The Aviation and Aerospace Archives Initiative

Latest general meeting of the AAAI

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 Egerton, 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.