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Iconic Spitfire 'flies' over the Dome - North Norfolk's WW2 secret

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

A full-size silver Mk 1X Spitfire replica dominates the skyline at Langham Dome - North Norfolk’s Military Museum near Holt. The single-seater fighter now permanently 'flies' over the Dome to encourage visitors to stop and visit Britain's only war-time 'virtual reality' anti-aircraft trainer open to the public.

A silver Spitfire is on a pedestal outside the half-spherical Dome which was a training site for anti aircraft gunners
A full-size replica silver Spitfire stands outside the 'virtual reality' Dome in Langham, North Norfolk

And its legacy continued after the war with the revolutionary technology becoming the forerunner of the 'virtual reality' we know today including IMAX cinemas, aircraft pilot simulators and computer games.

The Dome and its history was saved from ruin by a band of enthusiasts (Friends of Langham Dome), crowdfunding, National Lottery and English Heritage funding. It is now a scheduled ancient monument and museum detailing the 'secret technology' in the Dome and the past life of the vibrant and key airfield.

Langham Dome which sits on the edge of what was Langham airfield at Cockthorpe, just three miles from Blakeney, is one of the best-known individual airfield buildings in Britain.

In August 2020 the replica Spitfire was hoisted on its pedestal adding to the building's permanence and echoing its past.

The Dome is an important piece of local and national history. It was developed from an idea thought up by a former naval officer Henry Christian Stephens who, working with Bernard Happe and FG Gunn of Technicolor Ltd in London, produced the 'Top Secret Dome Trainer', a machine which projected film onto a spherical surface to simulate the noise and action of being dived-bombed during an enemy attack.

top Secret plans showing an airplane projected on a wall with sights to shoot it down
The plans for the Dome's 'virtual reality' training for gunners were top secret

Mr Stephens acknowledged the stresses military action placed on soldiers. And he saw first hand the terrifying ordeal gunners faced being dive-bombed by enemy aircraft. Young, untrained gunners would either shut their eyes and pull the trigger (missing the target) – or literally run away. Mr Stephens' idea was to address their lack of training in a 'safe' environment so they would remain calm and be skilled when facing the reality of war.

RAF Langham was an active airfield for nearly 20 years between 1940 and 1958.

A variety of aircraft was based there as part of Coastal Command to protect British shipping and to attack enemy merchant convoys as well as German E boats and U boats.

Other aircraft were used for weather forecasting and air sea rescue. RAF Langham also played an important role in target-towing for gunnery practice at the army firing camps at Stiffkey.

Not only did it play a key role in the Second World War but also during the Cold War tensions between the Soviet Union and the West.

The replica Spitfire, the iconic symbol of Britain’s air supremacy during the Second World War, serves as a tribute to RAF pilot Richard Hames Younghusband and to the role Langham played in Britain’s defence.

Richard Hames Younghusband was killed flying a silver Spitfire from RAF Langham in July 1953. He was based with No.2 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit at Langham when his Spitfire crashed between Cockthorpe and Binham.

He joined the RAF in 1931, was transferred to the Reserve and flew with the Bristol Aeroplane Company as a test pilot, having a near-fatal crash in Dursley, Gloucestershire in 1938. He joined the Air Transport Auxiliary after recovering and later flew for Fairey Surveys and then Marshall of Cambridge.

Langham Dome was built in 1942-3 and is the last remaining Dome Trainer in the UK open to the public. It was opened officially in 2014 and welcomes visitors from June to the end of October, Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm.

There are information boards on the picnic tables outside the museum recounting the history of the airfield, the men and women of many nations who were stationed there, and what they did during the Second World War. There are also recordings and touch-screen information which provide a realistic atmosphere of what the airfield would have looked and sounded like at the time.

RAF Langham‘s concrete runways, perimeter and some buildings remained almost intact because the airfield was taken over by Britain and Norfolk’s turkey king, Bernard Matthews, who ran it as a turkey farm when it was decomissioned.

The Spitfire was given to Langham Dome by the RAF Museum at Hendon. A short film of the Spitfire arriving by tractor and trailer and being installed at Langham can be seen here.

To find the museum, drive out of Blakeney into Langham and then take the turning for Cockthorpe and Stiffkey. The post code is NR25 7BP. It's an easy cycle ride too.

Actor and writer Stephen Fry narrates a short history of the secrets behind the unique Second World War building in Norfolk.

Major restoration work on the Spitfire was carried out by GB Replicas of Catfield, Norfolk, and the steel pedestal and internal steel was fabricated by North Norfolk Engineering of Holt.

Bunting & Son Ltd of Stibbard, Norfolk, carried out the foundation groundwork and steel reinforcing was given, free of charge, by the Roe Group of Peterborough, while the structural engineering calculations were provided by David Quantrill Partners Ltd. of Norwich.

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