France 2019 Trip: Aeroscopia

After flipping through my camera roll the other day, I decided to share the pics from a stop in France for those curious and also use the post as a writing exercise. I may also do a couple of other galleries of my trip there since we did so much sightseeing as it was my first time in the country. But that’ll be later down the line and for now I’ll do one of my favourite stops on the trip. The pictures are not really great, I’m not a photographer and only had my phone with me, but I hope you enjoy them because for me the memories are priceless.

I don’t work in the aerospace or air travel industries nor do I have my pilot’s license. I don’t even fly model planes, though I did have a little drone that I lost in the neighborhood on a windy day. Nevertheless, I’ve always had a fascination with aviation. I can’t pinpoint a single reason why this is the case, but rather there are several. The idea of seemingly defying gravity, the sheer size of the machines, the complexity of them, the scale of the industries, and that most airplanes are beautiful machines. Let’s also not forget about the amazing view at nearly 40,000’ above the ground. Truly one of the greatest accomplishments by mankind that brings the world closer by making traveling around the globe easy compared to only one hundred years ago. Naturally it became a requirement that we stop at the Airbus factory and Aeroscopia museum in Blagnac/Toulouse during our time in France.

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When you arrive and park at the museum the first thing you’ll see outside is a marvel of technology, the magnificent Concorde. Surprisingly this is one of two Concordes at the museum, there is a second one inside as well. On a side note, I won’t be going into much detail regarding each airplane on display or this post may become way too long. If you’re curious about the details I recommend you head over to Wikipedia (I’ll link each plane under the photo) to read up on them.

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Prior to arriving in Toulouse, my friend and I went online and booked a tour of the Airbus A380’s final assembly hangars and had planned to tour the museum as well. The A380 tour consisted of a video presentation and history of the A380’s development and statistical information. Next we learned about the massive supply chain required for multiple nations to work in unison to manufacture the millions of components of the behemoth and the logistical challenges to get everything put together and shipped to Toulouse for final assembly. Lastly, we went upstairs of an assembly hangar where they were working on three different A380s at once. From there we continued the tour on a bus as they drove us around an area where A380s and A330s were getting their livery slapped on. It was great to see the planes up close rather than just from a distance through a terminal window. Unfortunately, during nearly the entire tour, photographs were not allowed, which is fairly standard in many manufacturing plants.

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Built from Legos, this was sitting in the reception area and is definitely the kind of A380 even I could build. Eventually.

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Lastly our tour ended by visiting the A400M military transport vehicle that sits just outside the museum with an open cargo bay you can explore as pictured above. Why I didn’t take a picture of it from the outside is beyond me.

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After the tour we headed into the museum to wander about. The older airplane seen here is the Bleriot XI (unsure of the variant) which was developed back in 1909. It’s famous for a few things, such as being the first airplane (balloons excluded) to cross the English Channel. It also was the first airplane to be used in a war (1910 in Africa by Italy), winning races such as the Circuit de l’Est and trophies such as the Gordon Bennett Trophy. When it won the Gordon Bennett Trophy in 1910, it also ended up setting a new air speed record too.

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Another notably older French airplane pictured above is the Morane-Saulnier Type-G which was designed back in 1912. This plane also holds the title of being the first to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

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In the above picture you can see a Mignet Pou-du-Ciel Flying Flea (HM.293 variant I believe from around 1946). These little planes were designed and sold in kits to amateurs to assemble and fly on their own. Originally developed in the mid-30s, it was no surprise that they did not have a great safety reputation.

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Designed in the 30s primarily for use of the German Luftwaffe in WWII, the Messerschmitt BF 109 gave Germany dominance over the skies in the early part of the war. It remains one of the most mass produced fighter planes with nearly 34,000 assembled, though unfortunately some of the parts were produced at concentration camps using slave labour.

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The Nord 1101 Noralpha was essentially a BF 109 that was modified by the French during WWII. Though it’s based on the BF 109, its resemblance is not overly noticeable as not just the engine was modified but so was the cockpit, landing gear, and rudders.

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Shortly after WWII, the jet powered age of aviation was put in high gear. Countries began to modernize their air forces and the Soviet Union was not to be left behind. However, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 pictured above was not the Soviet’s first jet engine, but it did become one of the most success fighter jets ever produced. While they may be somewhat dated now, North Korea still has some in their active fleet even today.

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Another airplane developed after WWII, primarily for training of French air forces with jet powered planes rather than propeller aircraft is the Fouga CM.170 Magister pictured above. Personally love the butterfly tail as opposed to a traditional rudder. They just look so badass.

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The Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris was a French designed and built jet powered errand boy for the French Air Force. Designed in 1954 it was put into production after Morane-Saulnier received a large order from the French government. Unfortunately sales never gained much traction in North America despite being one of the first small passenger planes with jets rather than propellers, the company eventually filed for bankruptcy in the 60s. Personally I love the look the triangular intakes mounted directly into the wings.

