RAF Museum review
I saw Band of Brothers on the telly last night so that got me in the mood for World War II. I love a bit of World War II. I love it so much, in fact, that I might start World War III so we can have a re-run. We wouldn't have much chance of winning it now though. Our army these days consists of six guns, two tanks and a clapped out jeep. Instead of telephoning America two years after it started we'd be begging them to bail us out before we'd even fired a shot. That's why you need to come to a place like the RAF Museum and see what it was like in the glory days... when the pilots still had moustaches and names like Rupert, Hubert and Hugh.
The place is made up of a few hangar-like buildings around a bit of grass, filled with full-size aircraft. You can do them in any order you like but the first one I tried was 'Milestones of Flight'. They've got stuff like a Hawker Hart, Harrier Jumpjet and Eurofighter Typhoon. Plus a De Havilland Mosquito and Mustang too. (Listen to me... I'm talking as if these names actually mean something to me, but I'm bluffing -- the only planes I've ever heard of are Concorde and Spitfire!)
It's a shame that you can't climb inside any of them and have a good look at the cockpits, because all they do is hang from the ceiling. It's the aeronautical equivalent of a stuffed animal. But you can view them from several different floors though, and walk around them 360 degrees, and they've got a few info boards dotted around to tell you some facts. But that's about it. You can't sit in them. You can't fire up the engines and take off. You can't fire the machine guns at all the noisy school kids. So I think they have missed a trick there -- imagine how much money they would make if they let you fire off a missile. They could charge 50p a go -- they'd make a fortune.
The next hangar was my favourite one because that was full of World War II stuff. They've got a nice little exhibition about the bouncing bomb and Dambusters mission, including a mock-up of Barnes Wallis's office.
It wasn't until I got a few minutes into the hangar that I realised how vast it was -- it was huge! I would have counted the planes for you but there were too many and I ran out of fingers and toes. This is not a piddly little museum that we're talking about here -- they've got more planes than an airport.
Halfway through the hangar you come to the beauty of beauties -- a pristine Lancaster in sooty-coloured black, like the colour of a shadow. It's the most beautiful thing in the building (after me). They've got some more modern stuff in there as well, like a Tornado, plus some full-size missiles and laser-guided bombs. One of my favourites was the colossal nuclear-carrying Vulcan, which is suspended ten feet above the ground with the bomb bay open, so you can walk underneath and see inside. That thing is a beast. They've got a little video playing of what it's like on take-off and the noise is wrecking the sky. After that you come to a little section with rescue helicopters and a Chinook, and they got some flying boats and early Sopworths too, and those ancient planes held together with wood and string and prayers.
This whole hangar was so good that I decided to do it twice -- once on my own and then once more with the free guided tour that they lay on with an old Air Force guy. He took us round the whole lot in 45 minutes flat and explained the history of each plane with some bits about the war. If you want to pick it up then the tour starts underneath the gun turret of the Lancaster (I think it's worth doing), or you can sneak into the group as he's walking around -- just look for the posh old guy who looks like he's ex-Air Force.
The next hangar was full of aircraft from the First World War (ie. more wood and string) but I must admit to loathing World War I. It bores me silly; I don't know why, it just does. So I skipped most of the Grahame White Factory. (My knees were playing up by this time, so I needed to pace myself.)
Then it was on to the Battle of Britain Hall. This one has got more Spitfires and Messerschmitts, but they've also got a Hurricane, plus a load of dodgy looking waxworks acting out scenes from the streets back home. They've got a fat waxwork of Hermann Goering in there, and a frankly terrifying one of Churchill, who looks a porcelain ghost. It's worth having a good look around because some of the stuff is quite hard to find -- check out the life-size mock-up of the operations room, for example (where they shuffle planes across the map with sticks). It also houses the only plane that you're actually allowed to step inside -- a Sunderland Flying Boat. To be honest, I was totally knackered by this point and probably didn't give it enough time -- but this place is huge! I reckon you need at least three hours to see it all. (I took 3 and a half -- but that included the doubled-up guided tour as well.)
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