Thursday, 12 March 2015

Fleet Air Arm Museum, Somerset

This is a little gem of a museum methinks. Tucked alongside RNAS Yeovilton down in South Somerset, where I've been to Yeovilton Air Day quite a few times but never to the Fleet Air Arm Museum
 
Fleet Air Arm Museum, Somerset

 
Earlier in the summer, we'd changed a load of Tesco Clubcard vouchers with the intention of having a day out at West Somerset Railway, a trip round Kilver Court Gardens and a Saturday at Brean Leisure Park. Obviously when I broke my ankle that all changed, we still managed to do the railway (whose helpfulness when it comes to people in wheelchairs is brilliant) but we thought we'd leave the other two til this year (the gardens are rather large and on a hill, and Brean is full of fairground rides which clearly wasn't going to work). Consequently we had some vouchers left which needed using by the end of December. My parents suggested Fleet Air Arm Museum and what with it being somewhere we'd never visited, off we went.

Fleet Air Arm Museum, Somerset

 
It ended up being the first day since I broke my ankle that I didn't need to use my crutches at all and I went all round the museum on my own two (albeit slightly unsteady) feet. Over the last few months, I've judged an attraction based on the amount of available seating and Fleet Air Arm gets top marks for that all round – lots of chairs, places to rest and things to sit and watch. When we visited it was the bit between Christmas and New Year and wasn't very busy, excellent for me because we could just wander around freely, look at whatever and stop when I got tired.

Fleet Air Arm Museum, Somerset
 
Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset


Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset
 

Fleet Air Arm Museum is part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy and aims to showcase the history of the Navy in the air. It's home to Europe's largest naval aviation collection, containing over 90 aircraft and 30,000 exhibits - so quite a lot to look round!

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset


The place is divided into four large exhibition halls: Hall 1 houses the beginning of naval aviation; Hall 2, the Second World War; Hall 3 is their award winning Aircraft Carrier Experience and Hall 4 explains the theory of flight complete with the first British-built Concorde

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset
 
Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

 
There's lots of extra displays and themed areas as well, I particularly liked the one all about the Women's Royal Naval Service and the prototype Concorde is fascinating to look round - you can't quite imagine how tiny it is until you're inside!

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset
 
Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset
 
 
The big selling point of the museum is the Aircraft Carrier Experience, an interactive exhibit where you get taken in a helicopter simulator to an aircraft carrier deck to see how it all works. The idea is you feel like you're stood on the deck of a working aircraft carrier and okay, so you're never going to be completely 100% fooled (you are stood inside a huge aircraft hanger after all) but it is quite realistic, very atmospheric and rather spooky in fact.

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset
 
Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset
 
 
You're shown film of planes taking off and landing on the aircraft carrier and then taken on a tour of the workings of the carrier, complete with a security alert and all the checks and tasks they have to do. Since the UK now doesn't actually have any aircraft carriers, visiting the Fleet Air Arm's display is probably the closest you'll ever come to seeing one (at least, until HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are brought into service over the next 5 years).

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset 

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset


One of the main reasons I loved this museum was that it wasn't trying to be all funky and modern (like some places which actually end up losing the point of what they're supposed to be showing), instead I think it had the balance just right between a traditional museum and something more interactive. For example, there were kids games areas such as a felt aircraft board and an aircraft convoy game combined with touchscreen exhibits and things to try. One area even had a 'fly your own Merlin helicopter' simulator which of course, we both tried out (I was just abysmal at it though, one time I didn't even get my helicopter off the ground before turning it over!).

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset

Fleet Airm Arm Museum, Somerset
 

I really enjoyed our afternoon and okay, it's probably quite a niche subject area to explore but if you've any interest in Britain's naval aero-military history, then Fleet Air Arm Museum is an excellent place to visit - I don't know where else you'd find quite so many examples of planes, helicopters and engines! 
 

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