As a kid I was always mad keen on aircraft. One idea of a perfect day would be to spend it atop the Queen’s Building at Heathrow which, in the halcyon days before international terrorism, had a public viewing gallery. Other ideas of a perfect day were the Farnborough air show, the Biggin Hill air show, or any of several aircraft museums, the most interesting being the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden in Bedfordshire where most of the exhibits remain airworthy and fly. One museum that I had never visited was the Fleet Air Arm museum at Yeovilton. Since we are camped about 25 miles away in Dorset, that oversight was today to be corrected. It would also give our legs a well-earned rest.
The road signs took us on a circuitous route to get to the main entrance of the museum but arrive we did, though I think that, left to her own devices, my navigation officer would have made a better job of it. With a mounting sense of ambition achieved, I happily stumped up the entrance fee and we were in. I was standing on the balcony overlooking Hall 1 extracting my camera when some official-looking guy leading a teenage school party stopped himself and his charges right by me. I’d been inside only about 10 minutes and I was surrounded. I thought of cats seemingly having an unerring sense of spotting people who don’t actually like cats and making a beeline for them. It seems to be the same with me and children – I’m like a kid magnet. They’re back at school this week for Chrissakes, give me some peace. Actually, they were perfectly well-behaved and well-controlled but I did feel I’d been crowded out, somewhat.
I’d have to say that the museum wasn’t as large as I’d expected. There are four halls but one hall, the Carrier Experience, is easily the most inventive. This exhibit tries, by reconstruction, to give a sense of what life was like on board the aircraft carrier Ark Royal in the 70s. It’s a tour, guided by pre-recorded video, of a mock up of Ark Royal’s flight deck and operational hubs. It lasts about 40 minutes and elevates to another level what would otherwise be a rather dead museum. I guess most museums are rather dead, by definition.
Interestingly, all rest and refreshment areas are beyond the entrance and exit controls of the actual museum itself so it seems that one isn’t expected to spend an inordinate amount of time inside. I’m glad I’ve been and ticked it off but I wouldn’t rush back.
I’m still trying to figure out what Concorde 002 (the British prototype) is doing in the Fleet Air Arm museum.