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Review: the new Aerospace Bristol museum – Part 1

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This is my review of the new Aerospace Bristol museum.

I am in Cardiff today for an event to celebrate the launch of daily Qatar Airways flights from Cardiff to Doha.  (Yes, I know the first flight was yesterday.  Qatar Airways works to an odd schedule.)

Even the two frequent flyers I know who live in Cardiff admit that they never expected to see regular long-haul flights from the airport, yet alone a daily Boeing 787 service!

More on this in a day or so.  As I needed to be in Cardiff early it made sense to head down the day before.  This gave me a good excuse to visit the new Aerospace Bristol museum which opened last October, home to a Concorde amongst many other exhibits.

Click on any of the pictures to expand.

Aerospace Bristol

I am not, in any sense, an aviation ‘enthusiast’.  I genuinely cannot tell an A320 from a Boeing 737, let alone from an A319 or A321.  I have never wanted to be a pilot and never wanted to work for an airline.  As it turns out, that is not what Aerospace Bristol is about.

Aerospace Bristol

It is a long time since a complete aircraft was built in Bristol.  The final assembly for all of the UK Concorde aircraft took place here, along with some manufacturing – every UK Concorde took its first flight off the Filton runway.  The flight to Filton in 2003 to deliver the Concorde on display was the final ever flight.  Whilst Filton and the wider Bristol area is still a major aviation centre, the nature of the Airbus consortium means that only specific aircraft sections are now made here – wings, fuel systems and landing gear integration.

Aerospace Bristol is literally two museums in one.  A converted World War 1 hanger has been converted to tell the story of aviation in Bristol.  Concorde sits in a separate new-build hanger.  I have split this article into two parts for that reason.

Aerospace Bristol

Getting there

I took the train from Paddington to Bristol Parkway, from where it was a £7 taxi ride to the museum.  Adult entrance is £15 with the usual concessions.  On a Tuesday in May it was very quiet, with no more than 25 people at any point.

Uber is available in Filton so getting a car back to the station is not a problem.

The location is a little odd.  Filton is being redeveloped, with a new housing estate now opposite the museum on what was part of the airfield.  Around you is an odd mix of old and new structures.  There is no longer an active runway although an air ambulance operates from outside the museum.

Aerospace Bristol

Inside the museum

I’m not going to go into the full history of aviation in Bristol.  The village of Filton was originally the end of a tram line, and when the tram company decided to expand into aviation in 1910 it used an area where it had built bus and tram garages.  The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company was born.

The outbreak of World War 1 gave the company a massive boost, although it went into receivership afterwards when faced with the tax bill on its wartime profits!  A quiet period followed until the late 1930’s when the threat of a rearmed Germany surfaced.  There are German maps of the Filton site on show in the museum.

Aerospace Bristol

It is not a museum about aircraft.  There are not actually that many on show.  (It would have been good to have Airbus more directly involved as their site is next door.  They could have lent some excellent pieces given what is in their museum in Toulouse.  Even Concorde is only on loan from British Airways.)

It is about how two wars shaped UK industry, and about war itself.  The average lifespan of a fighter pilot in World War 1 once he started active service was 11 days.  6,000 pilots died on test and practice flights during World War 1 as the pilots got little training and the aircraft were not fully reliable.

Aerospace Bristol

The picture above refers to an odd diversion into prefab house building at one point!

It is also about how the UK aviation industry changed after World War 2.  What you don’t get, unfortunately, are lots of aircraft with furnished interiors.

I did like this comment about the Brabazon, a Government funded project from 1945 to develop a transatlantic airliner.  Designed and built at Filton, it first flew in 1949.

Aerospace Bristol

“In spite of its technical brilliance, the Brabazon was a commercial failure.  The market for expensive luxury travel was being replaced by smaller airliners with high density seating and lower fares”.

Aerospace Bristol

And that was the early 1950’s …..

