Seeing Concorde at the Museum of Flight, East Fortune
Last Christmas, Max’s aunt and uncle gave him a very generous gift card for a toy shop, and, a few days after Christmas, we took him along to pick out a toy. (If you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with the Museum of Flight, by the way, bear with me: all will become clear…)
Now, for the few months leading up to this event, Max had largely ignored the vast amount of toys that are crammed into our house in favor of:
a) His beloved Magna-Tiles
b) A selection of cheap plastic “jewels” which he believes to be “treasure” and likes to painstakingly display around the house, normally choosing the most inconvenient place possible.
With this in mind, I was convinced he’d probably pick yet another box of the infernal magnets or something very similar. Instead, we left the store with this:
It’s a toy bomber. A very, very cool one, as you can see.
“This’ll be a 24 hour wonder,” I confidently predicted. “Then we’ll be right back to the Magna-Tiles.”
A few days after Max’s birthday we went back to the toy store to let him spend his birthday money, and left with an entire squadron of military vehicles. Since then, the collection has grown to include an aircraft carrier, a Chinook helicopter, a military base, and about 50,000 more planes.
And, well, also nuclear bombs. Which I would have to confess aren’t my favourite toy, all things considered.
It’s the planes he really loves, though, and when we visited our family in Kent last month, Max’s Uncle Niko gave him a book about different types of aircraft. It was Niko’s own book, so it was written for adults, not for children, and I assumed Max wouldn’t get much use out of it. <FORESHADOWING>
Much to my surprise, though, Max pored over that book. He can’t actually read it yet, of course, but, with our help, he was soon possessed of a really quite surprising amount of knowledge about airplanes, and it was clear that we had a full-blown obsession on our hands.
Which brings me – AT LAST – to the museum of flight, in East Fortune, near North Berwick.
The Museum of Flight is located on the site of a former airfield that was used during both World War I and II, and it’s home to a huge collection of both military and commercial aircraft. There is a Harrier Jump Jet. There’s a Vulcan bomber. There’s a Spitfire. And I know all of this purely because Max ran towards each one of them, shouting their names with a level of excitement I haven’t seen since I dropped the tub of Halloween candy by mistake and he assumed it was a free-for-all.
He also made this face the entire time, which is why there are no “normal” photos of him in this post. Sorry.
The museum has hangars for both military and civil aircraft, and there are also some outdoor exhibits. My favourite was the de Havilland Comet, which was the world’s first commercial passenger jet (Not this exact one, I hasten to add: this one was actually the last of its kind to fly, apparently…), and just a really fascinating little time-capsule to an age where airplanes still had ashtrays on the arm rests and the overhead bins were at roughly my eye level:
Max, meanwhile, loved the ‘Fantastic Flight’ experience, which has tons of hands-on exhibits where you can learn about the various tests pilots have to pass, plus how planes are built and tested. This absorbed him for so long I actually started to get a bit impatient, because there was one thing I knew he’d love even more, and we’d deliberately saved it for last…
The Concorde Experience at The Museum of Flight
When Max first got his book about planes from his Uncle Niko, there was one plane that interested him above all else, and it was, of course, the Concorde. Which was handy, because the Museum of Flight just so happens to be the final home of Alpha Alpha, the first plane in Concorde’s commercial fleet.
We’d told Max about all of the other things he could expect to see at East Fortune, but we kept the Concorde as a surprise, and oh my God, was it worth it…
The look on his face when he walked into the hangar and saw it sitting there was a bit like that moment in The Railway Children where the little girl’s all, “Daddy! My daddy!” except in this case it was, “Concorde! My Concorde!”, and if you don’t think that’s equally emotional then I’m going to assume you don’t have a child who’s obsessed with aircraft…
To be fair to Max, it IS pretty spectacular. I’d actually visited East Fortune a few years ago, but even though I’d seen the Concorde before, I think I’d forgotten how impressive (and HUGE) it is. Even to someone like me, whose interest in planes revolves mostly around whether or not they’re going to get me to my destination safely, it’s quite a sight, and it makes me wish there were still some of them in operation.
Alpha Alpha may not fly any more, though, but you do get to go inside and walk through it. Here’s Max looking into the cockpit:
My main takeaway from this was that, even on Concorde, the toilets were very small, and the seats incredibly close together. I’m imagining the Queen squashed up against someone like Mick Jagger here, with the Beckhams in the row behind, and wouldn’t that have been a sight to see?
Anyway, this was the final stop our trip, although Max did persuade his Gran and Grandad to buy him a toy Concorde in the gift shop, so we’ll be able to remember it forever. Not that we’ll really need to, mind you: I have a funny feeling we’ll be going back sometime soon…