In the early 1980s, the original air traffic control tower and adjacent buildings were derelict and overgrown. Every year, a service at the French Memorial in Elvington Village had attracted an increasing band of veterans, some of whom had married local girls and stayed in the area.
One memorable summer, a French film crew used the airfield to dramatise a novel by distinguished writer Jules Roy, about his experiences as an aircraft Capitaine with the French squadrons based here.
In 1983 a band of devoted volunteers obtained an initial lease for part of the site and set to work to clear 40 years’ of undergrowth and to restore and upgrade the buildings. The Museum’s first Open Day was on 11th August 1985. Always self-supporting, the Museum was able to buy the central land and buildings in 1993.
A wartime film made by the French authorities showed Elvington as it had been in 1944 and the volunteer workers were able to recreate the wartime site right down to the packet of Woodbine cigarettes on top of the ‘ops’ desk in the control tower.
The Yorkshire Air Museum opened to the public in a limited form on 31st May 1986. In 1996 the Museum built the Canadian Memorial Hangar and 3 years later began to be opened every day of the year and purchased a further 7 acres of land bringing the total area of the Museum to 20 acres.
In the years since, it has grown at an enourmous pace and won a wide range of awards. It has worldwide support with a membership numbering several thousand and visitor numbers around 90,000 per year. Today the Museum is operated by a Board of Trustees and a professional management team headed by the Museum Director. 149 staff are employed of which just 16 are full-time, the rest are unpaid volunteers who work within 11 departments including, Collections & Archives; Aircraft Engineering; Stewards Cadre; Fire & Rescue; Guides; RT; Gardens and Memorials.
In 2012 a new purpose built Collections and Archive building was opened – kindly sponsored by the Aircrew Association Archive Trust. In 2014/15 a new Fire Station and a new Aircraft Engineering Workshop were constructed, and the original Perimeter Track through the centre of the Museum was opened up and re-surfaced to allow the growing number of live aircraft to be taxied on-site. A new T2 hangar is also being planned to house the increasing aircraft collection, and “Nature of Flight” is a new nature walkway and environmental sanctuary being created by the Museum with close support from Natural England, the Environment Agency and the British Butterfly & Moth Association. A new educational facility was opened in 2010 and aims to show how the ideas for human flight came from the observation of flying animals and insects. In 2016 the Museum hopes to begin construction of the Blackburn Hangar which incorporates original parts of Robert Blackburn’s original 1910 hangar. The hangar will form the main part of the Early Aviation Centre and will include new hands on displays within the restored handly Page Hanger next door.
The Museum and Memorial is not standing still. It has lots of plans and undertakes every opportunities to engage all ages and backgrounds with the enthusiasm and magic which is flight.