The Helicopter Museum, Weston-super-Mare
Weston-super-Mare is blessed with two special transport museums. The nippy Lambretta Museum is in town while on the outskirts, The Helicopter Museum houses a more substantial type of vehicle.
Now the world’s largest dedicated helicopter museum, it has been growing steadily since 1958, when the founder Elfan ap Rees, an aviation writer and historian started to collect rotorcraft. Now here's where the vocabulary gets interesting - rotorcraft is a complex famlly of vehicles including helicopters, autogyros (same as gyroplanes), gyrodynes and tiltrotors. It became the British Rotorcraft Museum in 1978 but that wasn’t so catchy. Whatever it’s called, every variation is here, from bizarre early prototypes to hulking military beasts. There’s even a Gyro-Boat. Either way, it's a wonder any of them got off the ground. It just doesn't seem natural.
The early days of flight are marked by the Cierva Memorial Building, named after Don Juan de la Cierva, the designer and founder of the practical autogyro (as opposed to the impractical autogyro, of which there were many). The collection contains many rare and delicate vintage craft with great names like the Thruxton Gadfly and the Campbell Cougar as well as the modern superstars of the helicopter world - the fearsome Russian Army Mil Mi-24, the G-LYNX world record speed holder and royal helicopter The Queen's Flight. And it’s not just helicopters - Helix, the only teddy bear to have completed a round the world helicopter flight is here too.
Beside the shop and cafe there's an excellent display of models (some pretty substantial) and toy helicopters including Budgie, created by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York who trained as a pilot in the Navy. He's all but forgotten in most households, but is fondly remembered here. Kids can take a ride in a miniature Budgie, or play around in the cockpit of a proper helicopter firmly rooted to the ground outside. The museum runs a number of special "Helidays" throughout the year where vistors can enjoy helicopter rides from the beach, as well as Open Cockpit Days where grown-ups can pretend to fly too.