A GUIDE TO THE ROYAL AIR FORCE MUSEUM
If you have a love for aircraft and want to experience the thrills of piloting a jet fighter or experience what it’s like being a Red Arrow pilot, you cannot miss a visit to the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum in north London. You can see up close aircraft from the World Wars such as the massive Lancaster bomber, the only Beaufighter (also known as the Whispering Death) in the UK, and the German Messerschmitt to more recent supersonic aircraft like the Phantom, the Tornado, and the Lightning. In addition to displaying over 100 magnificent aircraft, the museum also tells the story of the people behind the aircraft.
RAF Museum, Grahame Park Way, London NW9 5LL
WORDS BY MAHRUKH MCDONALD
Aviation History Timeline Wall & Support Vehicles
Located in Hangar 1, the wall is about 50 metres long and illustrates key events in world aviation from before World War I, when the Wright brothers completed the first ever flight in a powered aircraft, up to the modern age of flight.
In addition to aircraft, Hangar 1 also displays support vehicles such as ambulances and helicopters used in the World Wars. Don’t miss the Enigma machine that was invented by a German and used by British codebreakers to decipher German code during World War II. It is said to have curtailed the war by two years!
RAF During World War I
The exhibit is located in Hangar 2 and brings moving and inspiring stories to life. It includes many personal artefacts including medals, letters, and uniforms, as well as the finest collection of First World War aircraft.
World War II Aircraft
The collection of aircraft used during World War II is so enormous it needs not one but three hangars to contain it – Hangars 3, 4, and 5 are home to British, American, French, and German aircraft. This is where you will find the Messerschmitt, the Spitfire, Hurricane, Beaufighter, and many more.
Hangar 1 offers a range of unique hands-on experiences, including interactive displays. You can design your own laser guiding bombing mission and even have a go at designing your own airplane and then seeing if it would actually fly. Very popular with kids!
The Gnat flight simulator is in Hangar 1, and you can also try on an RAF uniform. Take the pilot’s seat in the state of the art, full motion aircraft cockpit. A huge, 200-degree spherical screen provides you with an authentic experience. You are in full control of take-off and landing. The simulator experience will cost you £6.
There are also various rides in Hangars 3, 4, and 5. Enjoy a breath-taking flight with the Red Arrows; fly in the Eurofighter Typhoon, Europe's most advanced aircraft; or take part in in a Barnstorming to experience daredevil stunts and tricks in the pioneering days of aviation from the 1920s and ’30s. Cost is £3 for a four-minute ride.
The newest addition to the museum, the 4D theatre offers exciting experiences of the greatest advances of navigational technology. Fly with the Red Arrows or participate in a World War I dogfight with the Red Barons; race through death defying ravines at supersonic speeds or enjoy a film of a World War II bombing mission in the B7. The rides open at 10.30 a.m. with the last ride at 4.30pm and cost £5 each or £16 for a family of four.
Take the pilot’s seat in a real Spitfire Mk XVI to discover what it is like to fly this iconic plane. You can take photos inside the cockpit, but be aware that the Spitfire’s cockpit is very small so a small camera with a wrist strap or a camera zipped into your pocket would be ideal. Only flat shoes allowed in the cockpit. It opens at 11 a.m., and the last session is at 4.30 p.m. Make your way to the Historic Hangars to book your time slot. There is a charge of £10.
Stop off for a hot drink and pastries in The Sunderland Café in Hangar 1, sitting under the wings of the enormous Short Sunderland Flying Boat. Or you can enjoy hot and cold food and drinks at the Claude’s Café in the 1931 heritage building. The third café, The Wessex Café, is located opposite the Royal Wessex Helicopter in Hangar 3.
If the weather is good, borrow a parachute rug or bean bag and enjoy a picnic outside on the lawn next to the themed playground or indoors in Hangar 3. There is a great shop too where you can pick up some interesting memorabilia of your visit to this museum.
If you think your kids may be bored, think again. Kids love this museum. They may even describe it as the coolest museum they have been to! In how many museums do you hear children saying, “This is amazing”, and “Can we come here again”? It has fun things for kids of all ages, including miniature planes for under 5s: DH9A, Spitfire, Gnat and Sea King. Allow a minimum of three to four hours to enjoy your visit to this incredible museum. It really is a fun and educational day out for the whole family.