Reviewed by Angela Paull
Recently (30 August 2017) we went to visit the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, Somerset. We were a wide age ranging group – from 6 to 69 so were keeping our fingers crossed that the museum would offer something for all of us.
The museum is well signposted around the area so very easy to find and has a large car park. As it is situated within the Navy base we could immediately see helicopters outside on the runway. There was also a large looking café with an aviation themed kid’s playground next to it – perfect for parents to relax with a cuppa whist their offspring wear themselves out!
The entrance to the museum was up a large flight of stairs, there is also lift access if required, which led to a large ticket area. Despite it being a rainy morning, we didn’t have to wait as there were plenty of friendly and helpful staff on duty and in no time at all we were heading into the museum building.
Immediately it was clear that children would be well catered for – even wandering between the ticket area and the main exhibition halls there were dials to turn, pilot’s helmets to pose next to and a rack of “trails” to follow. You enter via a mezzanine area, above Hall 1. Here there was even more entertainment for the small people – a huge “fuzzy felt” board, (surprisingly tricky) magnetic jigsaws and a periscope to spot a spitfire through. From here a large ramp led us to Hall 1 and immediately the 6-year-old was excited to see that you could actually go inside one of the helicopters. First though the rest of the hall, where he was able to sit in a suspended chair whilst pretending to pilot a plane and press buttons aplenty on the interactive exhibits. The helicopter was a constant draw though and we proceeded to walk through this at least half a dozen times whilst his grandparents were able to peruse the rest of the exhibits at leisure. Off one corner of this hall there was also a sizeable room, where you could eat a packed lunch, which was equipped with a couple of vending machines for both snacks and hot drinks.
Moving on to Hall 2 and some World War 2 aircraft, a mock submarine (compete with wind up telephone) and a massive viewing area from which you can look out onto the air station. You could also hop back up to the mezzanine level where the kids could do some colouring, dress up, figure out morse code and control a “war map”.
The most impressive part of the museum would probably have to be in Hall 3 – the “Carrier” experience. This lasts about 40 minutes and is an interactive tour around an aircraft carrier. You start the journey with a simulated helicopter ride and step out onto the deck of the aircraft carrier. This is quite dark and there are lots of aircraft on deck. Over a loud speaker you get an explanation of what you are seeing and then videos project at each end of the hall to show how aircraft would take off and land. From the flight deck you move into the “Island” where you see just how much goes on, the vast array of staff and departments that are required to keep this massive craft moving. You move forward various sections of the ship via red/green lights and there is a video commentary throughout of what you’re seeing. It really is very cleverly done and you certainly get a feel of what life must be like at sea – there’s definitely more to an aircraft carrier than you would think!
The final hall is dominated by Concorde and the 6-year-old immediately wanted to walk through it! The actual aeroplane felt surprisingly small and we all agreed we wouldn’t have wanted to be a pilot in that cramped cockpit! From here you can climb some stairs to get a real birds eye view of the whole hall. The favourite exhibit though was the De Havilland Vampire – finally the chance to actually sit in the cockpit and get our hands on a joystick! I think my 6-year-old would have stayed there all day!
We all came away from the museum having really enjoyed ourselves. There is definitely something to suit all ages and the fact that there is so much to keep the kids entertained is really impressive. This is Europe’s Largest Naval Aviation collection and there is so much to see. The scale of the place is huge (big exhibits obviously need big hangars) so it never fills overcrowded. Your ticket allows for you to come and go all day so there is plenty of opportunity to take a break in the café or play outside if the small people need some fresh air.
If you want a souvenir of the day there is also a large well stocked shop offering a vast array of Aircraft/Navy related goodies – ranging from lollipops to gin. Plenty to fit all tastes and budgets.
Highly recommended – I wouldn’t hesitate to go back!
Tickets cost: on the door prices (book online in advance for 20% discount)
Adult £14 without Gift Aid / £16 with Gift Aid
Child £10.50 without Gift Aid / £12 with Gift Aid
For more information visit www.fleetairarm.com.
Fleet Air Arm Museum, RNAS Yeovilton, Ilchester, Somerset, BA22 8HT