Go back to article: Doping at the Science Museum: the conservation challenge of doped fabric aircraft in the Flight gallery


The Science Museum collection of doped fabric aeroplanes is clearly of significance and interest. Unfortunately, however, records pertaining to its early history and conservation management are sporadic and were poorly kept, making it very difficult to securely construct a coherent conservation history for all of the objects. Much of this early information is based on passing reference and suggestions contained within correspondence between Museum staff, rather than explicit reports, so it is unclear exactly how many times or with what materials the objects may have been re-covered or re-treated over the years.

The complexity of reconstructing what types of materials may be present on the Science Museum aeroplanes is further complicated as doped fabrics represent a complex set of materials, whose composition varies widely depending on a number of factors. There is no single definitive version of doped fabric, which is in fact a broad family of related materials, which makes conservation work much more complex. A treatment approach that may be appropriate in one context with one particular doped fabric could in theory react differently when used on another doped fabric because of the differences in material nature and history.

It is clear, however, that there are a number of common materials that might generally be expected to be present in a doped fabric. This will make the process of scientific analysis considerably more straightforward, as it provides a starting point from which to begin investigative work and hypotheses concerning the material. This will form the next stage of the project, characterising and testing the properties of the doped fabric.



The authors are grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding this research project through the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme. Thanks are also owed to the staff in the Science Museum’s conservation and documentation departments for enabling access to the archives and aircraft. Our thanks also to Darren Priday and the conservation team at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford, for taking the time to discuss and demonstrate their work treating historic aircraft.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160605/014