Tom Gibbons recently visited the excellent International Helicopter Museum at Weston-super-Mare, a treasure trove of unique rotary designs.
With the weather slowly improving, and with the chance of a decent weekend coming up, I recently took the opportunity to get out with the camera following a period of inactivity. So, having dragged myself out of bed early on a Sunday morning I decided to head off to Bristol Airport as I was pretty taken with the spot to the south of the runway; however, one certainty was that the variety of traffic wasn’t going to be anywhere near what I experienced at Heathrow on my last day out!. Well, on arrival it was clear that I wasn’t going to be shooting much; a large security fence had been erected since my last visit and as I was sans ladder, photography was going to have to take place elsewhere!
A quick look at the map showed the International Helicopter Museum (IHM) a mere 13 miles away; 20 minutes later and I’d paid my £6.00 admission and was stepping into the “World’s Largest Dedicated Helicopter Museum”. The IHM is another one of those collections that I just hadn’t got around to visiting and I was sure there would be some gems tucked away in the museum’s buildings. Photography was going to be a challenge though as I didn’t have my tripod; the 1D Mark IV’s high ISO performance was in for a test – most of these images were shot hand held using ISO 1250.
It was soon clear that I wasn’t going to be disappointed as the IHM houses an incredibly diverse mix of helicopters with aircraft from the former Eastern Bloc, the USA and Europe crammed into the display buildings; add a huge selection of Westland products and what is probably most of the remaining Westland WG30 aircraft from around 40 examples built and there is something here for most who have a taste for anything rotary.
With the collection increasingly shoehorned into a finite amount of space, photography was ‘interesting’ to say the least, however with a bit of thought and patience some decent shots could be had. Stand outs? Well, the first production Super Frelon in Olympic Airways colours, a Mil Mi-4 Hound and ex DDR AF Mil Mi-24 Hind facing a Polish Mil Mi-8 Hip, a diminutive Sud Ouest Djinn and a large collection of Lynx variants including the record breaking G-LYNX and the Lynx 3 looking for all the world like a modern day AH.9A variant. Dominating the centre of the main exhibition hall are two ex-Queen’s Flight machines; a Whirlwind HCC.12 and a Wessex HCC.4, both absolutely immaculate and looking capable of carrying out a royal tasking straight away.
Once I’d had a good look around, I took a stroll outside the museum where there were a number of machines held in external store including a couple more WG-30’s, a Wessex and at least two ex Danish Air Force Sikorsky S-55’s still clinging to life. Surprisingly there was a Harrier GR.1 partially covered with a tarpaulin; this was a former Plenum Chamber Burning tests airframe at Shoeburyness and latterly one of the ex-Bristol Aero Collection airframes, presumably waiting its turn for some TLC.
Overall a super little museum that tells the rotary tale very, very well. I just wish I hadn’t left it so long to visit!