Aerospace Bristol

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Highights: Away Days Trip to Aerospace Bristol

“She looks like a magnificent white bird” I recall someone saying when we were watching a video display of Concorde landing. So much was magnificent on this ‘Away Day’s Visit’ to Bristol Aerospace, especially when we were in the huge Concorde hangar. We were a sizeable group but we were dwarfed by this splendid plane as we stood beneath its wings.

Soon we joined a queue to go inside the cockpit. Here space was so tight only two of us at a time could get close to the flight deck. Here was the door with the signatures of the crew who flew that last time over Bristol to say farewell to a much admired aircraft. We walked through the cabin and the plush leather seats looked surprisingly roomy; an expectation, no doubt, of superior first class travel.

But we spotted two tiny toilets and a minute galley, only 24 inches deep. However there were luxuries were on display in rooms beside the plane; the bone china tableware, and on the menu the foie gras, the lobster, the cocktails and the champagne, of course. We were informed that there was no in flight entertainment because, in the time it took to serve a sumptuous meal and clear away, the plane had already almost completed its journey to either New York, Washington or Barbados. At £8000 return for a ticket and a journey of only 3 ½ hours I think you would expect the best.

Most of all we were impressed by the amazing engineering that went into developing a plane that could fly at 60,000 feet, on the edge of space and twice as high as other aircraft. We admired the beautiful unique shape of fuselage that reduced drag and heat on the leading edges in supersonic flight. They solved the problems of a fuselage which would expand and contract in the course of the trip. Even the paint was flexible to allow for movement. 40% of the fuselage and wing, and 60% of the powerplant were British design and build. It was quite a boost to our sense of national pride.

In addition we could try out our flight management skills as engineers on some interactive displays. I tried one aimed to keep the aircraft balanced as it used hundreds of gallons of fuel each minute. It was very difficult and I ran out of fuel and crashed!
Visiting Concorde was actually the second part of our ‘Away Day’. We started with a guided tour of the Bristol Aircraft Museum, which is housed in the original hangar in Filton, with brick pillars and arches, where much of Bristol’s great history of aircraft manufacture took place.

Unusually we began by looking at a wonderfully restored Bristol tram because, as we learned, a very forward looking engineer and entrepreneur, Sir George White, started his career in charge of a company making trams. But in one year, after a visit in 1909 to an air show, watching the Wright brothers, he returned to Filton to transform the factory into making aeroplanes. Such was his vision of the future.

It was a bold move, but White knew he had a skilled workforce, and by 1910 they had built the first Bristol Boxkite. The company, now called the Bristol and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was ready for the immense increase in aircraft production in World War 1. Filton became a base for military aircraft serving as the HQ for Royal Flying Corps No 5.

The museum detailed the developments of life in the Filton factories in sound and photographs including accounts of devastating air raids in the 1940s. After both world wars the need for military aircraft declined and we saw how they developed other products; Bristol lorries in the 1920s and the excess of aluminium was turned into the ‘prefabs’ post WW2.

The history of aircraft included the beginnings of luxury travel with Britannia Airways. Luxury can also be seen in the aerodynamic lines of the famous Bristol car on display which was in production until 2011.

There was much to see from the Harrier jump jet to an Airbus simulator. The rockets and satellites that have been part of the British Aircraft production were here as well as the local history of the demolition of the village of Charlton to make the runway for the Bristol Brabazon. Unfortunately the plane was not a success.

Our thanks to the Away Days team for a very enjoyable visit.

Wilf Summerbell