The Aviation and Aerospace Archives Initiative

Notes of previous meetings


General meeting 15 April 2019

General meeting 12 November 2018

    Conference subcommittee 28 May 2019

    Documentation subcommittee 13 June 2019

General meetings

Aviation & Aerospace Archives meeting, Brooklands Museum, 15 April 2019

Present: Chris Bartlett (Rochester Avionics Archive), Peter Davison (Aviation Heritage UK), Malcolm Fillmore (Air Britain Trust), Nina Hadaway (RAF Museum), Andrew Lewis (Brooklands Museum), Howard Mason (BAE Systems), Steve Mitchell (Air Britain Trust), Tony Pilmer (National Aerospace Library and Royal Aeronautical Society), Tim Powell (The National Archives, TNA), Mike Rogers (TNA), Geoff Russell (Leonardo and the Helicopter Museum), Philippa Turner (TNA), Alison Turton (Business Archives Council).

Apologies: Amy Adams and Barbara Gilbert (Fleet Air Arm Museum), Anne Locker (IET)

1. Introductions. 

2. Background. 

2.1 As a number of participants had not been at the previous meeting, TPo and TPi gave an account of the background to the initiative.  The main goals were to create a network that would bring together people with an interest and responsibility in the area of AAA and provide a platform to champion the role of archives in aviation and aerospace heritage.

2.2 There had been progress since the previous meeting, including the website which, though not yet widely publicised, would be the central source for ongoing information about the initiative:

3. Aviation and Aerospace Archives Conference

3.1 As the event, planned for October 2019 at Aerospace Bristol, would clash with an AHUK event at the same venue and in the same month, it had been agreed to seek a postponement.  TPi confirmed that the funding from the Royal Aeronautical Society Foundation to support this event could be held over.

3.2 PD reported that he had a positive response from AHUK members to the initiative and the idea of the conference (some 40/100 had actively expressed an interest).  He noted that the initiative would support AHUK’s attempt to encourage a more professional approach to heritage issues and that as archives were often given lower priority than artefacts, it would be good to encourage best practice.  With the conference to be postponed, however, it was important that the initiative maintained momentum in order to retain the interest of AHUK members. 

3.3 HM said that we need to define what we hope the conference is to achieve.  A wide-ranging set of contributions suggested it should act as an introduction to good practice in care for archives; the start of a network to exchange knowledge, ideas and advice; offer inspiration on how archives can enhance museums’ and interest groups’ offer to the public; and introduce and explain the initiative’s surveying work and guidance. 

3.4 There was some discussion of the conference structure and the possibilities of bringing in examples from other transport heritage.  The format envisaged included a high-profile keynote speaker, with case-study contributions from practitioners on particular themes (an example given was Brooklands Museum and volunteering).

3.5 Action: a conference subcommittee to make arrangements, in consultation with the wider group.  To comprise: TPi, PD, HM, TPo.

4. Aviation and Aerospace Archives Survey

4.1 AT said that the Business Archives Council had in the past found that surveys of the archives of specific business sectors helped to preserve archives and encourage their research use and the Council backed the idea of a survey encompassing archives of aviation and aerospace companies.  Following the first meeting she had made an initial investigative survey of the signposted historical records of past and present British aircraft manufacturing companies, using information already available through Discovery ( and other online sources.  She had produced a spreadsheet identifying 97 manufacturers which showed that for many no archival information was available.  She would circulate this spreadsheet to interested members of the group to comment on and contribute information.

4.2 It was agreed that surveying was a useful approach and one that would feed into other potential aspects of the work such as the creation of a network for the exchange of information, and identifying points where the provision of guidance was most useful.

4.3 HM said it was important to clarify what information was required from the survey to meet use cases and there was discussion on the scope of surveying and the detail to be sought.  It was agreed that it would be desirable to extend it in future to areas such as, for example, airline operators.  This could be done stage by stage over time. 

4.4 While there was support for surveying at a detailed level, it was recognised that any detailed survey would require the employment of a dedicated project archivist.  PD noted that in isolation a detailed survey might alarm smaller institutions and individual owners into thinking the information was being sought to try to remove collections from them.  He suggested that as a starting point and introduction, smaller owners could be invited to give their ten most significant archive holdings.

4.5 NH said a high-level survey would allow later drilling down to more detailed information, perhaps undertaken as separate projects by specific groups.

4.6 MF stressed the importance of providing information on location and content in order to facilitate research access, and consideration of detailed surveying moved discussion into the broader challenges of organising and cataloguing material.  Issues includes handling of printed and duplicate material, appraisal, cataloguing fields and depth of information, and handling confidential or sensitive material. 

