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The Aeroplane Collection (TAC) is a registered charity based at Hooton Park in Ellesmere Port, North West of England. It is made up of 35 members that dedicate their time to restoring classic aircraft and artefacts for static display.

Hooton Park, previously RAF Hooton Park, is managed by The Hooton Park Trust, a not-for-profit organisation. It has a long history and association with aircraft, both military and civil and is a fitting location for the charity to be based. The Trust’s objective is to restore and preserve the World War One aircraft hangars and other buildings on the site and TAC is fully committed to supporting this. With increased visitor numbers coming to Hooton Park, there is a potential to generate more interest in TAC’s restoration work and encourage increased participation in preserving our aviation heritage and history.

Keeping history alive

One of the key challenges for the charity is to source missing aircraft and engine parts. Once these parts have been obtained, full restorations can be achieved, so that future generations can see and understand how flight has developed. In many instances the required parts are either impossible to source or incredibly costly. As a charity, TAC’s income comes largely from the members’ subscriptions and is very limited, so there was a need to find either, other sources of funding, or an alternative approach to the restoration work.

Runway to a different way of working

As a way of raising awareness of the work TAC carries out, the charity attends local events to showcase some of its key pieces. While attending the Parkgate Festival earlier in the year with a restored cockpit for people to ‘have a go’ in, John Morris, a member of TAC, spotted an advertisement for Innovation to Commercialisation’s (I2C) forthcoming 3D Printing Masterclass. With a background in IT and an interest in this type of technology, John was curious to find out what the project entailed and whether it would be able to assist TAC.

Upon contacting the University of Chester, John was taken through the eligibility criteria by the I2C Business Development Manager. It was quickly apparent that TAC met the criteria of this European Regional Development Funded (ERDF) project and was accepted on to the 3DPrinting Masterclass.

As a starting point, John and fellow member Stewart Turner attended the I2C’s 3D Printing Masterclass, a two-day session held at the Energy Centre at Thornton Science Park. The course reactivated an interest in 3D printing for John and highlighted the possible applications of the technology to TAC.   

John and Stewart recognised that 3D printing could be used to reproduce replacement aircraft parts, using damaged existing pieces, as it is capable of reproducing accurate prototypes in various colours and materials. This will be cheaper than sourcing a particular spare part and having to buy it outright. They also identified the possibility that 3D printing could be used to create scale 3D models for resale. A new software package, which would be appropriate to create virtual 3D designs, was also introduced to delegates who attended the masterclass.

Taking off in new directions

John has since gone on to attend the I2C’s Foundation Workshop, which has provided him with further ideas on how the charity could capitalise, not only on the applications of 3Dprinting, but also to improve some of its processes and procedures.

John Morris said: “I knew very little about 3D printing before coming here but I’m so glad I came. I have learned so much over the two days that will be a tremendous help to The Aeroplane Collection with its plans to restore old aircraft and engines.3D printing will really come into its own for the work we do, particularly where the spare parts are obsolete or very expensive to source. There is also potentially a more commercial benefit, where we can create scale 3D models of the aircraft to sell, to raise funds to progress our work.

He continued: “Another huge benefit of both these courses has been the opportunity to network with other businesses. I have made some great connections that might prove very important to the charity in the future.”

The Aeroplane Collection, along with other groups at Hooton Park including 201 Bus Group, Ellesmere Port Model Boat Club and The Griffin Trust, will be taking part in The Hooton Park Trust’s Heritage Open Days in September 2018. The Heritage Open Days offer the public the opportunity to visit the site, absorb the history and see the restoration work being carried out by the various groups. TAC is hoping to have put in place some of the learnings from I2Cbefore this event.

The I2C initiative was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund. SMEs registered or trading in Cheshire and Warrington, who met the eligibility criteria, were eligible to apply for support from the I2C project. Applicants had to have a turnover of less than €50 million and employ fewer than 250 employees. In addition to I2C’s in-house team of engineers and specialist equipment, SMEs that enrol in the project had access to the world-class facilities at the University of Chester, via its state-of-the-art skills, equipment and resources based at Thornton Science Park and the NoWFOOD Centre in Chester.

The I2C project has now finished but if you are a business looking for access to facilities and expert growth support, please contact the University of Chester’s Business Growth team either by visiting, emailing or you can call 01244 512 477.