See inside England's North East Land Sea and Air Museum

Climb inside an Avro Vulcan, one of Britain's Cold War strategic bombers, see how an original de Havilland Trident looked in its day and more at NELSAM, the North East Land Sea and Air Museum.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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North East Land Sea and Air Museum

The North East Land Sea and Air Museum is a volunteer-run museum in Sunderland, UK, south of Newcastle and about and hour and a half from the Scottish border.

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As you enter the main hangar, you're transported back to England during WWII. 

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Main hangar

Being volunteer run, the NELSAM doesn't have the polish of the bigger, better-funded air museums in the UK, but that doesn't mean there aren't some gems. 

This is a UK-built Short 330 which flew out of various airports around the UK for different companies until a taxiing accident caused wing damage. 

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An Argentine FMA Pucará. I always thought these were rather fascinating, looking like a jet that someone forgot to attach jets to. 

This particular example was captured by British troops during the Falklands War.  

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Old chopper

An early-model Bristol Sycamore, itself an early helicopter.

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Training star

An early jet trainer, the T-33. This example spent most of its life in France.

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British-built, French-designed

This is the first Gazelle built by Westland in the UK, under license by the designer Aérospatiale. It spent most of its life in the UK, save a stint in Switzerland. It was restored by the museum. 

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Vampire in training

The beautiful twin-boom de Havilland Vampire. This is the trainer variant, similar to the one found at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

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WWII jet

The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet aircraft, and the only Allied jet to see combat during the war. This example was of the later F.8 variant, in service from the mid-50s to the early 70s. 

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Danish Hunter

The Hawker Hunter shows how just a few years of development moved jet aircraft design, from the Vampire and Meteor during the war, to this, shortly after. This example served the Royal Danish Air Force.

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French fighter-bomber

This Dassault Mystere is of the same era as the British fighters as the previous slide, though far more rare. Where they were built in the thousands, only a few hundred were made of these. This example was based in Algiers. 

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50's American

Keeping with the theme, this is an F-86 Thunderstreak, designed and built in the early 1950's. They saw service in the US Air Force, as well as many NATO air forces. This did both, serving in its early years in the US, and then later in Greece.  

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More F-86 Sabers were built than the last few aircraft you've seen combined. A mainstay of American and allied forces in the post-WWII era. This "D" model was built in California in 1953, and served in the US, UK, Germany and throughout the Mediterranean. 

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Performance bomber

Like several of aircraft at the museum, the English Electric Canberra is awaiting restoration. I hope that, like the Vulcan, the museum staff can get it to the point of allowing people to peek inside.   

In its day (early 50's) it was the highest flying aircraft in the world. A Canberra was also the first jet aircraft to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.

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Aka the B-57

The US variant was the B-57, manufactured under license by Martin from English Electric. Amazingly, for an aircraft designed in the 1940s, three are still in service. Not military service of course, but for NASA.

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Westland, nee Sikorsky

A Westland Wessex, a development of the Sikorsky H-34, most notably replacing the piston engine with a gas turbine. It was used for a variety of missions, including anti-submarine duties and search and rescue.

Like the Canberra, this is awaiting restoration, and again, I hope when it's ready we'll be able to have a look inside. 

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Before we get to big aircraft, a quick look at the Land part of the museum. Housed in its own hanger, the museum has a collection of armored and unarmored personnel carriers, light tanks and other vehicles. 

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Awww, nice marmot

A Daimler Ferret APC. These were extensively produced and widely used all over the world. This Mk I was one of the first delivered to the British Army in the early 50's. It served in Germany and for the UN. Power comes from a Rolls Royce 4.62L inline-6. 

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Second Ferret

This Mk II variant had the same 130hp engine, but was made over a decade later. This one served in Northern Ireland.

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Baby chopper

A tiny, tiny Saunders-Roe Skeeter. This is like a lounge chair with a rotor. There's another example at the Solent Sky Museum.

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Designated AOP.12, for Air Observation Platform, they were used in that role and for training.

