CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Colindale

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.

I've been to a lot of air museums, but 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.

Unless you drive there, you enter the grounds after a short walk from the Colindale station on the Northern Line. It's about a 15 minute walk.

For the full story behind the tour, check out A tour of the Royal Air Force Museum.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
1
of 75

Greeters

In the center of the complex, surrounded by the parking lot, actually, are a Spitfire and a Hurricane.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
2
of 75

Milestones of Flight Hall

There's quite a mix of aircraft in the Milestones of Flight Hall. Up close, here, you can see the Eurofighter Typhoon; off to the left is a P-51D Mustang.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
3
of 75

Mossie

One of my favorite WWII planes, the de Havilland Mosquito.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
4
of 75

Lightning II

A mock-up of the new F-35 Lightning II.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
5
of 75

First Allied Jet

Here's a wonderfully well-preserved Gloster Meteor, the first operational allied jet. The visual difference between it and the Mosquito adjacent is extreme, especially considering they're from the same era.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
6
of 75

Jump jet

I was surprised at how small the Harrier is in person. A big station wagon wouldn't be much smaller, really. This one's all engine (you can see the top of the engine at the bottom of the frame).

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
7
of 75

Power

The legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, used in...well, practically everything on the Allied side in WWII.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
8
of 75

Where's the propeller?

Right next to the Merlin and the Mosquito is a Me262, the only jet aircraft to see air-to-air combat in WWII. Its Jumo 004 engine must have been quite a sight in an age of propellers.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
9
of 75

Me(an)

It's a mean looking aircraft, and could almost pass for a modern-day jet. Hard to imagine this was flying at the same time as Spitfires and Hurricanes.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
10
of 75

The Bomber Hall

The sprawling Bomber Hall (though, I guess it'd have to be), features some iconic and rarely seen aircraft. This display features a Handley Page Halifax salvaged from a lake in Norway after a belly landing.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
11
of 75

Liberator

The B-24 Liberator. Though not as famous as the B-17, it was faster, carried more, and had a longer range.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
12
of 75

The Icon

The famed B-17. Probably the most recognizeable bomber in history.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
13
of 75

Which one?

Which model B-17 is it? Easy to tell with this photo...

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
14
of 75

Shrike

This Fw 190 was modified with a second seat after production, but not much else is known about its history.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
15
of 75

Bomber and interceptor

In the background, the easily recognizable B-25. In the foreground is one of Germany's more bizarre aircraft, the tiny He 162 "People's Fighter."

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
16
of 75

All wing

The Avro Vulcan is so massive, it's hard to get it all in one photo. Here you can see some of its bomb load, under its massive delta wing.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
17
of 75

Like night

The huge wing does a great job shadowing the walkway.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
18
of 75

B-17 and Bf109G

While the planes are rightfully the stars of the show, the other objects, like engines and cars, add to the character.

It's also interesting to see these two nemeses side by side, especially noting how small the Bf109 really is.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
19
of 75

Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b

Pretty big for a WWI plane, the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b was a fighter, bomber, and anti-submarine aircraft.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
20
of 75

Exposed

Not much protection from the elements, or anything else, plus it was powered by an engine that probably has less power than the one in your car.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
21
of 75

Lancaster

In the center of the bomber hangar is the impressively massive Avro Lancaster. I've seen B-17s and B-24s up close (even before this tour), but neither are as huge as the Lancaster.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
22
of 75

Merlins

Just imagine one of these huge beasts rumbling down the runway or soaring overhead.

They were powered by Merlins as well.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
23
of 75

S-Sugar

This Lancaster flew 137 sorties.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
24
of 75

Big bombs

Because of its cavernous bomb bay, the Lancaster carried the huge "blockbuster" bombs of the day.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
25
of 75

It's a boat!

Along with bombers, I adore seaplanes. Probably from watching too much "TaleSpin" as a kid.

This is a Supermarine Stranraer.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
26
of 75

Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe

The Snipe was intended as a replacement for Sopwith's excellent Camel (which we'll see later).

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
27
of 75

Airco DH.9A

The DH.9A was a WWI bomber, but only came into service toward the end of the war.

Standing close to them, it's interesting how little size difference there is between most WWI bombers and the fighters (compared with later versions of the same types of aircraft, anyway).

Note the wooden wheels.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
28
of 75

F4

It's not just all propeller craft at the RAF Museum; there are quite a lot of modern jet aircraft, like this F4 Phantom.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
29
of 75

Cockpit

The cockpit for the F4. Sadly, you couldn't get in this one (there's a small jet trainer you can sit in, though).

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
30
of 75

Part of one hangar

Here you can get a sense of the overall size of the place: this is roughly one quarter of the Historic Hall. The Bomber Hall is a little smaller, but not much.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
31
of 75

Thunderbolt

The beefy Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. It was equipped with eight .50 caliber machine guns, plus this model could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. Fierce, and the predecessor (namesake-wise, anyway) of the epic A-10.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
32
of 75

Seems to be missing something...

While I'd love to take a flight in a WWI airplane, I can't say I'd be at ease. Not sure why...

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
33
of 75

Engine experimentation

The early years of flight saw some fascinating experiments with planes, engines and everything.

This is a Napier Dagger, which has an "H" cylinder configuration (as opposed to the more familiar "V" or in-line designs).

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
34
of 75

Grrrr

Did every P-40 have teeth painted on?

