A few days ago, my son Yendor and I visited Aerospace Bristol at Filton, Bristol, UK – a museum that I didn’t know about until it was recently mentioned by my friend (one of the Plastic Dog originators) Ed Newsom, who works there part time.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable visit. I was genuinely surprised to discover the sheer number of aircraft and motor vehicles, etc. that had been made by the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
A little bit of history now – if I remember correctly! The company, originally called the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was founded 109 years ago by Sir George White, chairman of the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company. Operations were split in the mid-fifties into two companies. One was Bristol Aircraft, which later merged to form the British Aircraft Corporation, which itself was part of a nationalisation and merger forming British Aerospace, now BAE Systems. The other was Bristol Aero Engines, which later merged to form Bristol Siddeley and was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1966. To cut a long story short, both BAE Systems and Rolls Royce still have a presence at the same site where the original company was located in Filton, Bristol, UK.
The aerospace museum covers over 100 years of aviation history, with the main exhibition housed in a First World War Grade II listed hanger. There is such an unimaginable gulf of capability between, for example, the Bristol Boxkite and the mind-boggling Concorde; from bits of wood and canvas to vapour trail and travel at 60,000 feet, with many impressive machines inbetween. We worked our way round the main hangar, taking in a wealth of information – we must go back again to re-read and fully take it all in! Another surprise came with the standard of food served in the café – it was unusally good for a museum café.
We rounded off our great day by a viewing of a Concorde supersonic airliner, which we had intentionally saved for last. The Bristol-built British Airways Concorde Alpha Foxtrot (G-BOAF), the last Concorde to be made and the last to fly in 2003, is parked in its own purpose-built hangar. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Concorde’s maiden flight, a milestone being celebrated by the museum. I must say the old speedbird still looks very, very cool!
Here are a few shots of the engineering masterpiece that cruised at twice the speed of sound and was capable of crossing the Atlantic in under three hours:
And yes, here is my own fantasy interpretation of the plane:
'SPEEDBIRD', 1976, PIGMENTED INKS ON ART BOARD (50CM X 100CM)
Illustrated in 1976, this was a private commission by a friend, Sandy Sneddon at Sonet Records, as a birthday gift for his wife who was a flight attendant on Concorde.
My friend Ed Newsom enquired about this image not long ago. I wanted to give him a print of it, but alas, having searched high and low I could not find the original transparency to reproduce it from. I did have one image from it, but I didn't think it was possible to work from. Anyway, upon returning home from our grand day out, I thought 'I must blog about all this'. I asked Sarah to scan this one and only image that I had of 'Speedbird', hoping she could at least make it presentable enough for online viewing. She carefully worked on its restoration for several hours and ended up with an image that was actually suitable for printing. She printed it on thick, white, 100% cotton fine art paper - and I have to say, it looks rather smart. Printed on this limited edition quality paper, we decided to make this a short run of only 50 prints to mark Concorde's 50th anniversary. I was delighted to be able to give Ed a call and let him know that we would be able to lay one on him. To view the print, please click here.
Of course, I have to leave you with one of my anecdotes. As we drove to the museum, an old memory sprang to mind. In the 1960s I took drum lessons from Keith West, who lived a mile or so down the road from the site of the engine testing facility for the Rolls-Royce Olympus engines that were due to power Concorde. On my way to a lesson, I jumped off a bus and proceeded towards my destination on foot. There was an almighty roar of a powerful jet engine to my left as I passed the aerospace complex - 'that must be one of the beasts destined for that newfangled high speed plane that people are complaining about’, I thought. And so it was!
Oh and in my best Columbo voice - 'just one more thing!' I was thinking about heading up to the petrol station on Thursday, when Sarah said 'not until you've written your blog!' I returned to my desk, wrote what you have been reading, and then headed out. I arrived at the petrol station having narrowly missed six police cars chase a vehicle into the forecourt and made an arrest while waving machine guns and telling everyone else to stay in theirs cars. So, thanks to this blog I didn't get caught up in all that!