A tour of the Royal Air Force Museum

The RAF Museum London is just a short tube ride outside the city itself. Warplanes from every era of flight, from WWI to present day, fill its hangars. Here's a full tour.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Opened in 1972, the RAF Museum fills five hangars with warplanes from the past 100 years: restored WWI fighters, seaplanes, WWII fighters and bombers, and jet aircraft from the Cold War's earliest days, to the Harrier and the F-35.

Join me on a special-access tour through the hundreds of planes, engines, missiles, bombs, and more at this incredible museum.

Hendon Aerodrome -- home to the museum -- is near the end of the Northern Line, about 40 minutes north of London. What was once a sprawling complex on the edge of the city is now surrounded by the suburbs that naturally creep from any metropolis with time.

Presuming you don't rent a car on your visit to London, the easiest way to get to the RAF Museum is slapping a few extra pounds on your Oyster Card (do get one of those), and making the long ride up to Colindale (not Hendon Central). It's a short walk to the museum, and the way is pretty well-labeled.

The first hanger, called the Milestones of Flight has highlights from 100 years of aviation, from the gondola from a blimp, through WWI and WWII aircraft, all the way to the Eurofighter Typhoon, Harrier, and even a mockup of an F-35. One of my favorite planes, the de Havilland Mosquito, is here too. It's not a big space, but there are balconies so you can see the planes from multiple angles. It's a fantastic start to the museum.

But then you pass through a covered walkway to the Bomber Hall. I've been to a lot of air museums, and few have the space to devote to bombers (which I love). As you enter, in the distance you can't help but see the massive Avro Lancaster. I'd never realized how huge these are, making the B-17 and B-24 nearby seem tiny. Elsewhere here are a B-25, a WWI Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b, the huge delta-wing girth of the Avro Vulcan, and more.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Attached is the Historic Hanger, which has an incredible mix of aircraft from all eras of flight: Spitfire and Southhampton, Tornado and Thunderbolt, Phantom and Provost, and many, many more. There are even some helicopters.

In the Battle of Britain Hall, across the parking lot, there are some dioramas depicting life during the Blitz. Then you get to see the legendary Spitfire and Hurricane, and the infamous Stuka and He 111. There's even a V1 and a V2. In the middle is the huge Short Sunderland flying boat, which you can walk through.

Lastly is the Grahame-White Factory, closed to the public as it undergoes a remodel focused on the 100 year anniversary of WWI. I got special access, and was able to get up close to a Sopwith Triplane and Camel, a Albatros DVa, and more.

While the Pacific Aviation Museum is incredible, the RAF Museum had many planes I'd never seen before, and many that are the only ones in existence. If you're in London, definitely head up to Hendon, especially since you can't beat the entrance price: free.


Geoffrey Morrison is a freelance writer and photographer for CNET. In addition to many tech articles on topics like HDMI cables all being the same, 4K TVs being stupid, and more, he has toured the battleship USS Missouri, the Pacific Aviation Museum, and Omaha and Utah beaches on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and experienced the 24 Hours of Le Mans, to name several of his exploits. If you have a question for Geoff, send him an email! You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+.

About the author

Geoffrey Morrison is a freelance writer/photographer for CNET, Forbes, and TheWirecutter. He also writes for Sound&Vision magazine, HDGuru.com, and several others. He was Editor in Chief of Home Entertainment magazine and before that, Technical Editor of Home Theater magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling first novel, Undersea, is available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere.

 

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