What a difference a year makes!

This time last year I had just completed an MAC at the Mary Rose. Little did we know that before long all the MACs would be online. The first attempts were fairly hesitant with reminders to mute yourself and turn webcams off during the presentations and infrequent use of the chat function. One year on, it seems we have adapted to the new way of working. Logging onto the Aviation Archaeology course last weekend, I was greeted with a series of black named screens with a red crossed out microphone. Every now and again the chat box would indicate that there was a new message; sometimes a general message with someone introducing themselves and sometimes a “private” message from a friend, catching up on things – just like the kitchen at Fort Cumberland!

Covering a subject as broad as this is a tall order but it’s a measure of Alistair Byford-Bates knowledge and professionalism that he managed it admirably. Together with co presenters Andy Ford and David Morris we were treated to theory, practical applications and even reflection!

Alistair started by taking us through the anatomy of an aircraft and what remains after a crash. The presentation was intensive and, for a complete newcomer to the area, quite hard going. However, Alistair kept it rooted in the practical by ensuring that it was well illustrated and using examples of recovered aircraft parts. Hearing how archaeologists had interpreted these twisted pieces of metal was fascinating and made you think; is archaeology a science or a magic art! It was almost a relief to get back into the familiar territory of archives, HER’s and documentation when we looked at researching and identifying aircraft.

Legislation is crucial to the management of our underwater cultural heritage  and the session on the legislation and health and safety stimulated some interesting discussions. It was a measure of how diverse the participants were that this discussion ranged from specific questions about finds and their management through to some quite deep thought about the ethics behind a subject like aviation archaeology. By their very nature crashed aircraft sites often will have involved a loss of life and will have occurred in a relatively recent timeframe. Investigating, studying, and managing these sites needs a high degree of sensitivity and a session looking at the framework of how we achieve this is an important part of any course like this.

Alistair flagged up how valuable a tool photogrammetry has become when recording sites and it’s something most of us will have become familiar with. Andy Ford faced a difficult task in talking about its use in less than an hour. He took an interesting slant on the subject by taking us back from the practicalities of how we can produce a photogrammetric model and, instead, looking at the theory behind it works. Simplifying what was obviously a very mathematical aspect he gave a fascinating talk about understanding why things go wrong and giving us tips about how to avoid the all too familiar white parts of a model!

The last component of the day was an intriguingly named presentation, “The R Word” by David Morris, the Curator of Aircraft at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. David looked at what happens after an aircraft is recovered but took an unusual stance by looking  what restoration meant in terms of the original artefact. He looked critically at the “R” word and encouraged us to consider all aspects of it, whether it was rebuilding, replicating, reconstructing, or refurbishing. (He actually came up with fourteen options for what restoration meant!). He also challenged to think about how far we should go in conserving and restoring an artefact before it, perhaps, lost value.

I found the day extremely rewarding and challenging but I think the success of the day can be measured by the fact that the tutors talked about how it would be great to run the course in real time at Yeovilton, the Fleet air Arm Museum. If it comes off, consider me booked onto the course.

Once again, we had an international audience for the course, highlighting the beauty of these online courses. As attendees we’re all  getting more familiar with the online course but for organisers running a course is just as stressful as the “real thing”. Dealing with IT hiccups and keeping presenters to time etc are just as challenging online as they are in the real word. Consequently a big thanks have to go to Mark, Steve and Sara for keeping the day running and ensuring we all had an enjoyable time – can’t wait till the next one!

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