When the kids were small, we would often pop over to the RAF museum, not far from where we live, in North London, to have a look around and take part in some of the children’s activities offered there. It was a pleasant day out, a bit old-fashioned, but convenient and good for the children. But it wasn’t anything special.
Fast-forward a few years and a multi-million pound transformation has occurred. The new RAF museum (and I’m calling it new, even though it’s on the same site) is worth not just taking your kids to, but your teens, your other half and your parents… And it’s still free entry.
2018 is the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the museum is now a great testament to that (it was previously a bit tired). It offers some excellent galleries (including a new one on modern warfare, which contains up to date aircraft plus interactive exhibits including a quiz which I very much enjoyed), brilliant exhibits (including bombs from World Wars One and Two), hundreds of new artefacts and some very clever interactive experiences including the chance to build your own computerised plane (and then to see it fail miserably when tested – or perhaps that was only us).
The space itself (a former air field) is also vastly improved, with a green space in the middle of it and simply more space to breathe. There’s also a new restaurant, but it needs more staff (and more panini machines!) to be as appealing as the rest of the site. The only other thing they need to add is a really good audio tour, as it would help you to organise what you should see – there’s so much on offer.
Now, that’s enough of me. Robert, who’s now 13, explains more:
When a child comes to a museum they are hoping for interesting things to look at and interactive activities to take part in.The RAF museum has always provided awesome vehicles to examine, (planes, tanks, helicopters…) yet the latter was only really provided in a kids’ activity centre, not around the rest of the site.
But now, scattered around the different exhibitions are loads of online and real-life activities to have fun with. These include: designing your own plane and then testing it in a series of online challenges (which I really enjoyed and did more than once), a multi-tasking test where you had to complete logic puzzles at the same time as tapping coloured squares, and a screen where you have to put famous events in chronological order. More physical activities included dressing up in the clothes of RAF pilots, placing cogs in a wheel to try and complete a successful engine and a speed test where you had to tap lights as they flashed up. There were also loads of other interactive things to do for both younger and older kids, on top of the old activity centre (which, funnily enough, is one of the things that doesn’t really work that well anymore).
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is what the activities and the museum is all about.There are many exhibitions displaying information about times when the RAF was needed and in each hangar there are the different vehicles used at those times; from the spitfire to the German Messerschmitt to the incredible, giant Vulcan. In the first exhibition, “Stories of the air force” there are models of every vehicle for children to sit in.
In terms of information there are boards next to the planes explaining what they are, as well as loads of lifesize cut outs of former RAF members with their story printed on the back. These were really interesting and varied – from different times and about many different types of people – and I would recommend reading them. I found the planes and the bombs/missiles they carried really cool to look at although I could see younger children getting bored after a little while.
There are three main experiences that you could pay to take part in at the museum. The first was a flight simulation where you have six minutes to control the plane. You do feel slight vibrations, but it wasn’t as exciting as I hoped – although my dad did enjoy it. This simulator is only for older kids – however I remember the other simulator (the torpedo) being amazing when I was younger so if you go to the museum after it has been fixed, I would recommend that simulator above the newer one.
There was a 4D film in which you “fly” with the red arrows – one of five different films being shown.
The final add on was “The Spitfire Experience” where you get to go inside a real spitfire and press the buttons and pull the levers as if you were flying. I thought this might be a bit boring, but it was really good. A member of staff explains all the bits of the plane to you, and how it worked, and I thought it was the most interesting thing I had done all day. I would recommend trying this – although it costs £10 – for the explanation alone. It was great.
Personally, I had a great day trying out all the new activities and looking at the new exhibitions. The day out was a lot more fun than the last time I came so if you haven’t come in a while or are coming to London on a trip then I would definitely recommend a visit!
The RAF Museum is open from 10-6pm daily from March to October. It’s free entry, although the add-ons (as mentioned above) cost extra. It’s in Hendon, North West London (the nearest tube is Colindale on the Northern Line) and you can find out more about it via its website..