London’s Science Museum – Sno-Cats, Flying Bedsteads and Rocket Planes

We took a trip up to London’s Science Museum in South Kensington this afternoon. We had intended to do the Victoria and Albert Museum too, but got caught up in looking at all the really great stuff like this Sno-Cat,


which hauled the gear on the Vivian Fuchs led Commonwealth expedition to cross Antarctica back in 1957. I can remember seeing a documentary about the expedition as a kid and wishing that I could have an adventure like that when I grew up.

Hanging from the ceiling was the Flying Bedstead,

Flying Bedstead

the bedstead was essentially a jet engine test rig built by Rolls Royce to evaluate whether engine power alone was enough to lift an aircraft. It was first flown in 1953 and is the direct ancestor of the Hawker Harrier that proved so decisive for the Royal Navy in the Falklands Conflict.

An example of 1960s British engineering prowess was hanging from the ceiling of the Space Gallery, the Black Arrow rocket.

Black Arrow

With its open jaws it reminded me of Blofeld’s space ship from You Only Live Twice, that captured the US and Russian astronauts. In reality the jaws opened for releasing satellites. Only two out of four launches were successful before the programme was cancelled in 1971. So ended the UK’s solo efforts in the space race, although we are active partners in the European Space Agency.

Another rocket powered beast is this Messerschmitt 163 Komet in the Flight Gallery.

Messerschmitt 163 Komet

The Komet was designed by the Germans to attack high flying Allied bomber formations during World War Two, but due to its high speed its canon shells often overshot their targets and only 17 confirmed kills were made. It also had a nasty habit of exploding on landing and killing the pilot. So probably not that popular to fly.

I think my favourite exhibit here is R J Mitchell’s Supermarine Schneider Trophy Seaplane. A succession of these beauties won the prestigeous trophy three times in the late 20s and early 30s.

Supermarine S6 Seaplane

Mitchell went on to design the Supermarine Spitfire (you can see part of a Spit just behind the seaplane) and incorporated many of the features from the seaplane design into that aircraft.

This little selection only skims the surface of the Science Museum’s collection and it’s free to get in.  To be truthful there is so much stuff crammed in to it that many of the exhibits are quite hard to photograph. We spent about five hours there before heading back to South Kensington Station which I just had to shoot because of the lovely iron work above the entrance. I believe the iron work dates back to the early 20th century, although the station opened in 1868.

South Kensington Station.


2 thoughts on “London’s Science Museum – Sno-Cats, Flying Bedsteads and Rocket Planes

  1. When I was a boy the Science Museum was my favourite and the exhibit I liked most was the coal mine. I also liked the display in a glass case which showed how fields are ploughed and tilled and you could make the tractors go round by turning a handle. It was still there in 2001 when I last went but I wonder if it is till there now?

    • I remember that they used to have a lot of stuff like that, don’t know if that particular exhibit is still there, but a lot of space is now devoted to interactive electronic games to draw kids in. Personally I’m not sure of their educational value and would prefer the space now used for flight simulators and the like to be used for proper artifacts and and more old fashioned exhibits like that tractor.

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