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VISIT TO THE NEW AEROSPACE MUSEUM, FILTON

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On Wednesday 21st February 2018, 33 of us left Ewyas Harold Memorial Hall shortly after 9.00am (the coach having already picked up some of the group from our normal points: Temple Bar Inn, outside Mark's and outside David's) and took the 80-ish minute journey across the Severn Bridge to the newly opened (in October 2017) museum for 'Aerospace Bristol'. We started just a few minutes later than expected because the coach originally due to take us did not start and the coach company (our long-term friends at Golden Pioneer Travel) had to find a replacement very quickly (which they did). However, we made up time on the journey. [Our coach driver was Paul who was well known to us from other trips.] We had time for tea/coffee, or a quick breakfast, before our tour started at 11.30am. We were split into 2 tour groups, one led by Hannah and the other by Oliver. They proved to be excellent guides. They both provided a lot of information in a most impressive way, though few of us managed to absorb it all. They took us through the history of BAC from its origins as a company that made horse-drawn trams through its evolution in WW1 then between the wars then in WW2 then in the Cold War and since. It has become Britains's leading maker of space technology. Listening to that history, and seeing the many impressive exhibits (some of which are pictured below), made it a fascinating tour. Although the 'flagship' of the museum was its Concorde, the tour put that in its place as just one, albeit an impressive one, of BAC's many achievements.

After the tour we had time for lunch in the restaurant, leaving us with time to go back for a wander around the Museum and a browse in the shop. We left Filton at about 3.30pm and got back to Ewyas Harold in just over 1 hour. Thanks to David for organising such a good trip.

For more information on the Museum, see its web site here, its visitor map (at the time) here, and its group brochure (at the time) here.
N.B. Any technical or historical information given on this page is given on an E&OE basis, in good faith but with caution that it may include some mistakes!

 

Reference Description  
E18C1 The first main exhibit was one of the horse-drawn trams that was a product of Bristol Tramways with the front half restored but the back half left unrestored. The company's chairman was Sir George White who was also involved in the production of early cars, buses and other motorised vehicles. White was inspired by meeting the American Wilbur Wright (who, with his brother Orville, was one of the pioneers of airplanes) in France in 1909 and in February 2010 founded the British & Colonial Aeroplane Company, later called the Bristol Aeroplane Company, setting up his own aircraft factory at Filton. [The corporate history of BAC is quite complicated. A merger later led to a change of name to the British Aerosace Company.] With the advent of WW1 just a few years later, the UK's aeroplane manufacturing industry had to develop very quickly and BAC played a major role in that. Initially it was thought that the role of planes would mainly be in reconnaisance but they quickly became fighting machines. Technological inventions & innovations came at a fast pace.
E18C2 After WW1, orders for aircraft reduced dramatically and, with thousands of employees, BAC had to diversify quickly. It expanded into cars and buses. Apart from collaborations with other car makers, it produced its own small range of luxury cars.
E18C3 World War 2 led to a resurgence in the aircraft industry. BAC's production capability was well-known to the Germans so Filton had to be protected with anti-aircraft batteries whilst much of the manufacturing of components was spread around the country. After the war the company produced aircraft such as the Brittania but again had to diversify (into helicopters and even, because of its expertise in dealing with plastics, things like dinghies).


BAC was one of the first companies to produce a twin propeller helicopters, beating the American's Chinook.
E18C4 The Cold War led to a focus on guided missiles such as Skylark (which later played a part in space rocketry) ...
E18C5 ... and the development of expertise in supersonic missiles led to Concorde.

Concorde was not the first plane to fly at faster than the speed of sound, that had been done by military aircraft, but it was the first supersonic aircraft to be produced that was capable of carrying fee-paying passengers, normally 100 of them. [We were told that the British intended the plane to carry 110 passengers but the French argued that it should be limited to 100, with the recovered space being used to improve the food & drink facilities.]

Concorde was a technical marvel. For more on that, see elsewhere, but one point worth noting here is that it was "the first 'fly-by-wire' aircraft meaning that the engines and flying controls were signalled electrically, not mechanically as all previous aircraft had been."
Quotation from one of the many interesting information boards at the Museum.
E18C6 We were able to go onboard the Concorde which was in a hangar separate from the Museum.This one was Alpha Foxtrot. It was as narrow as expected, particularly in the cockpit, although the seats looked comfortable (we were not allowed to sit in them).
E18C7 A suite of rooms next to the airplane included some displays relevant to Concorde, including a mock-up of the flight-deck.

So: why was Concorde discontinued? There were several reasons, not least that it was very expensive. It never recovered after flights were cancelled after one of them crashed in Paris on 25th July 2000 (after debris from another plane blew a tyre on Concorde with a piece of that tyre slamming into the fuel tank which was probably over-full, leading to a fire). Soon after that the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York (and elsewhere) on 11.09.2001 (known in the USA as 9-11) led to a reduction in the air traffic from New York and Concorde became too expensive to keep going.
E18C8 What else was at the Museum? Quite a lot. There were flight-desks from planes other than Concorde (the one shown here was of a Bristol Britannia), a Harriet Jump Jet with one of its engines on show separately, and information about modern space technology (including BAC's role in making equipment for communications satellites and the Hubble space telescope). If you want to see more on what it has to offer, look at its web site (link above) or go there yourself!