Flight – 100 years of the Bristol Aeroplane Company


Bristol BabeAnd so to the City Museum for the opening of Flight – 100 years of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, an exhibition marking the centenary of aircraft manufacture in the city. (PDF of programme here.)

It’s a splendid little show, complete with aero-engines, a full-size replica of a Bristol Babe biplane (pictured), built for the leisure market. And they have some wheels from the ill-fated Brabazon airliner, which is just about all that’s left now of the only Brab that was ever built.

It makes a very decent fist of telling the story of an industry which has been hugely important to Bristol. It’s a very big story, with a limited amount of space, but it does its job well. There’s even room for Gavin Ewart’s sardonic wartime poem about a Bristol Beaufighter being shot down at sea:

When a Beau goes in

Into the drink

It makes you think,

Because, you see, they always sink;

But nobody says “Poor lad!”

Or goes about looking sad;

Because, you see, it’s war,

It’s the unalterable law.


The show’s well worth a look if you live in Bristol, not least because aviation is mostly ignored by official Bristol.

There are lots of possible explanations for this. Aerospace doesn’t actually happen in the city of Bristol, but in Filton, which, though fused to Bristol anatomically, is politically and administratively in South Gloucestershire, a pointless “unitary authority” that was one of Avon’s bastard children.

There’s something else, too, though, I think. It’s the old thing of official Bristol being run for the most part by white middle class graduates who’ve moved in from somewhere else. They don’t really “get” the big important industry and the technology, and too often mistake it all for icky weapons and nasty things that cause global warming.

There’s way more to Bristol’s aeroplane heritage than that, and much to be proud of. See the show and, if you want more, and like your museums rough and ready, schlep up to Kemble to visit the rather wonderful and slightly eccentric Bristol Aero Collection, where they have aeroplanes, bits of aeroplanes, satellites (a replica of Bristol-built Giotto!), a real Bristol tram, some Bristol buses and a Filton-built boat – from the times they were pioneering plastics – called “Polly Esther”.

It was never just about Concorde. Bristol owes a lot more than it realises to the men with slide rules and Bri-Nylon shirts.


One Response to “Flight – 100 years of the Bristol Aeroplane Company”

  1. You might want to mention that this exhibition is partly sponsored by BAe Systems. A very Bristolian firm. They employ lots and lots of Bristolians in their massive complex up in Filton Abbey Wood.

    It’s just a shame that the items they produce are focused exclusively on killing people. And they’ll sell those items to the highest damn bidder, sociopathic maniac or not. And they’re spectacularly corrupt (do a google under “Al Yamamah” and “corruption scandal” and you’ll see what I mean).

    It aint all roses in Bristol’s aviation industry.

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