We were invited at the weekend to attend the Open Day for the Ulster Aviation Society which was held, rather bizarrely, at what used to be the Maze Prison but which is now a demolition/regeneration site. I’ve (thankfully) never had cause to visit the prison before, which closed some time ago. The closest I ever got before was driving past it, ominous on the horizon, on the Motorway! It kind of epitomises the “Troubles” here- I actually hope they make some kind of museum there because it’s a part of our heritage and history that should be preserved, sinister and unpleasant though it is.
ANYHOW- it was a bright sunny day, and only the watch towers and some high walls seem to remain!
Our day was centred around a cleared area and some aircraft hangars outside the old prison walls. I have to say, it was a very surreal atmosphere in which to have a fun family afternoon!
Ian used to be in the Royal Air Force, and can fly a small aircraft. He’s flown in helicopters before, so the afternoon was probably particularly of interest to him. However there was much for all the family to enjoy!
Around sixteen helicopters flew in from all over the Province, of varying sizes and styles (can you tell I know absolutely piss all about helicopters!!!!!)
It was actually very exciting watching them come in to land- hearing them first, having the kids guess where they would appear (they were coming from all directions!) and then watching them come in to land.
OK, OK, so my only proper landing shot picture, I royally ballsed up. I hit the off button on my camera instead of the take picture button, and it was pretty much too late by the time it was back on, but whatever. You’re all used to my substandard photography by now, ha ha!
We all had great fun inspecting the various helicopters. I have to say- can you SAY “rich man’s toys” in a lot of incidences, but it’s nice to see how the other half live from time to time! Some of them were the height of luxury- as big as a limo and with soft looking leather upholstery and loads of legroom. Some looked more like your average family saloon- empty crisp packets, half drunk bottles of water and crumpled looking maps- and one, I kid you not, looked barely flight worthy, I was nearly scared to exhale near it in case it fell apart (though I am sure it is someone’s labour of love and is of extremely sturdy construction!!!!)
Highlight of most people’s afternoon was the helicopter of the PSNI- it drew the biggest crowds of all and the policemen who fly it were inundated with questions about what they did and how all the vast array of gadgets worked!
The nearby hangars housed a fantastic display of WW2 memorabilia and aircraft, and was, for me, the highlight.
I haven’t taken pictures of some of the displays because they related to many of the fallen soldiers who had lived locally- their relatives were there to look at the displays and it was very humbling to witness their pain even after all these years. I didn’t feel it would be respectful to take photos.
It really brings it home that WW2 was NOT that long ago- and that really we have forgotten the horrors that those soldiers went through to ensure all of our futures. I learned a lot from the displays, and was grateful for it.
The kids loved looking at the various aircraft on display and it was a fantastic day out. Thanks to Ian’s boss, Garry, for inviting us!