A spring clean like no other as dangling dustbusters go into action at RAF Cosford

For the National Cold War Exhibition it's a not-so-invisible enemy which simply cannot be ignored – dust.

Simon Holding at work
Simon Holding at work

With the RAF Museum at Cosford gearing up for its big reopening on May 17, it's time to tackle the layer of fallout which has built up over its historic exhibits over lockdown.

Trouble is, these iconic aircraft like the Vulcan, Hunter, and Lightning are suspended on cables from the roof of the massive and futuristic exhibition building, which soars to a height of 30 metres.

So whoya gonna call? The dustbusters, of course – and not just any dustbusters, but a specialist trio skilled at working safely at dizzying heights.

The cleaning team in action at RAF Museum Cosford

Step forward Simon Holding, Alex Picken, and James Waddington, of Arco Professional Safety Services of Eccleshall.

Dangling on ropes, and armed with dry soft fibre mops, they have been busy ensuring that the suspended aircraft on display in the museum's National Cold War Exhibition will look spick and span when the public gets to see them once more.

"It's like a big spring clean," explained museum estates manager Zoe Cashmore.

But the first job is to attach the ropes to the top of the building, which means climbing up the framework of the structure while safely secured.

The cleaning team in action at RAF Museum Cosford

"We are all rock climbers. It's not a necessity – but it helps," said James, who lives in London and is a level 3 rope technician, which is a supervisor's level. He is the rope access supervisor on this particular job.

"The structure has plenty of anchors, but it takes time to get into position. People assume that it's a dangerous job, but it's got such a good safety record, and is much safer than working off ladders."

Simon (level two rope technician), who is from Stafford, chipped in: "We have got equipment which keeps us safe."

The cleaning team in action at RAF Museum Cosford

The trio actually do similar work at a number of museums, including the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, and they find working among the aircraft at Cosford a pleasure.

James said: "We all have an interest in it. It's a bit of history and it's an interesting job. It's a perk working here. I would rather be doing this than cleaning windows, although we can do cleaning windows as well. We do a variety of tasks."

Their work within the landmark building also involves doing a safety inspection to ensure all the cables and fixtures are safe.

The cleaning team in action at RAF Museum Cosford

While they have been cleaning the eight suspended aircraft out of a total of 18 on display in the National Cold War Exhibition, those at ground level are dealt with by the cleaning team of Darren Priday, the manager of the conservation centre at the museum.

"It's almost impossible for my team to go up there safely, and they certainly wouldn't want to go up on ropes," said Darren.

The cleaning is an annual job.

The cleaning team in action at RAF Museum Cosford

"It's just like home. Your home gets dirty and dust lies around, and if you leave it, long term it's detrimental to the health of the objects."

Back to our agile dusters – do they have any favourite aircraft in the building?

Alex, a level 2 rope technician who is originally from Walsall but now lives at Minsterley – and is the job supervisor – said: "My favourite in here is the Dakota, and the reason is that one of my favourite films when I was young was Band of Brothers, and I remember the 101st Airborne parachuting out of the Dakotas.

Alex Picken brushes up a Vulcan bomber.

"It's not in this building, but my favourite overall I would say is the Lancaster because of the history and the stories behind them.

"My nan and granddad bought me a picture of one in a frame. It's in my room now."

James: "Vulcan. I'm old enough to remember them flying in the Falklands. The Mig 21 second."

The cleaning team in action at RAF Museum Cosford

Simon: "I think the Mig 21."

Naturally, after their labours yesterday they were looking forward to some relaxation, but not necessarily the sort of relaxation others would choose.

"Me and Alex are going rock climbing tonight at Nesscliffe," said James.

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