where it came from, where it’s been and what it’s been involved in. Each aircraft in the museum has information boards to highlight the rich history of each airframe for those who want to learn more.
As well as the aircraft being open to the public, the museum is also staffed by a small army of volunteers, many of whom are retired Royal Air Force who flew in many of the aircraft types on display. This adds the most unique aspect of the Morayvia experience as the retired crews are still passionate about aviation and get a lot of enjoyment speaking with visitors about the aircraft and talking through the various controls and onboard systems.
The highlight of this trip for us however was without a doubt entering the Nimrod The highlight of this trip for us however was without a doubt entering the Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The front of the display aircraft is fully intact including some of the onboard monitoring stations and weapons systems positions as well as the crew area and cockpit. Entering the rear of the aircraft, we seen a retired pilot in full flight suit talking to a family with a couple of young children and answering the basic questions you would expect.
A couple of minutes later, the family left to explore the rest of the museum and we ventured into the cockpit. The retired pilot started chatting through some of the basic cockpit controls as he had no doubt done hundreds of times. Early on in the conversation we dropped in a few comments to subtly show we weren’t the average visitors and had more in-depth knowledge into military aviation than many may expect. It was at this stage his eyes lit up as he realised we weren’t overly interested in learning where the throttle controls were, we wanted to know the war stories.
For the next hour and a half, we were sitting in the cockpit listening to some incredible Cold War stories of cat and mouse as the Nimrods flew almost constantly out of RAF Lossiemouth hunting Russian submarines. Naturally the specifics were omitted from the stories but the general theme was one of secret missions lasting many hours, spending days and numerous flights tracking the one sub contact with rotating aircraft and skimming over the water at low level taking photos from a distance.
As we left the Nimrod, we had a new appreciation for the Cold War sub hunting sorties having heard about them from someone who was there, while sitting in the cockpit of one of the key aircraft types involved.
We can’t help but wonder what it must have been like in and around RAF Lossiemouth during these peak times. No doubt the local aviation enthusiasts would have had a good handle on what was happening, and no doubt so did the Russians, but this was back in the time prior to the Internet and the military radio aviation groups and communities we now know today.
As with all good museums the visit ended in the gift shop which was an absolute dream for the aviation enthusiast with aircrew patches, aviation mugs, key rings, air fix models, aircraft prints and just about everything else you could possibly want. Be warned though if you take your wallet with you it will likely take a bit of damage before you leave.
Amongst our many purchases was a limited-edition RAF 202Sqn Search and Rescue gin which now sites pride and place as part of our extensive array of aviation memorabilia and will likely never be opened. We did also buy several Airfix model kits which we have thus far been unable to build.
One of these kits was the Red Arrows Gnat starter kit which was actually signed when we paid for it by a former Red Arrows Gnat pilot who was volunteering in the museum on the day of our visit and was in full flight gear. This, like the gin, will likely never actually be opened but preserved given its historic significance.
We left Morayvia with a renewed passion for military aviation. It had been some years since we were able to visit any air shows but the combination of authentic displays, a fantastic range of aircraft and our Nimrod experience made this a trip to remember for many years to come.
We fully intend to revisit RAF Lossiemouth and surrounding area at some stage this year once lockdown is eased to capture the first two P-8A Poseidon aircraft and we will without a doubt be repaying a visit back to Morayvia.
If you are visiting the north of Scotland for any reason then we would absolutely recommend adding Morayvia to your list of things to do and places to visit – you’ll not be disappointed.
Find out more at: https://www.morayvia.org.uk