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I talked last time about my recent trip to Southampton. While in town, I popped into the wonderful Solent Sky aviation museum. Whilst much of our aircraft collection is on show in London, and our Wroughton site houses some of the bigger craft, we also have a number of aeroplanes (and other transport artefacts) on loan to other museums. Solent Sky is home to our Short flying boat. Built in 1943 as a military-specification ‘Sunderland’, it was later converted to the civilian ‘Sandringham’ […]

I mentioned recently the 225-year anniversary of the first manned flight across the English Channel in 1785, following the first successful balloon ascents in 1783. Some observers sceptically asked what use the new technology offered, failing to spot the opportunities it could afford. American scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin scoffed at their short-sightedness, retorting, ‘what is the use of a new-born child?’ Ballooning hit eighteenth-century society with a bang, quickly becoming a fashionable spectator sport with men and women routinely risking their lives […]

Back in July last year, I kicked off this blog with a post about Louis Blériot’s historic crossing of the English Channel a century ago. Blériot’s journey is rightly considered a momentous event in aviation history, but it wasn’t the first flight across. That happened 225 years ago this week. Whilst Blériot had a powered, heavier-than-air craft, on 7 January 1785, Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries were the first people to cross the Channel in a balloon. This is a wonderful pair of […]

As we navigate our way through the festive season, and possibly eat and drink a little more than is wise, it is always worth remembering the most basic transportation device of all: Shank’s pony, or going for a walk. Maybe you’re a sporty type like these two, full of energy and ready to bound out of the house for a good stride across the countryside… You can even keep count of your paces as you march along using a pedometer… But […]

I saw a splendid programme on BBC2 the other day. In his series, ‘Toy Stories’, James May is playing with old toys like Airfix and Meccano in an epic way. Last week, he revived the famous Brooklands motor racing circuit, opened in 1907 and closed in 1939. Malcolm Campbell (see my previous posts) was a regular racer at Brooklands: It wasn’t just cars. Britain’s aviation industry arguably started here with the pioneering work of A. V. Roe and others. Roe’s company went […]

Earlier this week I was at our site at Wroughton, Wiltshire, where I met a very special visitor. Joe Wright, together with his family, came to see one of our aircraft, a De Havilland Comet 4B jet. But it wasn’t the first time Joe saw our Comet at Wroughton – he was the very pilot who flew it in, thirty years ago! I was thrilled to meet him and talk about his experience. The final flight of the Dan-Air-owned Comet 4B […]

In my last entry Seaplanes and plump-bottomed angels, I introduced some of the people behind the Supermarine 6SB, a magnificent seaplane that won the Schneider Trophy. One person I didn’t introduce was the plane’s designer, Reginald Joseph Mitchell. Hewn from dark grey slate, his statue cuts an imposing figure in our Flight Gallery as it stares at the two great planes that made Mitchell’s reputation: the 6SB and the Spitfire. Mitchell was born in 1895 and at 16 he became an apprentice at the Kerr […]

Just a quick one today. Last time, I showed you our lovely Heathrow airline coach from the fifties. By the 1960s, these buses were transporting passengers to the latest airliners in the British European Airways (BEA) fleet – the Hawker Siddeley ‘Trident’. These three-engined jets were built by Hawker Siddeley to BEA’s specifications. We acquired ours in 1987, at the end of its 16-year lifetime. By then, BEA had become British Airways and the new firm was re-equipping with American-built Boeing aircraft (although Tridents […]

Ah, the half-term holidays. It was great to see so many visitors to the Science Museum last week – hope you had a good time! Others may perhaps have jetted away with the kids for a relaxing overseas break. Did you use Heathrow Airport? These days there are several ways to get there: car, taxi, train, Tube or coach. But for many travellers back in the 1950s, coach was the only option: That’s our AEC ‘Regal IV’ airline coach from […]

Even though I’ve worked at the Science Museum for eight years, I still find the Flight Gallery stunning. It reminds me of my childhood bedroom ceiling, with one big difference: I had plastic kits hanging in dogfight freeze frames, the Flight Gallery has the real things!  One thing that really sticks out is this crab incrusted trophy with the plump-bottom angel (supposed to represent the Spirit of Flight kissing the waves). It’s the Schneider Trophy, which was offered from 1913 to […]

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Concorde’s first flight (as prototypes numbered 001 and 002), and the iconic aircraft served passengers from 1976 to 2003. A fatal Concorde crash in Paris in July 2000 temporarily grounded the fleet, and economically, it seems, the writing was then on the wall for Concorde’s supersonic service. Our collections are rich with Concorde stuff. Top of the list is our own aircraft, prototype 002, on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton: In the Science […]

Yesterday, I visited the former Croydon Airport as part of my London Open House perambulations. Croydon was home to London’s first proper airport, with the purpose-designed terminal building opening in 1928. It’s now a visitor centre and business park. Increasing aircraft size, number of flights, and worries over proximity to a fast-growing London (sound familiar?) meant that Croydon’s days were numbered as an international airport after the Second World War, and the last flight left exactly fifty years ago, in September […]