Warbirds Magazine reports the “return home” of the crash damaged Kestrel XS694 that has been languishing in the USA for many years. But the question is – coming home to where? The Wings Museum, who bought the airframe some years ago, are based in Balcombe Sussex and don’t have space in their agricultural building that is packed with their current display artefacts. The Warbirds report skirts over the huge elephant in the room that Wings Museum have plans to build a 10,000sqm warehouse to the South of Dunsfold aerodrome as part of their ambitious plans to move their museum from Sussex to Dunsfold.
A restored Kestrel would make an excellent centre piece to this new museum, but with supporters being asked for donations to help with the restoration it begs the question: what about the money earmarked to construct the new Museum? Professional estimates indicate there will be little change out of £10m to build the museum – and that’s without factoring in the operating costs. Half of the proposed museum space is destined to be telling the Dunsfold Story but so far the Kestrel appears to be the only item in their catalogue that has any link with Dunsfold.
XS694 is significant in Dunsfold’s history – especially in view of its role within the Tripartite Evaluation Squadron. However we already have the “evolution” P.1127 / Kestrel just up the road in Brooklands Museum’s collection – restored and displayed alongside their other Dunsfold exhibits: Harrier T.MK.52, Harrier GR.1, Hawker P.1127, Hunter F.Mk.51, Hawk Mk 50, and Hawker Snowblower.
We also have the original Dunsfold Park developer’s masterplan for the aerodrome that shows their proposed museum space earmarked in the new town square. (Update 2022: note the site owners have now sold the site so this proposal is no longer on the table).
Additional to this is the Reg Day Museum elsewhere on the airfield – this is the small personal collection of WWII memorabilia of the late Reg Day (Update 2022: the museum is no longer active and the collection is now in storage).
So it is difficult to see how the Wings Museum’s Kestrel in an empty mega warehouse off-site fits into any strategic plan to celebrate the history of Dunsfold Aerodrome. The Wings Museum have stated that their Kestrel is coming to Dunsfold soon but have been tight-lipped about their ambitions and how they are funding this radical expansion into a building the size of Duxford’s biggest hangar. For a museum that runs at a loss on an annual turnover of just £20,000 Wings appear to be promising a ready made home for their restored aircraft without any Dunsfold exhibits nor the business model to generate funds to run it.
Update 2022: Wings Museum have scaled down their planning application – They have halved the proposed floor area, and the sweeping roof design has been abandoned for a standard warehouse roof.
You can follow the progress of the restoration project on XS694 at the Wings Museum’s Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/wingskestrel/
Editor’s note: Wings were approached for comment but have not responded.