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
35
of 75

Aww, so cute.

Can I have one? It's adorable: a tiny jet trainer called the BAC Jet Provost.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
36
of 75

Lightning

The BAC Lightning F.6, with its unusual over-wing fuel tanks.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
37
of 75

OK, I get it

Either this was a coincedence, or someone amused themselves with this sign placement.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
38
of 75

Pronounced "Canbra"

The English Electric Canberra PR.3. While built as a (very) high-altitude light bomber, it also worked well as a surveillance aircraft for the same reason.

The American version was called the B-57.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
39
of 75

de Havilland Vampire

The Vampire entered service just after WWII, and certainly looked a lot weirder than its (rather staid-looking) contemporary, the Meteor.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
40
of 75

Two into one

Despite the two intakes, the Vampire was powered by a single turbojet.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
41
of 75

Booms

Though not related, there is some resemblance to the P-38, right?

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
42
of 75

Battle of Britain Hall

The Battle of Britain Hall shows what life was like in Britain during the Blitz.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
43
of 75

Daffy

The Boulton Paul Defiant was a two-seat interceptor where the pilot had no weapons, relying on a gunner with a turret. Not awesome against fighters, but it did do well against bombers.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
44
of 75

Bf 110

This is the only intact Bf 110 in existence. Most effective as a long-range and night fighter, it also was used as a fighter-bomber.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
45
of 75

88

This Junkers Ju 88 was given to the British by its pilot, who defected and landed at what is now Aberdeen International Airport. The co-pilot was also in on the defection, but the radio operator was not.

It was all orchestrated by the Secret Service.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
46
of 75

Light bomber

The He 111 was already pretty old when WWII started, but continued to be used until the end of the war.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
47
of 75

Legend I

The legendary Hawker Hurricane. The RAF Museum's description: "Hurricanes destroyed more enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain than did all the other air and ground defenses combined."

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
48
of 75

Legend II

And the Hurricane's legendary (and more famous) counterpart, the Supermarine Spitfire.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
49
of 75

Powered by...

What's inside? Oh yeah, that Merlin again...

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
50
of 75

Stuka

Hard to miss the inverted gull wings of the Ju 87.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
51
of 75

Dive bomber

That iconic wail of a dive bomber on attack? Made from a siren attached to the landing gear.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
52
of 75

V-1

Basically the WWII version of the cruise missile, the V-1 used a pulsejet engine.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
53
of 75

I call him Bubba.

The Short Sunderland seaplane. The name "Flying Boat" has never seemed more apt. Note how an engineer can crawl through the huge wing and work on the engine (not in flight, presumably).

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
54
of 75

Up front

Inside the Short Sunderland. Sorry about the mediocre picture, but with the lights facing scratched plastic...

This is the forward gunner position. He could winch the gun turret out of the way to secure lines after landing.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
55
of 75

Loo

With missions lasting many hours, it's not like you can pull over for a pit stop.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
56
of 75

Bunks

Some missions had multiple crews so some could rest while the others were on duty.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
57
of 75

Mess

There's even a small galley, with a propane stove.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
58
of 75

Bomb bay

During normal flight, the hatches would be closed, and those bomb racks would be inside the boat. Plane. Boatplane.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
59
of 75

Tailgunner

Here a tailgunner works his way forward out of the long tail of the Sunderland.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
60
of 75

Stubby

The wings were much wider than the Sunderland was long.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
61
of 75

V-2

Where the V-1 was a cruise missile, the V-2 was the first ballistic missile.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
62
of 75

Duck

The business end of the V-2.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
63
of 75

The Grahame-White Factory

The WWI hangar is called the Grahame-White Factory (its own interesting story). When I was there it was in the process of being redone for the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.

The fuselage in the foreground is a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
64
of 75

3 and 2

These aircraft are now at the other RAF Museum, at Cosford. The foreground is a Sopwith Triplane, the other the legendary Sopwith Camel.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
65
of 75

Three must be better than two (or one)

This is one of two remaining Sopwith Triplanes, and it was restored to flying condition.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
66
of 75

Camel

Certainly one of the most famous WWI aircraft, up there with the Fokker Triplane (though the Camel was aguably the better plane)

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
67
of 75

Where's the middle?

The rather bizarre, but still rather cool-looking, French Caudron G3.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
68
of 75

Sesquiplane

This design is called "sesquiplane," meaning one of the wing pairs is smaller than the other.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
69
of 75

Struts

All the aircraft are beautifully maintained, looking like they just rolled out of the factory.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
70
of 75

Albatros DVa

The quite gorgeous Albatros DVa, with its in-line liquid-cooled engine (hence the smooth shape).

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
71
of 75

Lines

Though sleek in lines, the DVa didn't perform as well as its British adversaries.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
72
of 75

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

The boxy (but fast) Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
73
of 75

Avro 504k

The Avro 504k (the skid was stock), which was used early in the war, but was soon replaced by better performing airplanes.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
74
of 75

Into the wild blue...

The RAF Museum was one of the best air museums I've ever been to, and well worth a trip out of London for any airplane buff. And it's free!

For the full story behind the tour, check out A tour of the Royal Air Force Museum.

Published:Caption:Photo:Geoffrey Morrison/CNET
75
of 75
Up Next

Cosplay on steroids! The impressive costumes of the Comic-Con Masquerade competition