One is meant to be calm and collected when visiting exhibitions and museums, but sod that, I love the Royal Air Force museum. I adore it. Next time I go, however, I would give it more time, as you really need a day for this beast. The RAF Museum is located in Hendon, North London, close to the Colindale tube station. It is rather far out, but definitely worth the trip.
The RAF museum is one of the largest and greatest aviation museums in the world. It is located on what used to be the Hendon Aerodrome, which in 1917 opened as the UK’s first aircraft factory. It lasted until 1968 when it closed to be reopened as the museum in 1972. It is one of those old fashioned - in the most positive sense - museums which tells you a lot about airplanes but doesn’t shove down information your throat. You can get all the information you could possibly want, but you can also just walk around having a look.
The museum is made up of six different exhibition halls, four next to each other. They are not chronological, but rather laid out in themes. I like this approach, as it makes it possible to wonder about and to compare airplanes from different eras. It is extremely well laid-out and easy to understand where to go next, but I would recommend that you grab a guide so that you can read up and plan out your visit.
The first hall is the award-winning Milestone of Flight, which is an incredible opening for a museum. It contains basically the best-of-the-best in one hall. You have the elegant Blériot IX, which is almost identical to the plane with which Louis Blériot crossed the English Channel in 1909. Then, in the same hall, there is the Eurofighter “Typhoon”, which is the most modern aircraft of the whole museum. Between the two is everything from early gliders to the German Messerschmitt Me 262 which is a true masterpiece of engineering. You don’t have to be an airplane nerd to appreciate these master machines, as they are simply too grand not to be amazed by.
Next up is the Bomber Hall, which includes probably my favorite of all the airplanes, the Lancaster. I have never seen such a huge machine up close before, and it is beautiful in its toughness. To see an airplane that I have heard and read so much about was an extraordinary experience, and all those films suddenly felt more real. You are literally walking through history: though one cannot ignore that this is the history of war and conflict, and that these airplanes weren't made to look at. There is an air of respect in these halls: a respect for British warfare, but also for international design, as there are quite many German and French planes on display as well. It is a celebration of the British, but not at the cost of others.
Historic Hangars is next, and contains five separate exhibitions: Whirling Rotors, Fighters, The RAF Overseas, Jets, and my favorite - Wings over Water which combines boats and planes. What a genius idea: there is an odd airplane here, the Southampton, which is a flying wooden boat. It looks like it should come with a jug of Pimm’s and a deckchair. The early airplanes from the First World War made me giddy with excitement.
The last hall connected to the main building is the Aeronauts Interactive Center, which is a hands-on experiment hall. Unfortunately I had to just run through it to be able to catch the last two halls before closure. The battle of Britain Hall is the story of how Britain managed to stand up against the mighty force of the Luftwaffe. Here, see the beauty of the Spitfire and come close to an absolutely massive Sunderland, which blew my tiny mind. I finally had to leave the museum after a quick look at the last hall, the Grahame-White Hangar & Watch Office, which is located in the gorgeous old buildings of the Hendon Aerodrome and filled with equally beautiful airplanes from the pre-war period.
The Royal Air Force Museum brought out my inner ten year old - like the little boy there who wanted to play hide-and-seek and touch all of the planes. There is something here for everyone, from film nerds remembering scenes in Band of Brothers or anyone interested in history, science or engineering. It is a museum of the technological advances of the twentieth century. It doesn’t matter if you are eighty six or sixteen, come early and have a lovely day.