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A FV601 Saladin, manufactured by Alvis. Six tires, eight cylinders and a crew of three. Over 20,000 were made, sold to countries all over the world. 

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An FV603 Saracen, the APC version of the Saladin, sharing many components. 

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Resto hangar

A glimpse at some of the other vehicles and gear awaiting restoration.

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This Hawker Siddeley Trident lived a hard life and was rescued by the museum and the Save the Trident group. It has since undergone extensive restoration. 

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This was the last of the original 1C variants built, and the last remaining complete 1C fuselage. 

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Hard life

After flying for British European Airlines, and later British Airways, Trident G-ARPO was given to the Civil Aviation Fire Training Centre. There it was used for, you guessed it, smoke and fire evacuation training, completely smoking out the interior repeatedly over nearly three decades.

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This is one of the things that made the Trident so ahead of its time: a computer that could automatically land the aircraft. 

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Part of the aircraft has seat covers from its days as vacation hauler for BEA, the other part are more sedate colors from British Airways.

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Watch your head

Amazingly, these early aircraft did have tables in the "first class" section. All the windows were replaced by the restoration team, as well as completely re-doing the interior. 

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Complete with a BA outfit of the era.

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Hello, gents

Like most jet airliners of the era, there were two pilots and an engineer, who was also a pilot. His seat could slide on rails so he could sit between the two main pilots and look out the windscreen. 

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Keeping a watchful eye

Given how much someone would have to monitor, it's not surprising there were three in the cockpit. 

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To house the extensive electronics, the nosewheel is offset to the left.

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New livery

This Trident didn't actually fly for Northeast Airlines. The team restoring it chose this livery since this airline was well known in this part of the country in the era when the Trident was in the skies. 

I spoke with two of the people still working to get the Trident to 100 percent and it was awesome to hear so many stories about the aircraft, as well as their well-deserved pride for turning a smoked-out hulk into a great example of its day. 

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Tail engine

Perhaps my biggest surprise was how small the engine inlet is on the tail. I would have thought it was twice my height, like the size of modern jet engines. Nope. The Rolls-Royce Spey engine used on the Tridents only had a diameter of 43 inches, or just over a meter. This isn't much larger than that.

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Familiar Lightning

Dave, one of the restorers on the Trident, worked on English Electric Lightnings during his career, quite possibly this one, since it was in service where he was stationed. A totally random and amusing coincidence, since he had no part in acquiring this aircraft for the museum. 

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Delta bomber

The Avro Vulcan is a big, subsonic, delta-wing bomber used by the Royal Air Force. Many air museums in the UK have one on display (despite their size). The one at NELSAM is one of the only ones where you can actually climb inside. 

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Climb aboard

The Avro's main entrance hatch is in the belly ahead of the front landing gear. It's a reasonably tight fit, but far easier to climb into than the tiny entrance in the nose of a B-17

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Spacious cabin

This is the main cabin, a level below the cockpit. It's surprisingly spacious. Not roomy of course, but you could move around. Probably less so when there's three to five crewmen in here. Left and middle were navigators, on the right was the air electronics officer (AEO). 

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Press it

That's THE button, to drop the bombs.

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There were two periscopes, this one to look below the aircraft, and one behind where I'm standing to look above.

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Drivers seat

The cockpit is exceptionally cramped, especially considering the space in the cabin below. Not surprising, given these had a very specific and deadly purpose. 

I took a short 360 video of the cockpit and cabin if you want to check it out

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Ongoing restoration

This Vulcan is a B.2 variant, which was a little longer, taller and had a wider wingspan than the original B.1. It flew for the RAF from 1961 until 1983, when it was sold to the predecessor of the NELSAM for £5,000. 

Since it's stored outside in the, let's say "variable," northeast English weather, it undergoes regular upkeep. You can see the scaffolding on the other side of the aircraft the restorers are using to repaint the fuselage. 

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Sometimes the smaller air museums, like NELSAM, offer something the bigger museums don't. In this case, it's the ability to go inside a Vulcan, and see how a Trident looked in its heyday. It's worth double checking the aircraft you want to see is open on the day you want to visit. 

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