Back in January on a trip to the UK, I was looking for a fun afternoon escape from the dreary winter rain. The Helicopter Museum near my parent’s place in Somerset was well worth the visit, especially at a mere £6.50.
The museum has the largest collection of helicopters in the world. Two hangars are crammed full of an incredible assortment of models. It was hard a little hard to appreciate the size of the helicopters as they were so closely placed, but you will get to see helicopters that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
The visit was part history lesson, part trip down memory lane. I got to see a Westland Dragonfly, a helicopter that my dad flew around in sometime in the early 50’s. I also saw a Westland Whirlwind in which I took one of my first helicopter flights when I was 16 or 17, only few months before they where retired from service with the RAF.
The museum also has a good collection of Russian helicopters including the massive Mil Mi-8, which holds 24 passengers, 3 crew, and clocks in at 60 feet in length. Not to be outdone, the infamous Mil Mi-24 holds only 8 troops, but has staggering array of weapons. I really wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of either.
Mil Mi-24 Hind
The Kamov Ka-26 is one of the strangest looking helicopters. In the photo below, you can see two sets of rotor blades that run in opposite directions. And it features an optional passenger pods that can be detached (preferable not mid-flight.)
It was also good to see one of the US helicopters on display is a Hiller UH-12C, built in Palo Alto, California near my home in the Bay Area. When you are visiting Northern California, check out the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA. They have some fun stuff too.
Two things really stood out for me.
Scale. I‘ve flown in a Robinson R22 and at the size of a smart car this is one of the smallest helicopters in the world. For contrast, this was placed next to a huge old French helicopter, Sud Aviation’s SA321F Super Frelon (Super Hornet) which carried around 35 passengers, and was used by an inter island airline in Greece.
Variety. The Helicopter Museum has around 80 helicopters, with a few repeats. As a museum that started as a private collection, this is a real mish-mash of models, from the menacing to the silly. Honestly, I am amazed some of these ever flew. But my visit was definitely a fun day out.
Robinson R22 (foreground ) and a Sud Aviation’s SA321F Super Frelon