x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A fascination with flying machines

Transport seems to be an obsession with most small boys. How we get somewhere is as important as where we're going.

I flew in the Concorde last weekend, landing it at Heathrow, with all my family strapped in the seats behind me. It wasn't a perfect landing - in fact, one wheel was firmly off the runway. Then, after we'd landed, seven-year-old River turned the plane and we took off again, with a child in the captain's seat. I haven't had such fun in ages. This thrilling ride all took place on a flight simulator. And by flight simulator, I don't mean some sort of glorified fairground ride. This is the same simulator that Concorde pilots themselves used to learn on. And it's now in a hangar in a field outside Weybridge, Surrey, in the south of England, almost ready to be opened to the public, so you can all have a go at landing that iconic plane.

The simulator is situated at Brooklands Museum. To be honest, until my brother - and aviation enthusiast ? dragged us all there, I'd never heard of it either. Brooklands was a major centre for aircraft design and test flying for most of the 20th century. The first Flight Ticket Office was opened there in 1911 by Keith Prowse. It's where some of the world's most iconic planes, manufactured by companies such as Hawker, Sopwith, Vickers and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), were manufactured and first flew.

These flying vessels became heroes in the 1960s film Those Magnificent Men in the Flying Machines, a film my kids still watch. But now Brooklands is an aircraft graveyard. The planes sitting on the pit-holed tarmac all made their last flight to that spot, and haven't left since. I don't understand why, but transport seems to be an obsession with most small boys. How we get somewhere is as important to River as where we're going. So he went wild at Brooklands, skipping up the steps of plane after plane, walking up the aisles, sitting in the pilot's seat. We played flight attendants on the Concorde, first engineer on the Vickers Vanguard, and captain on the Viscount. We boarded the VC10 that once belonged to the Sultan of Oman. It boasted what must be the original first-class, flat bed cum seat - two cabins on board with a double bed in each, with a single seat belt stretched across a gold velvet bedspread. In fact, everything was in gold velvet, from the velvet-covered pre-plasma television, to the velvet cover on the toilet seat.

Brooklands may be about transport, but the sort of journey it took my family on was more time travel than geographically shifting from place to place. The planes let us enter an era when travel wasn't about queuing and being cramped, but had glamour and style. It wasn't only fun for the kids, it was a hands-on history lesson. "Can we go on one of these next time we go away?" asked Savanna, River's twin sister, as we sat in a seat on the Sultan's VC10. If only, I replied. If only.

* For more information about Brooklands Museum, visit www.brooklandsmuseum.com Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at dbirkett@ thenational.ae