Two large aeroplane wheels and tyres which have been on display at the Manx Aviation and Military Museum for many years are to leave the island to be used in the reconstruction of a historic aircraft.
Before being donated to the museum the wheels had been stored in a hangar at Ronaldsway ever since 1945 and one of them still contains the air which was pumped into it almost 70 years ago.
It has never been used and still faintly bears the delivery address: ‘RNAS Ronaldsway, Isle of Man’.
RNAS stands for Royal Naval Air Station and RNAS Ronaldsway was one of the Royal Navy’s main bases for training aircrew in dropping bombs and torpedoes on enemy vessels during the final years of the Second World War.
The aircraft that they used was the Fairey Barracuda, and more than 100 of them were operating at Ronaldsway from mid-1944 to the end of 1945.
They were flying 24 hours a day and the constant noise was the subject of numerous complaints from the residents of Castletown and the coastal areas bordering the bombing ranges which were out at sea.
Barracudas remained in service until the early 1950s but every last one had been scrapped by 1960.
Hundreds of Fleet Air Arm aircrew trained at Ronaldsway and a number of them died in crashes in the sea off the island’s east coast.
Many of these young men went down with their aircraft and their bodies were never recovered. The Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton in Somerset is home to Europe’s largest collection of naval aircraft, including parts of one which was used on the Ben-my-Chree in the First World War after she had been converted into an aircraft carrier.
The museum has been collecting pieces of Barracudas for many years with the intention of recreating a complete aircraft. Staff have searched Royal Navy stores and private collections and recovered parts of crashed Barracudas from Scottish mountains, Irish bogs and under the sea.
The complicated process of rebuilding has recently started and, before too long, an example of this extinct aircraft will be completed and on display at Yeovilton. After hearing that the museum had embarked on rebuilding a Barracuda, Ivor Ramsden, director of the Ronaldsway-based Aviation and Military Museum, contacted Yeovilton to offer them the wheels and also a Barracuda pilot’s seat found at Ronaldsway many years ago during building work at the airport fire station.
The offer was accepted and plans are being made to collect the parts by helicopter as part of a training exercise.
Ivor said: ‘We debated for some time about letting these unique relics of the island’s aviation history go but we decided that it would be far better for them to be incorporated into an aeroplane once again than for them to remain with us.
‘It will leave us without any relics of an actual Ronaldsway Barracuda but the Fleet Air Arm Museum has promised us some “swaps” of some other interesting Barracuda parts.’
He added: ‘I’m sure loads of people will want to take advantage of this last chance to look at a pair of genuine Fairey Barracuda wheels before they leave the island for good.’
He went on: ‘There’s a lot more to see at the museum, which most visitors compare to Doctor Who’s Tardis because it seems much bigger on the inside than it appears from outside. In fact there’s something of interest to everybody and our visitors often tell us what an amazing place it is.’