It’s the end of January and I’ve made a deal with myself to track down a Concorde every month this year (well… eight months of this year, because then it gets more tricky and transatlantic!)
I have a big selection of aircraft dotted about the south of England from which to choose, so I reckoned the best place to start was the British prototype 002 (the sister aircraft to 001 that I visited at Le Bourget). First flown by Capt. Brian Trubshaw in April 1969, this was the second Concorde prototype and was used for testing and development. She arrived at Fleet Air Arm Museum in July 1976 (her final flight to RNAS Yeovilton) and has been on display there ever since.
There were the usual shivers and mistiness in the eyes when I saw her and then climbed aboard. The cabin has a bank of six seats at the rear, and in the forward cabin, the equipment used during the testing programme and the rope ladder (for emergency escape – yikes!). The cockpit is off limits (no surprise there!) but you can get a good view through the plexi. To get to Hall 4 (where 002 lives), you get to go through the amazing collection of aircraft and brilliantly interesting exhibits at the museum. I exceeded the recommended two and a half hour visit time by an hour, it was that interesting – and that’s not because I’m a slow reader or it was super-busy – indeed, I had the museum to myself (again – I know, I’m getting greedy with this!) I just got totally enthralled by it all.
The first section of the museum is dedicated to the history of the Royal Navy air arm, and covers its exploits in WW1, WW2 and later. There’s lots about the Battle of the Atlantic here, and U-Boats! I got a bit tearful reading about the conflict with Japan (my great Uncle Jack was a Japanese POW, a story that deserves it’s own separate post!) The tears were put away though, with the opportunity to sit in a XA127 Sea Vampire T22, this, a later version of one of the first jet fighters! There’s more chances to go on board aircraft later, including a Westland Sea King, to learn about how the RN undertakes rescues at sea.
Hall 3 – I have to say, the unexpected highlight – was a ‘visit’ to aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal circa 1970s. You travel to the aircraft carrier by helicopter (yes, you do – just close your eyes and believe!!) and arrive onto the deck and watch a Buccaneer on a go round and then land. Once you’re on ‘the island’, you’re kept in a holding area, advancing through each section only when a green light shows above the hatches! A narrator talks you through what goes on in each section of the vessel – navigation, flight control, galley, the Naafi, maintenance – some might find this cheesy – but I absolutely loved it. The narrator was fabulous (note to Barbara Broccoli – if you can’t get Chris Vance to take over from Daniel Craig as 007, get this guy!).
The next section looks at the future of the Royal Navy air arm: the new 65,000 tonne aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth (commissioned December 2017) and HMS Prince of Wales (still under construction at Rosyth) – the biggest and most powerful warships ever built for the Royal Navy (capable of reaching a speed of 25 knots, they could cross the Channel in an hour) – and the acquisition of new F-35B Lightning fighters. Almost impossible to detect on radar due to it’s shape and materials from which it is made, the F35B has the radar cross-section of a metal golf ball! So far, the UK has taken delivery of 16 of the planned 138 F35Bs on order, for use by the Royal Navy and RAF.
And then Hall 4 – bringing us up-to-date with aircraft used in more recent exploits – the Sea King & Lynx helicopters, Harrier jet, Hawker Siddeley… and a really interesting display on the Falklands conflict – take a look at the nosecone from an Argentinean Dagger (an Israeli produced aircraft) shot down by a RN Sea Harrier – for no other reason than ‘Dagger’ is a cool name for a jet, and the sense of the macabre just appeals to my warped brain! Oh yes, and did I mention Concorde? You can hang out under the Delta wing, do a cha cha around her landing gear, and then climb aboard! But even if you’re not a Concorde obsessive, if you love aviation (military or otherwise) please do make a visit to the Fleet Air Arm Museum. End transmission —>