Over 100 years of aircraft heritage awaits exploration in London, from the flimsy craft that took to the skies as the twentieth century dawned, to the modern commercial airliners that sweep across the globe.
It is a journey that starts just beyond London’s M25 motorway. The De Havilland Museum is Britain’s oldest aviation museum and focuses purely on the amazing innovations that have taken place on this site over the years. Flimsy biplanes used to take off from this site in the early years of the twentieth century, while iconic planes such as the Tiger Moth and the Mosquito were built here. It was also home to the development of the first jet liner, as well as the Airspeed Horsa Glider, which played such an important role on D Day. This is very much a working museum, with volunteers constantly working on new restoration projects, so if you are staying in our hotels in Cricklewood London, take time to watch them at work and find out more about the planes.
Only a few miles further south is RAF Hendon, where the story of the world’s oldest air force waits to be discovered. The RAF was founded 101 years ago, in 1918 and this is its official museum. A series of gigantic hangers contain countless iconic aircraft used by the RAF over the past century such as Spitfires, Hurricanes, a Lancaster Bomber, Flying Fortresses, a Sutherland Flying boat, Harrier Jump Jet and many more. Also on display are helicopters and other military vehicles used by the RAF. One of those helicopters has had a distinguished pilot – Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, who flew it during his military service as an air sea rescue pilot off the coast of Wales.
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Free to enter, the museum offers lots of hands on activities for families. There are uniforms to try on, games to play and even an opportunity to digitally design a plane and see if it will actually fly. For an extra cost, you can take part in special experiences such as the amazing, unique Dambusters Experience which is the nearest anyone can get to actually being there on that historic night. Wearing a special vest and headset, you sit in a mock up of a Lancaster bomber cockpit, and suddenly the world changes. You are transported back to the wartime days of 1940, with radios crackling, engines thrumming and the plane constantly vibrating. Outside the water ripples authentically across the dam, as tracer bullets zoom past and the shockwaves of the bomb drop pass through the aircraft.
Since then commercial aircraft have become big business. Not too far from Best Western Palm Hotel, at the Emirates Aviation Experience in Greenwich you can find out how passenger aircraft are prepared for flight, visit the pilot’s cockpit and take part in a simulated flight where your task is to land the plane successfully.