London: a Flying Visit – Guest Blogger Michelle Sim

As civilian employees of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), staff of the three New Zealand service museums occasionally enjoy some unique ‘perks’.  Having worked as the Archives Technician at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand in Christchurch for five years now, I recently had the privilege of experiencing my best perk yet – a professional development trip to the UK and back onboard a military flight.

Our aircraft, ready to depart Ohakea at the beginning of the trip.

Our aircraft, ready to depart Ohakea at the beginning of the trip.

For the past couple of years, the Air Force Museum has secured two seats on a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Boeing 757 aircraft bound for the UK, primarily tasked with returning military personnel on the annual “LONGLOOK” exchange between the NZDF and British armed forces.  This has given some of our staff the chance to make (literally) a flying visit to the Royal Air Force Museum to meet with associates and carry out various strategic objectives.

Overawed by the size of a Lancaster bomber at the RAF Museum

Overawed by the size of a Lancaster bomber at the RAF Museum

This year, it was myself and two colleagues (Emma Meyer, Collections Technician and Melanie Bacon, Administration Assistant) who had the opportunity to ‘hitch a ride’ on this 12-day round trip.  We set off from RNZAF Base Ohakea on Monday 29 July and after 4 days’ flying, with stopovers in Darwin, Penang and Dubai, landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire late in the evening on Thursday 1 August.  From there, we travelled by train down to London, where we had the next three days at our disposal, before catching the return flight early the following Monday.

'Milestones of Flight' gallery, RAF Museum

‘Milestones of Flight’ gallery, RAF Museum

With this three-day window of opportunity we were able to spend a full day at the RAF Museum at Hendon.  The RAF Museum is probably the closest to our own in terms of collection focus, so this visit gave us the valuable opportunity to see first-hand how they operate, both front of house and behind the scenes, while also meeting our ‘equivalents’ to share ideas and discuss common issues and interests.

A young visitor at the British Museum

A young visitor at the British Museum

The remaining two days were spent dashing around as many other museums and attractions as we could, with the aim of critically analysing them from the visitor’s perspective and gathering ideas and inspiration for new initiatives that we could implement back home.  Between us, we managed to get around no less than eight different museums and attractions, including the V&A Museum, Imperial War Museum,

Yeoman Warder guided tour at the Tower of London

Yeoman Warder guided tour at the Tower of London

Tower of London, Museum of London, Churchill War Rooms, British Museum, Household Cavalry Museum and London Zoo, as well as squeezing in some general sightseeing along the way.  We were all extremely footsore and exhausted by the end, but certainly in no doubt that we’d made the absolute most of our short stay in London.

Myself with our friendly rickshaw driver/impromptu tour guide in the historic quarter of Georgetown, Penang

Myself with our friendly rickshaw driver/impromptu tour guide in the historic quarter of Georgetown, Penang

Then, it was time for the 5-day journey home, which was simply a reverse of the route we had taken on the way over, but with a full day stopover in Penang, Malaysia, which enabled us to fit in some more sightseeing.  As well as taking a rickshaw ride through the old quarter of Georgetown, we took the opportunity to visit the Owl Museum on Penang Hill, which is essentially a showcase of 2,500 owl-themed collectibles.  While it may be considered little more than a cabinet of curiosities, this little museum was surprisingly savvy with its marketing and professional in its approach.

Travelling with the RNZAF was in itself quite an experience, as we transited through several foreign military bases and experienced communal barrack-style accommodation and tight security briefings.  The Air Force flight crew looked after us very well, and we even had the chance to sit in the cockpit with the pilots for a landing and a take-off – definitely something you wouldn’t experience on a commercial flight!

The best seats in the house! In the cockpit after a take-off from Darwin.

The best seats in the house! In the cockpit after a take-off from Darwin.

This trip was an amazing opportunity, and we have all returned with many new ideas and perspectives that we are looking forward to sharing with our colleagues over the coming weeks.

Michelle Sim
Air Force Museum of New Zealand

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