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Easter Holiday Workshop 'Aircraft' and Museum trip

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Workshop objectives

  • To introduce students to some local Clacton history

  • To build a beginners model of a P-51 Mustang and Focke Wulf 190

  • To visit a museum where the P-51 and FW 190 are displayed

  • To form a connection with the plans we build and the real thing

This was my favourite Holiday workshop as it combined the building, painting and direct connection with local history that really get's children thinking and curious to know more.

The day started with a small video, linked below:

...about the tragic story of Flight Officer Raymond King and the ditching of 'Little Zippie' the P-51 Mustang that he flew and an explanation of why P-51 Mustangs were flying across to Germany during the war. The 436th Fighter Squadron that Raymond King was a part of had recently changed from P-38 Lightning fighter

s to P-51 Mustangs. They were wary of the aircraft because of its single engine compared to their twin engine Lightnings. The range of

the P-51 was similar but the overall performance was better and more successful in the European theatre than the P-38.

The students were then given beginner level P-51 Mustangs and FW 190s to build. Using Aluminium spray paint, the students who chose the P-51 sprayed the fuselage to give it a more authentic metal look. They found reading the instructions hard as most had never made a plastic model kit before. However, despite difficulties many were making progress by the time break at 10.30 arrived.

Some of the more experienced model builders did find the Revell instructions somewhat challenging as the went into enormous detail about the mixing of paints with percentages of three paints labelled and a numerous amount of paints required, many of which were difficult to find. Time being limited, we simplified a few things. I was conscious of need to get on and finish the painting so we had some time to put the decals on.

Being 1:72 scaled models, they had a few very tiny pieces. I only had two pairs of tweezers so I am now in the process of purchasing plenty of tweezers to help with the fiddler pieces. The joystick that he pilot holds, for instance, is only half a millimetre wide and less than a centimetre long needing to fit into a tiny hole in the tiny cockpit.

By lunch time, most had finished the cockpit, fuselage and wings with some beginning to paint. When lunch was called many wanted to stay behind to finish their models. It became apparent that more time was needed before taking the trip to the museum in order to finish the painting and application of the decals.

The application of the decals is a skill in itself and it became apparent that about half an hour of explanation would be required. Half an hour didn't really exist at that point. The three adults did what they could with children who thought they were just stickers that they could peel off. I had to keep reminding them that the decals only come of with soaking them in water. Since this workshop, I have made a small video to explain how to apply decals. There are a few very crucial things such as realising that the decals are on an adhesive paper. Moving them around too much remove the adhesive and therefore lessens the chance that they will stick permanently.

At 12.30 we readied ourselves to leave for the East Essex Aviation Museum. The models were still not entirely finished but at least all of the pieces were stuck together. I am always most excited when the decals are finally applied. That is when the model starts to really look like the actual thing. It was clear that we needed a bit more time after the museum trip and I had hoped that we got back for 3.00pm. This was not to be.

We set out for the museum with a full minibus.

The very obliging driver, Fred, was told, mistakenly, that there were five students. By the time we all filed in, all fifteen seats were taken as there were 11 students with an extra child who joined us for the museum trip and 3 adults.

Two students made some polystyrene planes of a P-51 and a Stuka Dive bomber whilst driving to the museum.

However, when launched outside the museum, their look exceeded their ability to fly. Dive bomber turned into Kamikazi bomber and the P-51 ditched rather that flew straight and true.

After 20 minutes or so, we arrived at the Martello tower which is the building housing the museum.

The Martello tower is a building of historical interest in itself and as we looked at all the museum pieces, one is struck by how little of the interior of the building has changed with low ceilings and various parts described to us such as the powder magazine room where everyone who entered back when it defended our shores were to wear special gloves and soft boots to stop any chance of the powder igniting from a spark.

The greeting was brilliant with three of the Museum staff dressing up in military uniforms. They showed us the World War 2 weapons such as the Tompson machine gun (Tommie gun), the Lee Enfield 303 rifle, the LMG or Bren Gun and a Swiss heavy machine gun on a tripod.

To the left there is a demonstration of loading an LMG (light machine gun).

Below is one of the students loading the Tompson Machine Gun. To the right the staff member is passing the LMG to a student.

Our main purpose of the visit was to see the P-51 Mustang that had been raised in 1987 from it's resting place just off Clacton beach on that fateful day of 13th January, 1945 where Flight officer Raymond King had to ditch his aircraft and subsequently died after trying to swim to the shore. Therefore, we split into two groups, older children and younger children.

Albert, a very spritely 91 year old, showed us the P-51 and talked us through some of his memories. He was actually at Clacton throughout the war not being evacuated as many children were. He saw the P-51 come down and knew that Raymond King managed to get to the pier but died of Hypothermia just before he was saved by the local lifeboat. Whilst standing next to the P-51 some students were really inspired by this story.

He also explained that he witnessed a bomb bounce down Oxford Road and destroy what he hoped was his school but no such luck. It destroyed a garage instead. The bombers were the FW 190 fighter bombers that we had built during the morning workshop.

Apparently, the would fly so low and drop their bombs so low that they bounced before exploding into a building.

Albert was also an electrical engineer on Mosquito fighter bombers after the war as well as Gloucester Meteors (Britain's first Jet fighters). Above is a picture of him next to the Meteor.

Above is a picture (not a great one) of the machine guns that were found in the wreckage of the P-51. There were six of these built into the wings (three on each side). Apparently, when they were recovered they were still in working order and had to be made safe by the police before they were given back to the salvagers. All the original ammunition was still loaded and fitted into the guns. Additionally, in this picture you can see a student studying a Pratt and Witney R-2800 radial engine from an American P47 Thunderbolt. There are 18 cylinders in two rows of 9 each producing and insane amount of power. Depending on the variant, they produced between 1500 to 2500 horse power. Below is a Pratt and Witney (B series)R-2800 -21. Note it is next to a bomber because this was a very versatile and popular engine used in many US aircraft.

Many of the students wanted to explore the museum as it had many interesting museum pieces. Unfortunately, we didn't really have enough time. I think another trip to explore other aspects of this wonderful museum is in order.

Next, we were taken upstairs to be given a demonstration of one of the jobs of an Air Raid Warden. The German bombers would sometimes drop incendiary bombs. These are small bomblets that produce a burning phosphorus chemical which is very hard to put out. It was used for two reasons. The first was to light the way for other bombers bombing at night, the second was to catch alight buildings producing a cost effective destruction to the city they were destroying.

After our interesting and informative tours with the museum staff we returned to the outside and got the guns and rifles out. The students, more relaxed now, began to get more and more curious about all these weapons, taking them and aiming them and pretend loading them and unloading rounds. Then it was time to jump back onto our minibus back to the workshop.

Back at the Pier Avenue Baptist Church Hall, many still wanted to finish their models. We didn't really have much time but some managed to paint and apply decals to their models. Below are some of the results:


This was the fulfilment of a long held belief about education that it is really very, very important to give students the chance to connect the rather sterile environment and sanitised subject matter in a classroom with the world they are to emerge into as adults. That connection, I felt was achieved in this workshop. I am so grateful for the East Essex Aviation Museum for putting on such a show and the museum itself is a treasure chest of history.

The only thing I would change would be the time we were able to spend on the models and in the Museum. It was a great balance of an activity with a trip that combined what they have been learning about with real-life historical artefacts bring it to life. I particularly liked having Albert there as a person who actually experienced the drama of the war in the very place we live.

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