Museum

The first thing we noticed when the huge corrugated door rolled aside was the darkness.

‘Will there be enough light to take photos?’ I asked. The dismissive tone of the ‘Yes’ discouraged further enquiry and made the answer ambiguous: ‘Yes, there will’ or ‘Yes, take photos anyway, it doesn’t matter to us whether they come out or not’. Perhaps both were true.

All the exhibits were visibly shabby, as if they had just been decommissioned from active service; their chips, scratches and dents being some measure of the length and severity of that service. We queried each other: ‘Where do you think they found all these?’

The selection was vast and varied, with some craft so unusual that I doubted if any others of their kind existed. All of them faced us with defiant unfamiliarity. Try to imagine you–like me–are devoted to the classification of aircraft, with the confidence that your knowledge covers all the aerial transport in the world: in reality; in books; close up; far away; in airports and shows; in peacetime and wartime and you find that, somehow, those in this hangar have been left out of all the records, and now here they are before you, claiming by their existence a place in aircraft history, in spite of your supposed knowledge. The picture, which you imagined complete–even hermetic–in its entirety, with genealogies and family relationships carefully mapped out, has suddenly been dramatically shattered. Worse still, behind it all is the disturbing possibility of others–as yet undiscovered–that may never come to light.

Our cameras clicked, the raw blue-white flashes temporarily bleaching out the significance of these shabby, patched-up outsiders.

‘Are there any others?’ we asked timidly, hoping there weren’t. They smiled politely, but made no reply. As we left, I noticed some of them laughing like children, behind their hands.