Days Out: The RAF Museum, London
Sunday 27 November 2005
The museum is on the site of the old London Aerodrome, founded in 1910 by Louis Blériot (the first man to fly across the Channel) and Claude Grahame-White, a pioneer aircraft builder. Home to the glamorous 1920s and 1930s Hendon Airshows, planes flew from here in both world wars. Today, the museum holds one of the world's leading collections of historic aircraft, with more than 100 planes in vast hangars (great for active children in bad weather). The oldest is a 1910 Blériot, and there are tri-planes and bi-planes (including a Sopwith Camel), a vast Sunderland flying boat that you can walk right through, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Fokkers, and a Lancaster bomber that flew 137 missions in the Second World War (most only lasted 20 to 25). Bringing the collection right up to date is a full-size replica of the Eurofighter Typhoon which joined the RAF front line just a few weeks ago. And there is much more besides the planes - history, science and a lot of fun ...
Something for grown-ups
The museum should satisfy anyone from the casual visitor to the well-informed enthusiast. The Milestones of Flight Exhibition has a broad and informative timeline from 1903 - the year of the Wright brothers' first flight - until 2003. Key moments in aviation history are set against political events (and more lightweight landmarks such as the first Mars Bar in 1935). There is also a great internet version of the timeline at rafmuseum.org.uk /milestones-of-flight/timeline. An excellent and fascinating Sound and Light Show brings the Battle of Britain to life on the hour every hour. It makes very effective use of film on a gauze screen, with sound effects and lighting on a real Spitfire and Hurricane that actually flew in the battle.
Something for children
Also in the Battle of Britain Hall is an exhibition about the build up to war and life during the Blitz. It includes an extract from the then prime minister Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time" speech, life-size scenes of evacuation and a Londoner complaining that the Germans bombed her laundry! The Aeronauts Interactive Gallery has lots of touch and try exhibits all about the science of flight (and the National Curriculum). Sit in a mocked-up cockpit and use the pilot's controls to shift the rudder, ailerons and elevators. Then get out and use the same controls on a model plane in a flow of air to see what effect your actions would have had in flight. My son's favourite activity is the Drop Zone. A small plane "flies" along a rail at ceiling height, carrying a load. You have to decide when to press the button to release the load and hit the target on the floor. Not as simple as it sounds - but great fun. There are "Pathfinders" (explainers) on hand to help, and quiz sheets to fill in. Daily presentations - "Plane and Simple" - use some lively demonstrations to explain how aeroplanes fly. Ever popular too are the simulators (£2.50). Take a "flight" in the new Eurofighter Typhoon, or, our favourite, an airborne roller-coaster ride with the Red Arrows.
The 120-seater Wings Restaurant is like an RAF mess, offering self-service hot food (main courses £6.10) and sandwiches. The Wessex Café sells drinks and snacks and there are indoor and outdoor picnic areas.
Wheelchair accessible. Wheelchairs available pre-booked from the museum. Disabled parking. (No Braille or induction loop.)
Open daily from 10am to 6pm (except 24-26 December and 1 January). Entry free.
How to get there
RAF Museum, Grahame Park Way, London NW9 5LL; Hendon@rafmuseum.org; 020-8205-2266.
By train: 7 minutes walk from Colindale Tube, (Northern Line); 10 minutes from Mill Hill Broadway railway station. By bus: the 303 stops outside. By car: plenty of free parking.
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