In September 2013, I visited the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton UK, to catch up on recent events and progress at this magnificent Warbird Aviation Museum.
The museum is located within the RNAS Yeovalton site and is quite a large museum both physically and in aircraft numbers. It is the largest Naval Aircraft collection outside the USA and contains many “only one of remaining “aircraft
For those unfamiliar with this museum it is located in Somerset about 3-4 hours’ drive from London and it’s a fairly easy drive, public transport is via rail and then a bus and is not easy or convenient, but possible.
I visited this Museum 10 years ago and many of the former exhibits are still in place and several new and exciting exhibits were also on display, including the recently refurbished Grumman Martlet AL246 which has had its original color scheme, preserved where possible and replicated when it was missing. I must say it’s an acquired taste – a mixture of a vivid green and midnight blue.
This Warbird restoration project represents thousands of hours of careful work and research and is a credit to all concerned.
Nearby, is the Corsair KD 431 which was restored in the same way and was in restoration 10 years ago when I last visited. Again, an excellent job was done on the aircrafts original finish, which looks superb.
The Aviation Museum is broken up into themed halls which lead one into the next in a seamless way. However, I am a little at a loss to explain the area dealing with experimental aircraft.
While significant in its own right, there is no particular naval theme other than highlighting the evolution of the Harrier Jump Jet fighter. The area contains one of the test prototypes of the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde airliner etc.
The rest of the halls clearly relate to the Royal Navy with the display set out in an excellent and cohesive way, dating from the earliest days of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in WW1 up to the near present day.
The Falklands, the Conflict, the People. Centenary of Fixed-Wing Flying, including a British Aerospace Sea Harrier, Sopwith Pup, Short S27, Supermarine Walrus, Westland Wessex, Westland Dragonfly Sea King, and AE-331 Augusta 109A. There is also a display of the substantial remains of a WW1 Short Type 184 in original preserved condition.
Houses mainly aircraft associated with World War 2 (1939 -1945). World War 2 Battle of the Atlantic Women’s RN Service Korean War 1950-1953 Kamikaze, Airfield Viewing Area.
Aircraft in this hall include the Fairey Fulmar, Grumman Martlet AL246, Corsair KD 431, NA Harvard, Fairey Firefly, Grumman Hellcat, Grumman TBM Avenger, Supermarine Seafire F.17, Hawker Sea Fury, MiG 17, Westland Dragonfly. Blackburn Skua Wreck and Fairey Swordfish.
The Aircraft Carrier Experience was created to show naval aircraft in its natural home. Aircraft on display are Westland Wessex, Blackburn Buccaneer X2 of, de Havilland Sea Vampire, Hawker Sea Hawk, Supermarine Attacker, McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom, Gannet, Sea Vixen, Supermarine Scimitar.
The displays in this hall include the theory of flight as well as some exceptional aircraft including the first British built Concorde, and two delta wing test aircraft, Kestrel, Harrier, Sea Harrier, Hunter, Bristol Scout, Wessex, Vampire T22 and several other experimental types.
The first floor and gallery contain six fascinating exhibitions which include the Physics of Flight, Interactives, Battle of the Atlantic Operation and the Blackburn B-24 Skua recovery.
In addition, located across the road is the Museum’s Reserve Collection which is housed in a Heritage Lottery funded climate-controlled building called Cobham Hall. In this building, which is only open to the public once a year, is a multitude of rare preserved aircraft, aircraft awaiting restoration and thousands of artifacts. It is to be hoped that one day all of this magnificent material can also be put on display.
The aircraft stored and being restored include;
Fairey Gannet, Fairey Flycatcher replica, Fairey Firefly, Hawker P.1052, Supermarine 517, Dh Sea Venom, Dh Sea Vixen, Douglas Skyraider, Hiller THE.2, Westland Whirlwind s, Westland Wessex s, Westland Wasp, Gloster Meteor T.7, Westland Wyvern, etc as well as Fairey Albacore and the Fairey Barracuda restoration, to name a few.
One last area to mention is the restoration workshop where the current incumbent is a Gloster Sea Gladiator in the early stages of restoration and the quality of work, as always is excellent.
The Museum has an excellent Cafeteria, child’s play area and the inevitable shop with the facilities well maintained and of a high standard. I can recommend a visit to the Fleet Air Arm Museum as a highlight of any trip to the UK for avid Warbird and Aviation enthusiasts.
For accommodation nearby, I would recommend The Ilchester Arms, located at The Square, Ilchester, Nr Yeovil. This is an excellent B&B / Pub within 10 minutes’ drive from the Museum. There is parking at the rear and if you arrive on Sunday there is a great roast lunch that is not be missed. The rooms are a good standard and a reasonable rate.
© John Parker 2013