The Aviation and Aerospace Archives Initiative

Notes of previous meetings


General meeting, 16 September 2019

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,  NAL, Farnborough, 16 September 2019

    Present: Tim Powell (The National Archives (TNA) Chair), Malcolm Fillmore (Air Britain Trust), Andrew Lewis (Brooklands Museum), Howard Mason (BAE Systems), Steve Mitchell (Air Britain Trust), Tony Pilmer (National Aerospace Library and Royal Aeronautical Society), Mike Rogers (TNA), Philippa Turner (TNA), Alison Turton (Business Archives Council), Chris Bartlett (Rochester Avionics Archive), Stefanie Vincent (Aerospace Bristol).

     1.     Apologies

     Nina Hadaway (RAF Museum), Peter Davison (Aviation Heritage UK), Anne Locker (IET), Lucy Bonner (IMechE), Geoff Russell (Leonardo/Helicopter Museum), Barry Guess (BAE Systems).

     2 and 3. Notes of meeting of 15 April 2019 and matters arising

     Following introductions it was agreed that there were no matters arising that would not be covered under subsequent agenda items relating to the progress of the three sub-committees that had been set up at the last meeting.

     4. Report of survey sub-committee

     AT set out the background to the survey proposal that had been circulated, noting that the initial internet-based research had found almost 100 past and present UK aircraft manufacturers.

     It would need to be refined with support from the expertise on the committee, but a relatively small and easily defined area of aviation archives had been identified which could be surveyed; a survey potentially undertaken by a few volunteers as a desk-based project without requiring any budget, providing that it was supported by the principal archive holders.

     The diversity and scale of the sector made chunking any surveying activity down in this way a sensible approach. SM offered support in identifying manufacturers, key publications and specialists.

     After some discussion it was agreed that the scope of the survey itself should not extend to definitive histories or bibliographies, but should rather create a basic infrastructure that would support researchers (rather than doing their work for them) and could be added to incrementally going forward.  The value of linking to published research was noted and marked as a distinct project to be considered once the framework of the survey was established and its principal fields populated.

    HM drew attention to the significant heritage information on BAE System’s website and noted that usefully summarising their archive holdings would be challenging due to their scale and nature.

     SV asked whether funding could be sought but, as there were no obvious funding avenues, it was hoped that the survey could be begun without budget with the support of archive holders and sufficient volunteers. The survey findings could then be published online in a way in which they could be added to and updated.

     AT noted that a key benefit of the survey would be to bring together virtually scattered archives that are currently little known and that it would also offer an opportunity for smaller archive holders to contribute.

     It was agreed that the proposed survey was worth pursuing and that at this stage it should focus on identifying the manufacturers and their archives. The sub committee was asked to determine how the initiative could be progressed, based on volunteer effort and robust central editorial activity to ensure consistency.

    5. Report of documentation sub-committee

    MR reported that the documentation sub-committee had met in May with a view to creating guidance that would be helpful to anyone looking after a collection of aviation archives.

     A first draft of a suite of guidance had been created (and was circulated at the meeting) based on similar guidance TNA had produced for holders of religious archives, though being adapted for the distinct audience.  The proposal was to issue it electronically as a whole or in part as required.

     A number of suggestions were made:

    that the content should offer clarity around best practice advice rather than simply setting out options (MF)
  • that the content could be simplified around the three archive service accreditation areas (AT)
  • that sections should be added on export control, declassification and contributing to the survey initiative (HM)
  • that practical examples of, for example, deposit forms, might usefully be included (TPi).

It was agreed that the guidance was set at the right level and would be very helpful. The documentation sub-committee was asked to work toward launching the guidance at the conference in February.

 6. Report of conference sub-committee

 TPi reported that the conference was now planned for Aerospace Bristol on 12 February 2020. The intended audience was holders of aviation archives, large and small, and the objective to highlight the national importance of such archives and to inspire new developments in the sector.

 A few speakers had been confirmed, including historian Prof David Edgerton, to focus on archives as sources, and Ally McConnell, on the Dowty archives web initiative at Gloucestershire Archives, but others were still to be approached or to confirm.  It was also suggested that more time needed to be given to introduce the Initiative and its activities.

 The ambition was to offer a number of diverse case studies in the afternoon session. AL agreed to contribute on a recent volunteers project at Brooklands Museum and SV to provide an archive tour afterwards and to identify someone from Aerospace Bristol to welcome attendees (although she would herself be on maternity leave at that time).  The conference subcommittee would work on finalising the programme.

 It was agreed that stall holders would be invited to show conservation and other relevant products and services, and that opportunities to illustrate and discuss the guidance and survey might also be offered in break times.

 The question of the conference cost was discussed and it was agreed that this should be minimal due to the financial support, which should be clearly publicised, from the Royal Aeronautical Society Foundation. Those signing up for attendance would be asked to provide initial information about their organisations, interests and contact details, and feedback would be sought after the event regarding what attendees might find useful in the future.  There was discussion as to how to encourage useful feedback, options including a hard-copy form, an online form, and an interactive system called a mentimeter (PT).  The conference subcommittee were asked to look at the options.

 PT suggested that given that the conference was not too far into the future that at least a ‘save the date’ note should be circulated. AT noted that it was important to reach the right target audience and it was noted that Peter Davison might be able to help with this. PT undertook to prepare initial information including a note on the intended audience for potential attendees.  It was agreed that once this was ready it should be circulated via relevant channels as soon as possible.  AAAI members would be asked to assist with this.

 7. Any other business

 Website: TPo noted that the Initiative should consider having a better web presence in place prior to the conference. The AAAI was currently using the free version of the SimpleDifferent platform, but would benefit from a more flexible site and its own domain name. It was noted that a platform like advertisement-free Wordpress, with its own domain name, though easy to establish, would incur costs to set up, though ongoing costs thereafter would be small.  

 Branding: MF noted that as part of this revamp the Initiative probably also needed to create a distinctive brand and a more permanent title.  He suggested this new title should include the word ‘National’. SV undertook to ask her organisation’s IT team if it could help with creating such a site and also to set up a JISC mail discussion group for the initiative once a new name was agreed.

 TPo asked for ideas to be sent to him suggesting a more permanent title for the initiative.

TPo thanked those present for attending and the members of the subcommittees for their particular contributions.  The next meeting would be called prior to the conference in February.

 The meeting closed at 1pm.

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 sup