The Aviation and Aerospace Archives Initiative

The Aviation and Aerospace Archives Initiative


Notes on the original aviation archives project


These notes are based on those originally compiled by Tim Powell in 2016 to aid initial discussions, and have been subsequently amended following contributions from Alex Ritchie (formerly TNA), Peter Elliott (formerly RAF Museum), Alison Turton (Business Archives Council), and others.

1. Definition

“The aviation industry deals with all-things aircraft-related within the earth's atmosphere. These dealings include the design, manufacture and operation of many types of aircraft within this airspace. While the aerospace industry also designs and manufactures various forms of aircraft, the industry, as a whole, extends beyond operations within the earth's atmosphere and conducts aircraft operations in space.”

Houston Chronicle website at: (accessed 3 December 2018).

A suggested definition would therefore encompass archives relating to the design, manufacture and operation of aircraft flying within and beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

2. The need and potential

The historical importance of aviation and aerospace industries to the UK and globally, both military and civil.

The current importance of aviation and aerospace industries to the UK’s manufacturing and R&D base.Current research in this area, e.g. King’s College London, offers partnership opportunities  (Are there also opportunities for international partnerships given the current international character of the sector?)

The importance of this area for the heritage industry.  There are many aviation, aerospace and aircraft museums or related sections/displays within science/technology/transport museums and a few archives dedicated to aviation records keeping.

Contemporary business are often not mindful of archives.

Managing and promoting archives can often come second to managing and promoting artefacts within museums and other heritage organisations.

There are a good number of potential holders of archives outside established major centres, e.g. provincial and local museums, smaller airports, societies and enthusiast groups and individuals, people who worked in the industry.

There is a large group of potential archive users due to the number of aviation historians and enthusiasts in both the military and civil spheres.

3. Project aims

To map existing archive documentation of aviation and aerospace research, development, manufacturing and operation in the UK. (NB This is a huge sector and it may be best to take a phased approach looking at e.g. at aeroplane manufacture first and moving on to parts manufacture, research and design and operation). 

Surveys, in the experience of BAC, promote archive preservation by making the owners of the archives more aware of their historical significance and value and encourage research use by bona fide historians.

To identify significant gaps in existing documentation and develop approaches to fill them.

To create new partnerships and strengthen existing ones (e.g. Science Museum).

To advise on good record-keeping practice appropriate to the audience (e.g. business, amateur-led society, individual, museum) with a view to ensuring archive preservation into the future.

To highlight and publicise resources available for research, possibly through an online ‘Guide’.

4. Results

Enhanced knowledge of the archival record of aviation and aerospace and the heritage of individual players in the sector.

Better record-keeping  – both preservation and documentation - in present and future

Identification of archives at risk and provision of relevant support to owners.Develop awareness of importance and potential value of their archives and heritage amongst leading UK businesses.

Open up research possibilities by signposting related archives in private ownership and in the care of national, county, university, specialist, community and other archives.

Create opportunities for academic partnerships for future sectorial engagement.

Create a model for future engagement with other technological industries (e.g. computer and software industries).

Create a model for future output from mapping work.

5. Potential partners

Established aviation and science and technology focused museums, aviation focused societies and other heritage bodies; professional bodies; companies, individual pioneers and workers, archives holding records, individual enthusiasts, and airports.