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Developed by Vought, the F-8 Crusader was primarily used by the USA and French militaries. Despite having impressive capabilities, the F-8 seemed to be a relatively problem prone aircraft as out of the 1,261 craft that were built, 1,106 had some sort of mishaps, though many are related to the planes high degree of operational difficulty and being an unforgiving machine. As it was designed to land and take off from aircraft carriers, the jet came with folding wings for storage on ships. The plane itself was impressive though, as there is an incident where a pilot took off from a carrier with the folding wings still folded up and even made a successful landing back on the carrier with the wings still up. Impressive indeed, but I am still not a fan of that intake mouth.

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Always love jets in camouflage livery regardless of desert or other colours. The Dassault Mirage III was in the developed in the late 50s and in production by the early 60s for use by the French air force. Besides the French, the jet was used by many countries such as Israel. It has a fairly successful history when it comes to dog fighting in wars such as the Six-Day and the Yom Kippur wars. The jet is now fairly dated but Pakistan still has a few today that are in their fleet.

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Unofficially dubbed “the missile with a man in it” The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was a powerhouse at the time of its development in the late 50s. At one time it held both the world speed and altitude records and was the first fighter to sustain Mach 2 flight.

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SEPECAT was a joint program between the French and the British which worked together to develop the SEPECAT Jaguar pictured above. Originally this was meant to be a trainer for their air forces, the program expanded and eventually the Jaguar was upgraded to a relatively modern high-tech fighter optimized for ground attacks, supersonic speeds, and even capable of nuclear strikes. That’s a hell of a promotion. The original designs for the jet were from the 60s and it entered service in 1973 and the Indian air force still flies them today.

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No aviation museum would be complete without a helicopter, right? Well here’s one. The Aérospatiale Gazelle is a nimble little chopper primarily used transportation and reconnaissance but also capable of light attack duties. It was developed in the late 60s and in order to retain its reputation for being agile, it was the first helicopter to use a Fenestron, which is a covered tail rotor that performs better at higher speeds.

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All good museums give us a glance at the future, as they should. This aviation museum is no different and displays a Voltair/Airbus E-Fan. I’m not sure exactly which variant this is (2.0?) but it’s a modern looking little two seater that runs solely on lithium ion batteries. Sadly production of this plane was cut off, but there are plans for larger electric and hybrid models in the future.

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And now we get to the big boys inside the museum. Here you can take a peek into the cavernous insides of an old Super Guppy. With Airbus being a cooperative between multiple European countries, moving parts around the continent had always been a challenge. The Super Guppy was developed in the 60s to cost effectively move larger components such as fuselages. Surprisingly the first Super Guppy was actually based on a Boeing airframe that underwent significant modifications. Today though these have been replaced by Airbus’s Beluga XLs which are built on their own A330 frames.

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The A300B pictured here is a fairly common plane and you may have even seen a couple when traveling through a major airport. There are still over 200 being operated, though most are freight aircraft so you may not have flown on one any time recently. But the A300 model line was a major part of Airbus’s history and deserves a spot in the museum. How major? Well, in the late 60s a joint venture formed between France and West Germany to develop a large commercial aircraft that would carry 250 people and in doing so Airbus was born. So it’s fairly significant to Airbus’s history to say the least.

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Sadly I’m too young to have ever had a chance to fly on a Concorde, though even if I was old enough I doubt I could afford to do so anyways. As mentioned earlier, this machine is a true wonder of technology. Also a British and French venture before Airbus existed, the Concorde was developed primarily in the late 60s and flew commercially from the mid-70s to 2003. It flew at twice the speed of sound (around 2,180km/h) and could cruise at 60,000’, it towered over all other commercial passenger plane performance. To achieve this, the plane had to conquer all sorts of issues that were unique to it. Conventional structural and thermal solutions to traditional airplanes would simply not suffice at such high speed, nor would practical airplane performance guidelines apply to such a unique design. The most costly though was the engine configuration which was developed from military power plants and also the intake designs needed a very unique design. All of the obstacles were eventually overcome with some outside the box thinking, but that came at a significant cost to the development program. Initially the development cost was pegged at £70 million but it ended up ballooning to £1.3 billion. Talk about a bad estimate.

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These model planes were huge. I really wanted one but I’d need a separate suitcase on the trip back. Not only that, but the price tag on even small ones in the gift shop was quite steep so imagine these would cost and arm and a leg. Though to remember my trip to Aeroscopia I did end up buying a little A380 to put in my office which is pictured below.

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If you even have a bit of an aviation nerd in you I highly recommend doing a tour and a walkthrough of the museum if you ever find yourself in France. There was plenty more to see of course, but these are just the pictures that ended up on my phone and I thought I’d share them. I hope you enjoyed the brief walk through and pictures.