We’ve just visited the recently opened Aerospace Museum in Filton, Bristol. There has been some kind of production to do with the aviation industry in this part of Bristol for over 100 years, and this museum pays tribute to those creative innovators in flying, and their contribution to both military and civilian life in the UK and across the world.
Temperatures have dropped here in the UK over the past few days and summer feels well and truly over now, and we here at Travel with the Tribe are constantly on the lookout for places to take our children in colder weather where they can still enjoy doing things indoors, and the Aerospace Museum has fit the bill nicely!
You might be thinking to yourself “My kids aren’t really into planes, so it’s probably not for me and my tribe.” Yes, the main theme is planes, and as you look around the museum you will find lots of examples of engines and replica planes from World War One, World War Two alongside actual planes developed and built in Bristol after 1945. Some of our tribe are not very interested in the history of planes, or history generally, but the museum has more going for it than just being a history of planes. When you walk into the museum, you are given your “boarding passes” aka your tickets, which you have to present to staff at various parts of the museum, and you feel as though you are actually in an airport as there are little details familiar when going to an airport, which make you feel as though you’re flying off somewhere and are really quite cool! There are some great stories of human experiences too of different people who worked on various aviation projects like Sir George White who was inspired by the Wright brothers to start building planes at Filton, the men who fought as fighter pilots on the “Bristol Scout” in the RFC (Royal Flying Corps), the precursor to the Royal Air Force, and the pilots who flew the spectacular Concorde – flying faster than the speed of sound and almost flying above the earth’s atmosphere – the sky was black when they looked down apparently!
The museum also tells the story of Filton, a small village on the outskirts of Bristol, which has been transformed over the past 100 years from fields and farming to pioneering aviation and industrial technology in it’s air hangars and on it’s airfield. So even if your little ones aren’t necessarily interested in planes, we are certain there will be a story of something or someone which will be of interest to them.
There is a lot to see and do at the Aviation Museum, but it won’t take you a whole day to get around all of it. If you are local to Bristol and the South West, you can take advantage of the close location of the museum to home, or if you are coming from further afield you can combine a visit to the museum with other attractions the cities of Bristol and Bath have to offer. (Please read our posts on Things to do in Bristol, the National Trust property Dyrham Park near Bath, and our post on Georgian Bath for more details of how you can combine your visit to make a day of it!) If you and your tribe also enjoy shopping, another great thing about the location of the museum is it’s close proximity to Cribbs Causeway shopping mall, which has free parking all day every day and a great variety of shops to peruse and spend your money in! So you could spend the morning in the Aerospace Museum, go for lunch at Cribbs Causeway (there are numerous restaurants there to eat) and spend an afternoon shopping! Sounds like a great day out to us!
The museum is open, has great space, and because the museum is built in old hangar buildings you also get a sense of what it must have been like for those workers who went to work everyday with their tools to craft and build many different planes, helicopters and other transportation vehicles. Your little ones can pick up a trail sheet upon “arrival” at the museum, which has got lots of questions to keep them entertained as you walk around, or your children can also get a “clocking in card” which we thought was fun, and there are lots of clocking in stations to stamp your card and learn something about what it was like to be a worker at Filton, or how people took care of themselves as Bristol was being “blitzed” by German bombers during the Second World War. There are lots of interesting artefacts and evidence, plenty of information to keep everyone engaged, there is a cockpit of a Harrier Jet you can stand in, a full on flight simulator planned to be operating by the end of the year, and as you move around the main part of the museum you are taken through each period of time chronologically, so your walk will take you from the 1900’s to the 1960’s, which makes perfect sense really!
With it being Half Term, there are other things you and your kids can do as well, when we visited we read that coming up during this week there are going to be hourly demonstrations of drones by the British Model Flying Association, there were people painting poppies in clay for Remembrance Day 2018, with many of them actually going on display beside the Scout and F2 Fighter aircraft, and the museum also delivers their regular “Spotlight” talks – which at the moment are talking about the planes used during World War One.
The real highlight and major draw of the museum however, is being able to step on board a plane which is undoubtedly still in a class of it’s own, the mighty Concorde. For Bristolians, Concorde is definitely their plane, designed, developed and built in Bristol. You can see why the people of Bristol are so fiercely proud of Concorde and it’s legacy to the city. In fact, it’s a bit of British institution really, there is something incredibly moving when in the final part of your visit to the museum you move out of the main part of the building and make your way into the Concorde hangar. First impressions – Concorde is bigger than you think it is going to be and there is no wonder why the plane needs a hanger all of it’s very own. Looking at the the red, white and blue colours of the British Airways sign painted across this majestic plane sign, you can’t fail to feel patriotic and proud to be British, particularly if you sit very quietly on one of the many seats around the aircraft, take the view of Concorde in with all of it’s splendour, and at the same time listen to the recording of some of those who flew on it during it’s “golden age”. You kind of also feel as though you have briefly stepped back in time to the 1970’s and 80’s, when flying supersonic of course was the way to travel for the rich and famous, and you could get from London to New York in just over 3 hours!! Climb the stairs, or catch the lift, and move upstairs where you can go on board the last ever flying Concorde, and view the cockpit with all of its bright lights (there are an incredible number of switches and knobs!) and seats for the Captain, Co-Pilot and Flight Engineer. Continue to walk through one of the sections of the plane (there are about 100 seats on board for passengers) and view the comfortable seating, smell the leather and imagine the lap of luxury for those on board! You can even see the cigarette ashtrays (can you believe people smoked on planes!!!). Whilst on this floor, there is also the Concorde exhibition which is worth looking at, there are some interesting anecdotal stories from the test pilots, but you can also look at the menu with food served on board, champagne bottles (which was a regular drink for passengers travelling by Concorde!), some very smart uniforms of British Airways cabin crew and some interesting comparisons of how long Concorde took to fly to various destinations around the world. We can’t even begin to imagine travelling to Barbados in 3 hours 50 minutes from the UK, but Concorde did it! How we wish they would bring this plane back into service!! Look on the wall outside of the exhibition too as there are even messages from famous people who were lucky enough to fly Concorde during its time in service, we particularly liked the message from singer Phil Collins who we remember flying Concorde from London to Philadelphia on the day of the famous Live Aid concert organised by Bob Geldof on the 13 July 1985.
There is of course the very lovely museum shop and cafe should you need a sit down, refreshments and somewhere for the kids to spend their money (our little ones bought a nice Aerospace Museum mug, but the shop has lots of other nice little pocket money toys, cards, sweets and gifts to buy).
When you buy your ticket you have the added bonus of being able to visit the museum as many times as you wish in the next 12 months, and we will certainly be going on a repeat visit soon. We have certainly not covered everything in our first trip, and therefore we will need to go back, and we’re happy about that. Being able to see Concorde now safe and soundly tucked up in its hangar is a sight you could never get bored of. You get the feeling that the Aerospace Museum has yet to completely “fly”, it’s a relatively new museum with forward thinking ideas and interesting exhibits, and because of this we have a feeling it will continue to “take off” in the future.