4.7 TPi summed up by noting there were several strands emerging from the discussion: a high-level survey to ascertain where the principal records sets were; more detailed surveys, eg. on specific aircraft types perhaps through channels similar to the existing Facebook pages; and cataloguing archives to produce detailed records.  NH added that a fourth strand might be active mapping to create links between resources through sign-posting. 

Action: a survey subcommittee to look at the scope and level of surveying, in consultation with the wider group. To comprise: AT, NH.

5. Archives Guidance

5.1 The meeting agreed on the need for entry-level, easily understood, archives advice tailored to the needs of smaller organisations and individuals holding aviation and aerospace archives, both those held specifically in connection with artefacts and those acquired as independent collections.

5.2 It was agreed that the provision of such advice would enable such owners to curate their archives better, provide them with information as where to seek more detailed advice, and to reassure them that there was no intention to remove archives from them.

5.3 Although much guidance was already in existence, it tended either to be too detailed or tailored for specific audiences.  An important aspect of aviation and aerospace heritage was the close linkage between archives and artefacts.

5.4 TPo suggested that The National Archives’ Excel-based Manage Your Collections (MYC) template could be used as a basis for giving advice on structuring archival descriptions: 

AT noted there would be the need for assistance in using the template and TPo thought that if there was sufficient interest the MYC team might be able to give a specific workshop for the sector.

5.5 Action: a guidance subcommittee to look at existing guidance and how it could be adapted for the needs of aviation and aerospace archives, in consultation with the wider group. To comprise: MR, MF, AL and Barry Guess of BAE Systems.

6. Next Steps

6.1 It was agreed that the three subcommittees would report in 2 months.  Participants would then discuss whether to hold another meeting of the wider group.   HM offered Farnborough as a venue for that meeting.

6.2 TPo said he would write up the draft notes for circulation and convene the next meeting if required.  He would circulate names and email addresses as all present had indicated they were happy to have these details shared within the group.

The meeting thanked Peter Davison and the Brooklands Museum for arranging the venue and the proceedings closed at 15.55.

Aviation & Aerospace Archives meeting, Leonardo Helicopters, Yeovil, 12 November 2018


EW Emily Weeks                            

GR Geoff Russell

TP Tim Powell

TPilm Tony Pilmer

AT Alison Turton

BG Barbara Gilbert

CC Catherine Cooper

MR Mike Rogers

PD Peter Davidson


Elfan Ap Rees


1. TP discussed the background to TNA involvement. Five year cycle of interest in science/tech project. Previous suggestion of survey of aviation/aerospace records but approach not favourable despite appetite amongst aviation/aerospace community. However, previous success had with similar approach to maritime records.

 Desire to promote the UK’s international contribution to aviation/aerospace, plus increased public interest owing to RAF 100 and industry giants. It is recognised that some collections are vulnerable.

RAeS has provided some funding for a conference.

Opening question: what is the end game? What direction should this go in?

2. PD expressed concern that there is a lack of knowledge about collections content in the UK. Also concern that community groups have varying standards of listings and collections care. The voluntary sector is wary of publicising in case of poaching by larger museums.

But there is interest in promoting best practice amongst community groups.

If RAeS not prepared to fund an aviation/aerospace archives initiative maybe look at HLF bid with their support.

Is there a requirement to have endorsement from the all-party parliamentary group on heritage?

3. There was discussion on the support that the RAeS might be able to give.

EW said local RAeS branches may be able to provide community groups with support. Yeovil Branch were very active and supportive of Leonardo heritage.

TPilm said RAeS new Marketing Officer was keen to publicise lectures/podcasts etc. and the new RAeS CEO is an aviation historian.  There is an opportunity to work with the RAeS Foundation to fund an initiative.

4. PD

‘Lighter than Air’ initiative.

Important that organisations are aware of ways to offer free benefits in order to retain charitable status.


Importance of volunteers. Often sceptical of large museums.

BAE/Rolls-Royce have well-developed heritage activities, which are hard for smaller groups to emulate. Large organisations can help guide: eg examples of easy wins (free parking, coffee and cake!)

STEM is nationally important and perhaps a way in for an aviation/aerospace archives initiative, especially as it can use volunteers. Also see dementia-friendly projects.

Next steps

  • Circulate AHUK meeting notes. PD
  • Create initial website. TP
  • Commenting on TP’s draft notes on the background to the initiative - the need for the project and its definition, aims and deliverables (and closely related to this)
  • More specifically feedback on what the organisations we represent would want to see coming out of the project.
  • Arrange next meeting: early March 2019. TP
  • Suggestions for name. All


  • Set up conference committee. TPilm, Aerospace Bristol, TNA, AHUK
  • Delegates drawn from mapping of initial industry/manufacturers and AHUK members list. AT, PD
  • Ideas for contributors/case studies/keynote speakers.  All