Tall, tanned and looking at least a decade younger than his 82 years, Squadron Leader Brian Henwood (RAF retired) finished his flying career in 1995.
After 32 years of RAF service and a further nine years flying the Falcon DA20 with FR Aviation, in the latter stages of his career he was a display pilot with Jet Heritage, flying such iconic planes as Hunters and the Meteor NF11.
“My wife Pamela and I moved to Chichester in 1996. It was a city that appealed as we had both been evacuated here during the war. I stayed in Eastgate Square and Pamela was in South Mundham,” explained Brian, who last year became a volunteer staff guide at Tangmere Aviation Museum, having previously served as a volunteer driver with Contact 88 and St Wilfrid’s Hospice.
“I saw an advert in The Chichester Observer looking for volunteers and applied. I wish I had done it sooner,” he admitted. “I didn’t realise just how much pleasure and satisfaction was to be gained by meeting so many aviation enthusiasts and inquisitive newcomers to military aviation.
“Most of the volunteers are ex RAF or Army and some have been there a long time. We have a Hunter cockpit that people love to sit in and I usually get called over to explain the fine details to people,” he chuckled.
Telling me that there is now so much to see at the museum that it is quite common for people to come back the following day in order to take it all in, Brian is proud of how the museum continues to evolve.
“We do have a lot of old soldiers visiting, but it is popular with people of all ages. We have our Families Day on August 26 this year. There are stalls outside, so it has a festival feel.”
Located at the old RAF Tangmere airfield, famous for its service from 1916 through to the post-war years, the museum opened in 1982 to bring the UK’s military aviation heritage to life and as an educational resource. Showcasing a stunning collection of historic aircraft and aviation memorabilia dating back to the First World War, many of the displays are interactive. The NAFFI tea room offers a chance to catch your breath and the Home Front exhibits also give you pause for thought. Perhaps most importantly of all, the museum is also a memorial to the brave airmen and airwomen who gave their lives that we might be free.
As for his fellow volunteers, Brian has nothing but praise.
“The comradeship of the museum volunteers is wonderful. They really are a fantastic bunch and a social bunch, too,” he confirmed. “I’ve made some great new mates and I am very privileged to be associated with them.”
So what skills does he tell those saucer-eyed kids they will need in order to take to the skies?
With a twinkle in his eye he replied: “Good coordination and a modicum of intelligence.”
Further information: www.tangmere-museum.org.uk.