Even if you’re not unduly excited to see a Flying Fortress or a Lightning or a Canberra, the Royal Air Force museum at Hendon is a truly impressive place to visit in London and provides a suitable antidote to anyone who has to spend time in Brent Cross shopping centre on a mission to the Apple shop
(Brent Cross Shopping Centre with Apple shop – we did get our Ipad problem sorted…)
Just two tube stops north on the Northern line at Colindale a short bus ride or walk will take one into the precincts of what used to be one of London’s major interwar aerodromes.
There are four hangars to visit and each one is full of aircraft that have made history in more ways than one. Outside are those symbols of the few to whom we owe so much: the Spitfire and the Hurricane
But there are plenty more iconic aircraft which have helped prevent us from having to compulsorily learn German and work in labour camps. There are Lancaster bombers and Mosquitos, for example, and the display is brought up to date with the advent of jet fighters like the Meteor (and the first of this type, the Messerschmidt) and entering into the Cold War era with the famous V bombers: the Victor, the Valiant and that great manta-ray of the skies, the Vulcan. The planes participating in the gulf war, the Typhoons, bring the museum reasonably up to date.
The documentation is immaculate and the museum is truly a modern history lesson. Not only are there fixed wing craft:, there are helicopters, the original autogyro,
and, most romantic of, all a Sunderland flying boat (which you can enter and view from the inside). How I would have loved to land in the Solent on one of those!)
(Flying aces from a past – and present – age)
Of the outstanding displays there’s a Battle of Britain section with tableaux representing civilian and military scenarios. Most poignant is that showing children with labels round their necks in the process being evacuated in their droves to safer havens outside ‘hell fire corner’ as south east Britain was nicknamed.
The Milestone of Flying Gallery has some of the earliest heavier than air machines displayed including Bleriot’s monoplane which crossed the english Channel for the first time:
There’s a section dedicated to Barnes-Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb which effectively destroyed the Nazi munition factories on the Ruhr. (Remember the Dam busters?)
Evenn the Italians (Corpo Aereo Italiano) had a bash at Britain but they only managed some slight damage to the port of Felixstowe and Harwich with their Fiat aircraft:
The almost Heath-Robinson machines used during the First World War without navigation aids, heating or any form of ejection seat and with bombs being literally thrown off the aircraft side by the pilot reminds one that the RAF is the most recent of the services and will celebrate its centenary only in 2018.
Even El Orens was involved in flying:
There’s also a very fine country-house style studio-lounge where commanding officers would discuss and plan their future operations.
The gift shop has some irrestistible Airfix kits to buy. As an unreformed schoolboy I could not resist purchasing one which am sure will provide hours of harmless fun in the dark winter nights of Longoio.
All that was predicted in the early leather caps and goggles days of flying has come to pass. Victory without air defence would be unthinkable today. The present operations against the greatest evil to have afflicted the world since the days of the Third Reich have the advantage of technology unthinkable even twenty years ago and yet we all fear for the civilian casualties which are euphemistically titled collateral damage.
Will people in the Middle East be able to say those words inscribed in the minds of these inhabitants of the British islands: ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few.’
(Battle of Britain Control Centre)