Shad does the Fleet Air Arm Museum

John is fond of all things aeronautical and used to work in the aviation industry where he spent a significant amount of time in airports.  He most recently worked in airport automation (installing IT solutions for baggage handling and check-in systems) but started off his airport duties as a ramp technician, loading and unloading commercial airliners, refuelling, and waving around those little orange flags that guide the aircraft as they taxi on and off the runway.  These days he tends to keep his hands clean and stick to admiring planes from a distance, although he can never resist pointing out an Airbus A380 or a Boeing 747, or telling me something about planes that have recently retired or become operational.  So if John ever asks you if you’ve experienced a Garuda Indonesia, a Mexicana or a China Eastern, he is referring to airlines not restaurant dishes!

Our trip to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset was a real delight for John as it combined 2 of his passions in life – photography and aviation.  The journey in the car was long but I didn’t mind because an extended nap was called for to recharge my batteries in preparation for our tour of the halls that hold the assortment of aero engines, drawings, models and military and civilian aircraft on display.  The Museum is Europe’s largest naval aviation collection and stores thousands of objects including examples of the first manned kites towed behind naval vessels, to helium filled airships and modern Sea Harriers.

As I stepped in to the hanger, I looked up to see an enormous fuselage of a modern jet plane hanging from the high ceiling and on the ground was a Hawker Sea Fury – a single seat fighter bomber used by the Royal Navy in the Korean War (1950-1953).  It made me think about the sadness of war and the brave individuals who defend their country’s freedom and pay with their lives.  May be one day there will be no more fighting and humans will be truly humane to each other and to animals.  As the Dalai Lama once said, ‘my religion is simple, my religion is kindness’.  I gave a little nod of respect to the memory of all those who have felt the devastating effects of conflict and continued my adventure through the museum.

There were helicopters taking off outside and staff working meticulously on restoring custom-built engines and the curved blades of a propeller.  My favourite piece was the Concorde 002, the second prototype of the Anglo-French invention which first took off in April 1969 and achieved supersonic speed on 25th March 1970.  Her test career lasted 7 years and she was placed on display at the Museum in July 1976.  I sat under the delta-shaped wing while the museum guide explained how the aerodynamic centre of pressure moves rearwards during the change from subsonic to supersonic flight and the implications this has for the aircraft’s balance and handling.  It was fascinating but a tad too technical for a feisty feline like me so I snuck off to explore the cockpit nearby while John listened to the physics lecture.  I was having a lovely time playing with the knobs and buttons when it all got a bit embarrassing.  The museum staff had to fetch John because I was allegedly misbehaving.  He came to pick me up rather sheepishly and we beat a hasty retreat!  It wasn’t my fault I got a bit over excited given all the interesting things there were to sniff, jump on and slide down!

 

Shad does the Field Gun Run

Do you know how much a field gun weighs?  It’s around 1250 lbs, which works out to about 567kg or more than 100 Shad the Cats.  For those of you who are wondering, a field gun is a moveable piece of artillery that fires a heavy shell from a long barrel and is often used in the field to support front-line troops.  Once a year, the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition is held at HMS Collingwood’s open day in Fareham near Portsmouth (Hampshire) and John took me to see this spectacular event.  He carried me through the car park and people kept stopping to stroke me.  I tried to oblige with some head-dips, chin-lifts and friendly meows but when we heard the rhythmic sound of a military band suggesting the action was about to start, we had to press on.

 

The Field Gun Run features 22 crews from across the UK and Gibraltar competing for the coveted Brickwoods Trophy and is supported by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, as well as the British Army and Royal Air Force.  It’s a tribute to the Royal Navy’s involvement in the relief of Ladysmith in Southern Africa during the Boer War in 1900.  Guns from HMS Powerful were hauled to Ladysmith by the ship’s naval brigade to defend the town against attack.  Special carriages and mountings for these guns had been improvised by Captain Percy Scott of the cruiser HMS Terrible and dispatched in HMS Powerful in Durban.  Later, Commander Scott played a key role in conceiving the idea of Field Gun competitions, with the first taking place at the Royal Tournament of 1907.  Today, 22 teams compete in this spectacle of strength, discipline and teamwork.

 

The competition was fast and furious, with each 18-man team gritting their teeth and pouring with sweat as they demonstrated sheer determination to run, dismantle, reassemble and fire the gun in the shortest possible time.  It must have taken weeks of physical training to develop the stamina essential for this challenge and the super fit crews did themselves and their services proud, maintaining the spirit of the Royal Navy’s contribution to the liberation of Ladysmith.  The same could be said for the Tiger Motorcycle display team – a group of children aged 5 to 16 years who captured everyone’s imagination with their tricks, stunts and jumps.

 

Witnessing such energy and endurance made me feel highly motivated to set myself a personal challenge, but after much deliberation, the best I could come up with was chasing my peacock feather toy around the lounge for more than 3 minutes.  That does seem a little lame compared to the trials and achievements of all those represented at HMS Collingwood’s open day so I decided to put aside my new-found vivacity and concentrate instead on cleaning up my fur after being petted by the sticky mits of excited children earlier on.  My next challenge would be racing John to the door and climbing the food trolley to select that evening’s tasty treat!