Thursday 23 May 2013 11:00 UTC
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Looking something up on an aircraft museum website today, I was reminded of some of my longstanding irritations with various aircraft museums.
I don't want to damn them outright - I visit a couple of museums most years, and get a lot of enjoyment. I am full of admiration for the various people who put a huge amount of time and effort, paid or often unpaid, into these museums, and hope they keep doing so.
But I still get irritated by most of them.
(1) Because of the overwhelming concentration on history. Okay this is important, but the amount of information about technology, design, how they are/were flown is usually much weaker.
(2) Where there's educational material, or access arrangements it's virtually all school level. I used to teach BEng and MSc courses in aircraft design and take them along to Duxford as part of the course. If I was a primary school teacher we'd have got in for free and been presented with huge amounts of educational material - as a university lecturer I had to pay normal group rates and produce all the material myself.
(3) Cockpits! I'm a pilot, I like seeing inside the office, ideally sitting in it. I know things need protecting against deterioration, but the majority of exhibits I can't even put a carefully controlled head inside the cockpit or cabin for a good look. I would really really like to.
(4) Catering! I usually go for lunch, as do many others. Yet the quality of catering at most aircraft museums is the most dreadful pie/fish + chips, or incipid sandwiches. Is it that hard to offer some faintly healthy and interesting food?
So, from the point of view of affectionate criticism, what else could aviation museums do better?
I too find most aviation musuems boring, static displays of aircraft that you're not allowed anywhere near. Step within 2 feet of an exhibit and some jobsworth will spring from nowhere demanding you step back.
I find the smaller ones staffed by enthusiastic amateurs the best. I enjoyed my visit to Coventry where I had a very pleasant chat to said amateurs while poking about the cockpit of the Vulcan and the flying wheelbarrow. Same for the de Haviland museum where you can get into the cockpit of the Sea Vixen and up close and personal with the Mosquito. Again the enthusiam of the volunteers makes the visit interesting and entertaining.
The Americans seem better at this than we are, the Spruce Goose museum is a good example of how it can be made interesting on a larger scale.
Can't comment of the food as I usually take a good picnic or go to a local pub.
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I tend to avoid aviation museums because to all intents and purposes the aircraft have 'died' and I find it very sad to see (in the same way I find butterflies pinned in a display case unattractive).
The exception to this are places like the Shuttleworth Collection where there are drip trays under some exhibits, which I do go to but find a) expensive and b) over restrictive.
I understand the curators won't want the great unwashed all over their aeroplanes in an uncontrolled manner (any more than I would want them over my own aeroplane), but surely they can make special arrangements for students and other non-public viewers, say outside normal visiting hours, with an expert on hand to show interesting features and to make sure everyone behaves!
I've always enjoyed aviation museums but I know what you mean about the catering!! As for the 'rules', I dot get too bothered as I can imagine what kind of carnage would ensue if everyone was allowed to hop in a cockpit very five minutes.
I've never really had anyone to go with as my wife and kids glaze over with boredom at the subtlest suggestion of going to one and I find 'going it alone' rather weird. Saying that, I did go to one in Portsmouth on my own (or was it Southampton) a few years ago. Smallish in size, and right in the centre. It was quite interesting. I had 2 hours to kill (I was waiting for a Cowes ferry I think) and it fulfilled its purpose nicely.
I agree about the educational visits they do all seem aimed at the very young. I want to take my Air Cadets to see these museums and they have a basic knowledge about Aircraft and would like something aimed towards them at the very least. As for catering at museums it it either very poorly cooked food ( Duxford food i remember as dreadful) or pre-packed sandwiches, I know it can be difficult to cater when visitor numbers are variable but there must be a compromise to improve the quality of food.
I imagine there must also be a way of improving visual access to aircraft interiors, with technology available you would have thought they could fit some form of camera and interactive technology to get a better view without all and sundry clambering over the aircraft?
Dream as if you'll live forever, Live as if you'll die today.
Its not just aviation museums that suffer from these symptoms...aviation, maritime, industrial etc museums now purely seem to cater for the "lowest common denominator" the buzzword seems to be "interactive" what this actually now means is the ability to experience a sanitised artificial experience with no requirement for intelligent thought. (that is until the touch screen thingy breaks ). An example of thus was a local industrial museum I used to get involved with..., here you used to be able to get up close to real working machinery but following a very expensive redesign, the place is now completely sanitised. Yes there are a few more computer exhibits but the real life steam engines are now hidden out of view except for the increasingly rare opportunities that they are steamed in public. Luckily I have found a small steam railway that acts as a hobby for those involved and tolerates interested members of the public! We won't win any tourism awards but we have good fun!
Unfortunately, it is getting more and more socially acceptable (sometimes almost a badge of honour ) to be ignorant in all matters technical or scientific which is lamentable.
That said, I second the recommendation for the Mosquito air museum which is small enough to be brilliant.
Brooklands must be one of the best on that front - they do all different tours for different age group and hit the STEM bits well.
Perhaps it's something YES shoulds be getting involved with - certainly if there are museum out there who want to update the STEM content there's lots of willing knowhow kicking about.
I'm surprised though there's not more in place - its and big big theme in education at the moment.
"Let's go flying"
Scribblings of a novice PPL
The boys hog the cockpit while AB patiently waits her turn...
I seem to remember clambering over several exhibits at Middle Wallop. I wonder is it still allowed?
[Edit to reduce picture size ]
Last edited by Tall_Guy_In_a_PA28 on Thu Jan 03, 2013 1:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
The tall guy formerly in a 152
Veering well off topic, but it is interesting how memory works. I do not remember taking that photo at all, but I did remember having the photo. So how did I remember that AB had a cold? Well, my snippet of memory is that I had a cold and AB gave me something to suck (no sniggering, please) ergo she must have had a cold too.
The tall guy formerly in a 152
Tee hee. I just dug out the original thread relating to the photo over on the other side.
After the usual couple of pages trying to agree a date (some things never change) I posted some photos (now broken links) including the above. The funny thing is that I used virtually the same words to describe AerBabe's involvement.
Oh, and the date on the picture is wrong, apparently. It was December 2003.
Back on topic, I'll offer a mild irritations that applies to museums in general. I like to know how the exhibit came to be in the collection, but this final piece of the history is often missing. Was it donated or purchased? Is there a local connection (sometimes obvious)? Why was this piece saved when others were not? etc etc
The tall guy formerly in a 152
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