Flying back in time – the National Museum of Flight

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This weekend I was looking around at things to do and discovered there was a “Wartime Experience” day at Scotland’s National Museum of Flight at East Fortune – about 20 miles from Edinburgh.  This day was part of the UK’s 70th celebrations for VE day – Victory Europe, celebrating the end of WW2. Combined with the museum’s main attraction, the “Concorde Experience”,  I drove out the A1 to East Lothian to see some magnificent men and lots of flying machines. 

Like so many airfields up and down the East coast of the UK, the airfield at East Fortune was built in 1915 for military use by the RAF and the RN’s Fleet Air Arm.  During WW1 it was used as a fighter air station and in WW2 it was used as a flight training school.  The airfield is still in use, mainly for private aircraft and microlight flying.  The former RAF buildings have been used by the Museum of Flight since 1976 and the hangers are home to may of the exhibits …

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Of all the military aircraft on display – this is the one I recognised from my Royal Navy days – the Harrier.  For non-military aircraft buffs, the Harrier had a vertical lift off capability and was also known as the Harrier jump jet.  I’ll never forget the noise it made!  Deafening, but was always very impressive to see a jet like this lift off vertically, then pull away into the skies, or the same in reverse ….

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Outside, there are a number of aircraft on display.  It was hard to miss this De Hallivard Comment 4 C – the first commercial passenger airliner and a workhorse in the airline industry during the post war years. This particular aircraft saw service in the RAF and then DanAir, before being retired in 1980.  My very first flight was in a Dan Air flight to Italy for a school ski trip in 1975 –  I couldn’t help but wonder if it was this very aircraft …

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The most famous aircraft at East Fortune is probably Concorde.  I remember the announcement that it was coming – many museums bid for the decommissioned Concord’s, but East Fortune won – mainly because it undertook to build a hanger to ensure it would not be at the mercy of the elements.  there was a short waiting period before going onboard.  during this time I discovered that this particular aircraft was the sixth to be built and the first to enter commercial service. It was also the first to be decommissioned …

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It is believed this aircraft spent most of its working life flying between London and New York.  As I stepped onboard, I couldn’t help but think about all the celebrities that must have walked the aisle and sat in the seats.  Even after a major refurbishment in the 1980’s, with Terrance Conran designing the interior, you can see it is pretty basic and cramped by today’s standards …

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And of course, a reminder of why us why Concorde is so famous and popular with the rich and famous – time is money.  The journey time from London to New York was just over four hours, so you literally arrived in new York before you had left London ….

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As David Frost once said of Concorde “You can be in New York at 10 o’clock and in London at 10 o’clock … I have never found another way of being in two places at once”.  This is primarily why the cramped conditions didn’t matter so much. Even the pilots didn’t have a lot of room – here is the flight deck, which had a team of three flying…

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And of course not forgetting concord’s famous nose, which dipped for landing and take off.  Here it is in the flight position …

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The end of Concorde was the end of a pioneering era in commercial aviation – there has not been another supersonic passenger jet service since.  Concorde was also a huge source of national pride and successful bi-lateral co-operation between the UK and France.

For the Wartime Experience day, the Concorde Hanger was turned into a 1940’s stage, with evocative song and dance sets to entertain.  All this helped to get us all in the mood!

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1940’s hairdressing demonstrations were also popular with the ladies…

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Some of the other buildings became temporary exhibition and demonstration areas.  I loved this old switchboard and bakelite telephone, which is normally seen at the Museum of Communication at Burntisland in Fife …

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In the same building, there was also a ration cookery demonstration – reminding us all how creative and resourceful everyone had to be during the war years, given the limited food rations permitted …

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Outside, the Wartime Experience was a feast for the eyes.  I spotted this fetching fellow – he was wearing the uniform of “Ginger Dickson”, who served in the Argyll and Southern Highlanders and saw service in both WW1 and WW2 …

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And a few other sights that reminded us all that there was a Wartime Experience theme to the day …

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The museum has a Fantastic Flight Centre which is great for kids – it is is very interactive, allowing users to experience the physics and science of flight, including the type of aptitude tests taken by pilots testing colour blindness and reaction times …

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 This was a multi-player airship simulator.  I tried it with my friend, but failed miserably to land the airship, despite being given very specific instructions.  It was fun though!

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Although I am not a particular aircraft enthusiast, I did enjoy my day at the National Museum of Flight, and this was significantly enhanced with the Wartime Experience.  The museum is less than an hour from Edinburgh and there is plenty to see and do, particularly for families.

Key information

Website: http://www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-flight/

Location: East Fortune airfield – 4 miles off A1, after Haddington turnoff – EH39 5LF. It is very well signposted!

Opening Hours:  28 March – 1 November daily 10am – 5pm,  November-March weekends only 10 – 4

Entrance fees:   Adult: £10, Concessions: £8,  Child: £5 (under 5 free)  Family: £26 (2 adults and 2 children)

Refreshments:  Aviator Cafe within the Concorde Experience hanger, lots of open air places to picnic

Other things to know:  Lots of walking, although there is a little road train that can transport less able visitors around the hangers. Audio guides are also available for a nominal charge.

 

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