diamond geezer

 Friday, November 29, 2019

Brooklands Museum, in Weybridge, is an excellent day out. [blogged 2015]

As home to Britain's first Grand Prix circuit it has some amazing tales to tell, and vintage vehicles to showcase. As the site of the Vickers aircraft factory it has sheds brimming with decades of aeronautical technology. As home to the London Bus Museum it boasts RT1, GS34 and T23. But what it also has which really marks the place out is a Concorde, and yes you can go on board, and even take a 'flight'.

The Concorde Experience is a bolt-on extra purchased on top of your admission ticket. It means forking out an extra fiver, but that's cheap compared to a former transatlantic fare of more like £5000. Booking online in advance might be necessary in high summer when the place is packed, but on a grey November weekday you'll not be turned away. For your trouble you get a date-stamped 'boarding card', in British Airways blue, and a time to rendezvous in the airport bus alongside. Don't be late.

30% of every Concorde, be it English or French, was manufactured here at Brooklands. That includes both ends of the fuselage, the tail fin and the famous drooping nose (which lowered to give pilots a view of the runway as they came in to land). Brooklands was thus an excellent place for the British development Concorde to end up, the one they used for testing and training rather than passenger service, and later cannibalising for spares. Better still this is Concorde Delta Golf, or DG, so I absolutely had to get on board.

After the intro aboard the bus you're led out to stand underneath the body of the speedbird. Any Brooklands visitor can stand here, but they won't get the expert spiel pointing out how high the plane is off the ground, why there are tiny wheels at the end of the tail and what the emergency propeller is for. Then you're off up the steps onto an actual Concorde, but through the hold at the back because (unusually) the aircraft wasn't designed with space for luggage underneath.

The rear of the fuselage has been stripped of seating to host a mini exhibition. It's packed with facts and memorabilia, and a Concorde timeline with particular reference to G-BBDG. Discover which dozen airlines promised to buy a Concorde but never did. See test manuals and ripped-out cable, and discover when and why the Queen Mother took a flight. One ring of cladding has been removed so you can see the metal fuselage with its teeny tiny windows, because at rarefied heights these couldn't be any larger. Try and explore as much as you can before the mini-film starts and you have to stop and watch.

Then it's time to progress through the galley, where a couple of tables have been laid out with Concorde-standard dining options. I walked through too fast to scrutinise the menu options because the big movie was about to start in the main cabin so there was no time to linger. Here finally I got the chance to sit in a genuine Concorde seat, as enjoyed by celebs and other moneyed travellers, although G-BBDG was never used for scheduled passenger services so David Frost never plonked his backside here.

Watch the screen up front and a former pilot will lead you through take off and the climb to Mach 2, along with mild underseat vibration to add a frisson of credibility. Don't look out of the window, it ruins the illusion. Once the flythrough's finished a montage of Concorde's finest moments plays, backed by a totally appropriate Queen song, ending up with the sad day in 2003 when they were removed from service. I remember it well, watching from a London rooftop as three old ladies made a final descent towards Heathrow. At the end some of our 'passengers' even applauded... more likely out of a deep love for the plane than quality of the audio-visual.

Yay, you get a certificate on the way out, as well as a quick glimpse into the toilet and the cockpit. And then you're cast out into a less privileged reality, descending past the delta wing back to ground level. I wonder what the class of schoolchildren who trooped through Concorde after us thought of the small, somewhat dated plane, having no memory of quite how significant it once was. The future of air travel has been cast aside on a patch of Surrey tarmac never to fly again, a mere museum piece... but much loved still.

» It's free to visit Brooklands Museum with a lottery ticket today, tomorrow and Sunday

Where to find the 18 surviving Concordes
Prototypes/Development (UK): Yeovilton, Duxford, Brooklands
Prototypes/Development (Fr): Le Bourget, Orly, Toulouse
Passenger service (UK): Manchester, North Berwick, Heathrow, New York, Barbados, Seattle, Filton
Passenger service (Fr): Washington, Sinsheim, Toulouse, Le Bourget, Charles de Gaulle (1 scrapped, 1 crashed)

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