Within the grounds of Lanzarote’s Arrecife airport lies a true hidden gem. The Aeronautical Museum is a must-do for anyone with an interest in aviation, and there’s more than enough to keep an ordinary traveller engaged for an hour or so. It’s been closed for the best part of two years because of Covid, so we were pleasantly surprised when our friends at Lanzarote Information sent us a message to say it was re-opening during our visit to the island.
On arrival we were made to feel very welcome. The two guides speak excellent English and are keen to pass on their knowledge so don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s free to go in too, which is always a bonus. We were able to leave our bags safely as we explored the history of aviation on the island of Lanzarote, but as they are only open in the mornings, I would imagine most visitors check in for their flights then wander over for a quick look around. It’s only a ten minute walk from the terminal.
The museum is set in the airport’s original terminal building which was home to check-in, arrivals, lounges and air traffic control from 1946b until 1970. The displays are set into ten different sections, but there are really only three: the history of aviation on the island, airport operations, and air traffic control. Don’t let that put you off. Everything is displayed in such a way that there will be plenty of familiar things for almost everybody. Of course, an aviation enthusiast (or a retired air traffic controller like me!) will find everything truly spellbinding!
For me, the history section was fascinating. It’s not normally the most riveting of subjects so this is testimony to the quality of exhibits. It demostrates how the development of the Canary Islands and the growth in tourism have gone hand in hand leading to what is now a very busy piece of airspace with plenty of traffic going to each island. The first flight was in 1913 and everyone celebrated the arrival of a Zeppelin to the islands in 1930. Famous seaplane aviator Ramón Franco, who we had learned about a few years ago, was such an honoured guest that local sculptor Pancho Lasso created a piece just for him. If the name looks familiar then yes, he did have a more infamous brother.
In the main hall there is an incredible reproduction of a mural which used to be in the terminal. Information panels show how each part represents a different part of island life. The camels, cacti and windmills are clearly visible and the influence of Picasso on Lanzarote artist César Manrique is hard to miss. We were told that the original might be held at the César Manrique Foundation on the island, but there is no mention of it on their website at all so perhaps it’s an urban myth. If anyone reading this knows otherwise, please tell us in the comments!
Also in that hall are some sculptures promoting recycling. There is even a plastic air traffic control tower among the exhibits! There is a tribute to the Spanish aerobatics display team, the Patrulla Águila, who are based at San Javier, Murcia. Look out for the bar area where drinks are not served but there is a timeline photo board where members of the public have sent photos of their holidays to the island. Some years remain empty so perhaps you visited and would like to contribute! There are surprising gaps from 1986 onwards.
The check-in area has artefacts you might expect in such a location, and a few bonuses for enthusiasts! You can see a series of pictures showing the destruction of the old air traffic control tower from the 1970s which made way for the current modern one. There are all manner of scales, ticket punches, promotional posters, interactive airspace maps and even a collection of confiscated articles from the Guardia Civil. How anyone ever though it was acceptable to board a plane with some of them is beyond my imagination. There is also an office with a collection of books that must be like a gold mine to some.
Don’t leave the museum without going upstairs though, and mind your head as you do so as the corner angle has very little headroom! Up there you will witness what air traffic control used to be like in the days before mass tourism. You’ll have to use your imagination to remove the modern terminals from the view but that is what an airport used to look like.
So, chocks away and go enjoy a memorable piece of Lanzarote history.