A century of flight at the RAF museum in London

by Sharon Odegaard
Stripes Europe

Do you find flight fascinating? Who doesn’t marvel at the metal machines that can slip the surly bonds of earth? Here’s good news. You can see an astounding variety of aircraft up close at the Royal Air Force Museum in Colindale. This museum, just outside of London, offers six large hangars filled with aircraft, all on the site of a former air field. It is newly reopened and spiffed up to celebrate 100 years of frontiers in flight.

The World War I Hangar

The oldest planes in the museum tell of Britain’s role in the first war to extensively use aircraft. Shortly after the first powered flight, World War I broke out. England wasted no time in putting to use this new-fangled phenomenon. Throughout the war, new technology improved the Allies’ ability to bomb as well as to fight in the sky.

Tour the Claude Grahame-White Hangar to marvel at the vital work of the men and women in the air corps. In 1914 the Royal Flying Corps had only 1,500 members. By the creation of the Royal Air Force in 1918, more than 205,000 members served. We took a tour led by an enthusiastic volunteer who made the stories of flight in World War I come alive.

It’s amazing to walk the hangar among full-size planes. My favorite is the Sopwith F.1 Camel, the highest scoring British fighter of this war.

Hangars of RAF History

Three hangars hold aircraft dating from 1918 to the present. The section on World War II is extensive. You can discover stories of the Battle of Britain as you see the bombers right in front of you, for example. Seaplanes, trainers, and helicopters are here, too.

If you are interested in a particular aircraft or era, you can search on the museum’s website. You can find out which of the hangars houses the aircraft, so you can head to that hangar when you visit. I searched for “Mustang” and learned that a North American P-51D Mustang is in Hangar 5. The Mustang is a well-known fighter plane of WWII. At the museum, I looked in the provided guidebook to find out that its design is attributed to “British specification, American Design ingenuity, and a Rolls-Royce engine.” It was famous for being able to defend Allied bombers all the way to Berlin and back. Learning about different aircraft on the spot makes for a perfect day at the air museum.

Displays and hands-on activities also offer an enjoyable way to learn. In addition to walking among the planes, things to do include flight simulators and an activity that

allows children to take part in a simulated RAF mission. And for a small cost you can sit in a Spitfire.

The last hangar added explores the RAF in an Age of Uncertainty. As recent times have been filled with changes to the political, economic, and technological world, the RAF is constantly adapting. This hangar tells the story of ways the RAF is changing strategy and technology to carry on its role in protecting the UK.

To reach the RAF Museum London you can take the Underground north from London for about 30 minutes and exit at Colindale. The museum is a 10-minute walk. A new grass picnic area is available as well as two cafés

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