More on Aerospace Bristol tomorrow, when we turn to this (click here for Part 2, looking at Concorde at Aerospace Bristol):

Aerospace Bristol

Comments (31)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Sam G says:

    Not sure if you’ll cover but there are plenty of sub-400 quid Y deals from Cardiff at the moment – which are a nice change from paying 600+ for KLM or having to travel to London . Shame it’s the 787 though…

    • John says:

      Anything good in J?

      • Andrew says:

        I am looking at Qatar flights from Cardiff to Bangkok, £ 392 return in November . J class about 2000 quid
        I am taking the slow route, so overnighting in Doha in both directions..
        It seems that the cost of the flights is the same if I book Cardiff to Bangkok (via Doha) return versus booking four singles . Is there any advantage in terms of tier points to be gained from Booking four singles ?
        Thanks !

      • Sam G says:

        Nope. Never is, even on the new Gatwick flights which I can’t believe aren’t trundling around carrying a load of air at such short notice. Some kind of agreement with BA not to trash yields I wonder?

  • JamesB says:

    Nice post, look forward to visiting when next in the area.

    Readers in Scotland and visitors to Edinburgh might be interested in visiting the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield. It is outside the city but has direct public transport links. Exhibits include a Concorde and a new Red Arrows display. Forthcoming special events include Lego Awesome Bricks on 16-17 June and the National Air Show on 28 July. Detail:

  • Rich says:

    The Concorde may officially be on loan from BA, just as all those that left Heathrow, but it can’t fly now and as you say, the runway is closed anyway – so it ain’t going anywhere apart from on the back of a lorry!

  • Tim M says:

    I am an aviation ‘enthusiast’. I could recognise any airliner in the sky even the tricky difference between a Tristar and DC10. I wanted to be a pilot and chose my A-levels to maximise my chances of getting in to the BA pilot training college at Hamble. It closed before I could apply. The only route for a person of limited family means was then via the RAF. The ITV sitcom about the RAF “Get Some In” running at the time put me off. I have been rudderless ever since 🙁

    It is still the same – airline employers expect pilots to pay for their own training. So much for meritocracy.

    • Nick says:

      Except on the BA (and easyJet) cadet programmes, where they don’t. The airlines facilitate a commercial loan, which they then pay back for the first 7 years once you start line flying.

      Point taken, it’s still only a niche route and the majority do still pay (or RAF) first, but it’s only fair to stress that it’s not all that way.

      • Tim M says:

        Yes Nick but…

        You are quite correct, as an adolescent now those schemes would be available. When my Turkish property business fell under the weight of the credit crunch of 2008, I was determined to retrain as a pilot, aged 40, under the BA loan scheme. I had my sea captain’s licence for many years by then and experience of flying gliders. One black mark on your credit history makes you ineligible for the loan-to-train schemes. End of.

        BA missed out on me. Their loss ;-(

  • Jamesay says:

    Interesting article. I was unaware of what was actually on show on Filton so now!… my interest is truly piqued… thank you!

    Also thanks to reader with suggestions for Edinburgh.


  • Mike says:

    Rob – Great article (PS I will only view HFP on a desk top now I know it makes a difference to your income, I never knew before. Does it help if if I view from different desktops ie read on my lap top before work and then from my desk top at work rather than using my mobile to read articles)

    • Rob says:

      Same is ok. Don’t inconvenience yourself too much though.

      • Ben says:

        You must love me then, I visit this site around 30 time a day (while at work) so check up on comments etc. (and no Ad Blocker) 😉

  • Gregor says:

    I live in Stroud, not too far from Filton, and visited Aerospace Bristol soon after it opened. I can highly recommend it. As Rob intimates, it’s not just for aviation geeks: the historical context is well presented and it’s astonishing to realise how rapidly aviation advanced in the early 20th century – from the Wright brothers to WW1 aerial combat 15 years later, with transatlantic and circumnavigation soon after. The withdrawal of Concorde was an unusual example of an understandable but retrograde step in technological progress.

  • Anna says:

    The Aviation Museum at Caernarfon is another gem – as well as being very instructive about the wars and the RAF there are a number of decommissioned planes and helicopters from various eras. Best of all, the cockpits are fully accessible so kids (and big kids) can sit in them and play with the controls!

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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