In the far west of England, south of Bristol, is the Fleet Air Arm Museum, a fantastic collection of aircraft from throughout the history of Royal Navy aviation history.
A pilot (right seat) and co-pilot (left) sat up here, while an Observer and Aircrewman sat in the back.
The Observer is also the navigator, radar operator and runs the winch. The Aircrewman is the guy that hangs out the door to directs the rescue of the injured, assist in difficult landings and is trained as a medic. You can see on the right the yellow paint. This aircraft is painted in both RAF and Royal Navy SAR colors, split down the middle, giving it the nickname of "Banana Split."
Perhaps surprisingly, the Fairey Swordfish II biplane torpedo-bomber and the Fairey Fulmar fighter both saw extensive service throughout WWII. The Swordfish's first flight was only 5.5 years before the Fulmar. Despite being a seemingly obsolete biplane, it was an extremely successful aircraft in the war. For example, carrier-based Swordfish dropped the torpedoes that helped sink the famous German battleship Bismarck.
Hall 2 focuses mostly on WWII aircraft, like this Grumman Wildcat, or as the British initially called it, the Martlet. This is the only one of its type, sold to the French but diverted to Britain after the fall of France.
This Corsair was actually built under license by Goodyear (yes, that Goodyear). It is the only remaining Corsair flown by the Fleet Air Arm, the only one in its original condition from WWII, and one of only two of the FG-1A type, which were those built by Goodyear for the FAA.
A cockpit from a T22 Sea Vampire trainer.
Here's something I haven't seen in any air museum before. To access Hall 3 you enter through an actual aircraft, this Westland Wessex helicopter. It shakes and rattles a bit, and then you "land" on...
Two Wessexes take the role of one to transport you to Hall 3. This was exceedingly clever, I must admit.
One of two Blackburn Buccaneers, later built by Hawker-Siddeley. This is an S2, which is similar in appearance to the adjacent S1, except much larger engine nacelles. This one first flew in 1967 and was briefly stationed on the real Ark Royal.
The carrier facsimile goes beyond just painting the floor and walls. There's a reproduction of the ship's island as well, complete with dummy crew. An audio/video tour that follows you from room to room tells you the story of the ship.
Though some liberties are taken to let you get around easier, the displays give a reasonable idea of what the ship looked like.
The Action Information Centre, where the crew can monitor and direct the carrier and fleet's actions.
On the left is a display of the analog way the aircraft were tracked. On the right, a pilot signs in a plane he'd been flying.
Keeping track of the various positions of the 38-50 aircraft on the Ark Royal must have been exceptionally stressful -- something they'd never let just any dummy handle.
Speaking of keeping track, here's a mock-up of the radar room.
Overlooking the "flight deck" is flight control (aka "flyco"), which is appropriate. One of these guys looks a little seasick.
The rear wall also turns into a massive projection screen, like the front wall. On this one you can watch what carrier landings look like, from the deck. All very well done.
That's another Sea Vampire in the foreground, with the two Buccaneers behind.
Well that sure is a Concorde. G-BSST, to be specific, the second Concorde to fly, and the first one built in Britain. It takes a traditional jet airliner 7 to 8 hours to get from London to New York. Concorde could do it in 3.5, traveling at over Mach 2.
You can see the seems in the panels that allow the nose to droop 12.5 degrees during takeoffs and landings.
To help make the inefficient Concorde as efficient as possible, computer-controlled air-intake ramps could vary the amount of air gulped by the big Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 afterburning turbojets. At cruising speed Concorde was actually quite fuel efficient, it was getting to that speed that wasn't.
When taking off, and again when going transonic through Mach 1.7, raw fuel would be dumped into the exhaust and ignited for extra thrust. In American English these are called afterburners. In British English, the process is called reheat. Production Concorde models, unlike this prototype, had "eyelid" exhaust nozzles.
Because of the narrow cabin, most Concordes you can tour use the rear emergency exit as either and entrance or an exit. The former, in this case.
G-BSST never made commercial flights, and has been at the museum since 1976 after 7 years of flight testing.
What amazes the most when you enter Concorde is how narrow the cabin is, and if there are seats, how small they are. Especially when you consider they cost significantly more than the first class seats on other aircraft.
Production Concordes had a higher, more comfortable, air pressure in the cabin than even the modern 787. It was roughly equivalent to the air pressure at 5,500ft/1,700m, while the 787's cabin is equivalent to 6,000/1,800 and most commercial aircraft is 8,000/2,400m.
Being a test aircraft, G-BSST has escape hatches in case of an in-flight emergency.
Being the first British-built Concorde, it went through significant testing to ensure the subsequent aircraft were are safe as possible.
Three engineers monitored literally tons of instruments and recording gear during flight tests.
And here's the first sign of how old Concorde really is. An analog cockpit. There was even a flight engineer well into the era when this position was eliminated. With the nose and aerodynamic visor up, check out how poor forward visibility is. Though I guess at 60,000ft/18,000m, what are you going to hit?
Here you can see the visor, and the side windows that still look like they should be on a space ship.
Nearly 50 years after its first flight, and 15 since its last, Concorde still looks as graceful as it does stunning.
A serious engine was required to get the VTOL Harrier and predecessors off the ground. In the background is the smaller Pegasus that powered the early prototypes. In the foreground is the 3.5x more powerful BS100 that was designed and built to with the intention to create a supersonic Harrier variant. The program was cancelled.
A Sea Harrier that fought in the Falklands war. In 1994 the pilot had to ditch in the Adriatic sea, he safely ejected and was rescued. The airframe was recovered and reconstructed.
The Fleet Air Arm Museum is a fantastic collection of aircraft. It's a bit of a hike from any of the more touristy parts of the UK, but the southwest coast is lovely, so if you're headed that way, this is definitely worth a stop.
To read the story behind this tour, check out Sea air power: Britain's Fleet Air Arm Museum.