Yesterday – partly because we, particularly my father, had never been there before – his carer and I drove for two and a half hours to take my aged father to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton in what I’d describe as the West Country but may just not be: put it this way, it’s a fair bit westwards beyond Stonehenge on the A303 and somewhere between (and/or in either) Wiltshire and Somerset.
[A word or two here of background information. My father, who’ll be 93 next month, gained his Fleet Air Arm pilot’s wings on ‘VJ-Day’ in 1945 – the day that Japan finally surrendered thereby ending WW2 – at the US Navy’s base in Corpus Christi, Texas. Over the last two or three years he has taken to wearing a blazer and a Fleet Air Arm tie as his daily attire.
Of over 140 original trainee pilots on his course only one in three passed as, divided into groups of six arranged in week-by-week succession, they undertook the eight month training programme and hopefully gained their ‘wings’. Sadly for the chaps affected, the Navy then prevented all the tranches coming behind my father’s from becoming pilots because – the War having now ended – they weren’t going to be needed!]
The Museum is literally just half a mile off the A303 and part of a modern military base.
As you pull into the parking area you are confronted by a large building bedecked with the words “RNAS Fleet Air Arm Museum” with the sub-text “Naval Aviation since 1909”, the combination of which refers to the fact that the Royal Naval Air Service – the original name of what became the Fleet Air Arm – was founded in 1909, just six short years after the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) became the first to fly a (heavier-than-air) aircraft at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on 17th December 1903.
In all we spent three and a half hours touring the Museum yesterday.
As a non-military person myself, albeit with a degree of interest in WW1, I was fascinated by walking around the impressive display of exhibits – particularly the aircraft and helicopters – not least because of the undeniably flimsy (and in some cases almost Heath Robinson) nature of some of the contraptions in which Naval and other aviators over the past 110 years had taken to the skies at all, never mind in conditions of war during which they might be going to kill or be killed upon a daily basis.
Another oddity, if that is the right word, was what I took to understand to be the ‘002’ (i.e. second) prototype of the Concorde, probably the most beautiful passenger aircraft ever designed.
Whilst standing beneath it gave one the opportunity to appreciate its sleek lines and majesty, going up the steps at the back – as one was able to do in order to walk along the inside of the fuselage – forced one to marvel at quite how thin the body of this sensational airliner was.
Our little group had an enjoyable and rewarding day and, having emerged from the Museum, ate a hearty ‘roast’ lunch with all the trimmings in the café/canteen outside it before setting off upon our return journey.
After arriving back at my father’s house, contemplating the upsides of what had been a ‘new’ outing/experience for him over a cup of tea on the terrace, I was somewhat surprised to learn – via a report of a telephone call that had been received from my father’s former secretary whilst we had been away – that in fact my father had been to the Museum on at least three previous occasions, two of them with said lady and her husband.