Family Outings: The Helicopter Museum, Weston-super-Mare
Go on, give it a whirl
Sunday 13 February 2005
The sleepy seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare is the unlikely location for what is not only Britain's sole helicopter museum but also the world's largest collection of helicopters. The museum, next to the derelict Weston airfield, draws on the town's strong aviation heritage, which comes from the post-war years when it became one of the UK's centres of helicopter manufacturing. More than 80 helicopters are on display, many belonging to a private collection and lovingly restored by enthusiasts. The collection includes rare and one-off models of all shapes and sizes. There's a great deal to see and the museum is thoughtfully laid out so that the level of detail you get is down to you, whether you go misty-eyed at the sight of rotor blades or simply want to know how a helicopter manages to take off and stay in the air.
Something for children
The museum has gone to considerable lengths to be friendly and fun for children. There is a playground with swings and two helicopters for them to crawl around - though you are just as likely to see their fathers sitting in the cockpit of the Westland. In the main hangar, which houses the bulk of the collection, children's audio talks are available for many helicopters that skip the more technical bits. The large display of models may well lead to demands for parents to dig deep in their wallets in the souvenir shop.
Something for adults
Just about every helicopter in the collection has a story to tell, from the Queen's Flight helicopter with its red and blue ensign to the 1950s model of the kind that saw service in the Korean War as a medical evacuation helicopter (and featured in M*A*S*H). Other eye-catching craft include the Westland Lynx that set the helicopter world speed record of 249mph over Glastonbury in 1986. The vintage "Huey" served the Americans during North Vietnam's Tet offensive in 1968 and the first Gulf War in 1991, and a Belgian Antarctic research model with a badge designed by Hergé of Tintin fame. Among the curiosities are some of the wackier prototypes that never made it off the ground. These include a flying saucer-like model that was designed to move along the ground like a car and then rise up into the air and a wooden helicopter boat which would guarantee sleepless nights for 21st-century health and safety officers.
The museum also offers "air experience flights" where, for £29, you are whisked up and away over the seafront for a few minutes. At weekends, you can visit the workshop and speak to engineers as they restore the latest additions to the collection. On the second Sunday of each month, guides take visitors into the cockpits of several helicopters.
The museum's café serves coffee, tea cakes and other snacks, as well as a limited range of hot dishes, including soup, jacket potatoes and steak baguettes.
Variations on the aviation theme: from mugs, videos and T-shirts to a wide range of kits and model replicas of the most popular of the museum's helicopters.
Admission and access
The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday. From November to March, 10am to 4.30pm, from April to October, from 10am to 5.30pm. Adults: £4.95; children £2.95; family ticket (two adults, two children) £13. There is full disabled access.
How to get there
Helicopter Museum, Locking Moor Road, Weston-super-Mare (01934 635227; www.helicoptermuseum.co.uk). By car: The museum is clearly signposted from the A370, which links Weston-super-Mare to junction 21 of the M5. By public transport: Buses 120, 121 and 126 run to the museum from Weston's Grand Pier.
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