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News article

Researchers collaborate with Yorkshire Air Museum on major new exhibition about the Cold War  

Published: 19 April 2023

A military aircraft in a hangar

Academics from York St John University's History and Creative Writing departments have collaborated with Yorkshire Air Museum on ‘Minutes to Midnight – Hot Jets in the Cold War.’ This major new exhibition examines the role that aircraft played in the forty-year stalemate between east and west.  

The museum’s theme for 2023 covers the whole site but its focal point is the main hangar, where visitors can see the restored RAF Buccaneer XV 168. This jet, built in the 1960s at Brough in East Yorkshire, was part of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, armed with the WE 177 nuclear bomb. Its role would have been to strike targets within the Eastern Bloc. 

Other aircraft featured in ‘Minutes to Midnight’ include the Handley Page Victor, which was one of the first RAF aircraft to carry nuclear weapons, and a Panavia Tornado, which was the last. 

The exhibition uses colourful and engaging displays to tell the story of the Cold War, including its effects on British culture. Historians from York St John worked with the museum to share their expertise in modern warfare and airpower history.  They shared insights into the background to the war, strategy in the nuclear age, tactical air power, air defence and the British airborne nuclear deterrent of the 1950s and 1960s (the ‘V Force’).  

Dr Rob Edgar, Professor of Writing and Popular Culture worked on the cultural impact of the Cold War for the exhibition. He said: “It was an honour to be invited to contribute to the Minutes to Midnight exhibition.  

“The impact of the Cold War on film, music and all aspects of popular culture is significant and is something which haunts our collective memory. This exhibition is a timely reminder of living under the threat of nuclear war.” 

In the museum’s cinema, visitors can watch, ‘Cold War Stories’, a series of eyewitness accounts of the Cold War from those who were there, ranging from former military personnel to someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain.  

Dr Ian Horwood, Senior Lecturer in History also features in the footage. He said: “We’ve been very pleased to work with the museum on this worthwhile and illuminating exhibition. 

“In addition to the professional task of writing about airpower and the Cold War for the project, it was sobering to make a personal contribution to the Cold War Stories film.” 

Jerry Ibbotson, Yorkshire Air Museum’s Communications Manager said: “Current events on the world stage, such as the war in Ukraine, have thrown a renewed spotlight on relations between western countries and Russia. Our 2023 theme is a timely reminder of how the east-west split dominated politics and defence for so long.  

“While we, naturally, examine the role that military aircraft played in the Cold War, was also look at how it affected the lives of ordinary people for decades. 

“We’ve curated our amazing collection of aircraft and other exhibits to feature those with a Cold war connection, spanning the entire 40-year period when peace often seemed to hang by a thread.” 

Minutes to Midnight – featuring Cold War Stories – runs from Friday April 21 2023 until the Autumn, at the Yorkshire Air Museum.  

(Image shows the RAF Buccaneer XV 168 during restoration at the museum.)

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