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The Highland Aviation Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time in May 2005. Occupying a plot on the business estate next to Inverness Airport, seven miles north east from Inverness, the museum combines displays about the aviation heritage of the area with half a dozen aircraft that have been restored or are under restoration, and a similar number of nose sections of aircraft.
The museum's main building houses the reception and shop. Here you also find a number of models, plus life size figures in flying gear, ejector seats, the odd jet engine, and a series of displays. These include information about what started life as RAF Dalcross and its evolution into Inverness Airport. They also cover the stories of nearby RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth, which both remain military air bases. Among other topics covered are the life and exploits of Captain Ted Fresson, an early pioneer of air services in the Northern Highlands and Northern Isles.
Outside, anyone interested in post-war British aviation, and post-war British military aviation in particular, is in for a real treat. One of the particularly nice things about the Highland Aviation Museum is that visitors are actively encouraged to get "hands on" with many of the exhibits, and many of the cabins and cockpits can be viewed, explored or sat in.
Among the cockpits you can explore are those of a Blackburn Buccaneer S1 and, next door to it, an English Electric Lightning F1A, for decades one of the world's best and fastest fighters. As you squeeze into the cockpit of the Lightning, it is easy to understand its description by many pilots as an aircraft to be worn rather than entered: you strapped it on, you didn't get into it.
And then you imagine what it would be like at night over the North Sea, trying to intercept a Cold War Russian bomber using the guidance of the ground controller and a primitive radar in an aircraft with a range so short that it would be unable to return to its base unless you successfully met up with a friendly tanker for air to air refuelling.
Other aircraft to be explored include a Jet Provost trainer and a Super Dart Herald, which is more a "front half" than a nose section, and comes complete with some of the passenger seats.
Perhaps the most unusual aircraft on view is the nose section if a Vickers Valiant. This was the first and the least advanced of the three "V-Bombers" developed for the RAF during the immediate post-war years. It was also the least successful of them and first to retire from service, with the last squadron to fly the type disbanding in January 1965. Today the aircraft is close to total extinction, with just one complete airframe and four nose sections remaining in existence anywhere. The nose on view at the Highland Aviation Museum belonged to XD875. She was the last Valiant ever built, but was retired in November 1962 after an accident. She spent much of the next few decades at English air museums at Bruntingthorpe and at Newark before travelling north.
The opportunity to explore a Valiant therefore has true rarity value, though as with all cold war aircraft, you emerge wondering how the crew managed in an age when, apparently ergonomics had not been heard of, and certainly not applied.