So it’s Easter Monday.
A Bank Holiday.
It’s tipping down with rain – of course!
What can we do, to give the kids a breath of fresh air, and not enter into soft play hell? (Don’t get me wrong, there are days when soft play centres are lifesavers, but not on a rare day when we’re all together as a family).
We chose to do what every family in the Midlands does on a rainy day (or so it seemed!) – we went to the Royal Airforce Museum in Cosford. As it’s a National Museum, it’s free to enter, although you do have to pay for parking (£2 for up to three hours, £3 for three to eight hours, which is very reasonable, and I recommend you pay the extra £1 for all day). Their website is here
RAF Cosford has a special place in my heart, as my Grandad was based there in the 1950s as an RAF engineer. This meant my mum and uncle were born in the RAF hospital that was there. I always stare at the pictures from that era hoping to see Grandad and his pipe peering out at me!
We arrived just before lunchtime, we had planned to take a picnic, but as it was wet, we chose to buy a sandwich from the cafe there, ‘Refuel’.The children had ‘Ration Packs’, which was a five piece pick and mix lunch bag for £3.75, and there was a good variety of sandwiches, snacks, yoghurts and fruit to go in. Me and my husband just had a sandwich, crips and a drink, although the hot food looked delicious. The hot meals did look a little pricey, however the portion sizes we saw were massive.
After purchasing a guide book and picking up the quiz for the Cold War exhibit, we were off.
The first hall is called Test Flight. In the entrance hall is a timeline charting British aviation history, starting in 1912. We paid particular attention to the period between 1939 and 1945 as my daughter is going to be studying World War 2 next term. My boy was fascinated by the Hindenberg diasaster, and proceeded to explain to everyone around him that “the gas blew up and it sploded”. When you enter the main hangar, there’s plenty of planes to look at, but what every family heads straight for (so be prepared to queue) is the interactive Fun ‘n’ Flight section.
This section is full of aviation science exhibits that you can play with, like controlling the airflow around a helicopter rotor to get it to hover in one place, or the ‘drop zone’ where the task is to get the plane to drop an ‘aid parcel’ in a small area. You can also test out different materials for strength and flexibility, or play an touch screen quiz about the logisitics of flight. There’s also a ‘Black Hawk’ simulator if your stomach can stand it! It’s great fun, and very interesting understanding what the experiments demonstrate.
The next hangar is called ‘War Planes’. This hangar is full of planes and other vehicles used in various wars from World War 1, right through to the recent Gulf Wars. This section was what my daughter was fascinated by, and she made me take hundreds of photos to take to school. She was interested in the Luftwaffe planes, as well as the RAF ones. My eye was caught by an Argentinian plane that was used in the Falklands Conflict as I remember it. (Gosh I’m getting old!).
This gave rise to explanantions of ‘Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow” for jet engines and also what breaking the sound barrier means and sonic booms; my daughter looked at me and said: “how do you know so much about planes?” Ah the innocent days where children think their parents know everything!
Then it’s onto the National Cold War Exhibition. This is where the quiz kicks in, and is very clever. There are questions about finding markings on tanks, missing words from displays, word searches and pictures to draw based on exhibits. Children were clutching them all over the place, and avidly reading displays about the Berlin Wall, Trabants, tanks and looking for the mystery pictures.
This area is massive and covers many aspects of the Cold War, including video displays about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Space Race as well as the more familiar aspects such as the Berlin War and the patitioning of Germany after World War 2.
This hangar also hosts the gift shop, and although there is the usual tat (huge pencils, keyrings and fudge), there’s a vast selection of gifts, book, DVDs and toys. I purchased a ‘Ration Recipe Book’ for £4.99 – watch me morph into a 1940s housewife. My boy now has a tank and two aeroplanes, and my daughter has some colouring and loads of things to take to school ready for their topic work.
The last hangar is called Hangar 1. This is a mixture of all kinds of aircraft, uniforms, missiles of varying shapes and sizes, medals, models, artwork – I could go on and on! The one other thing I’d point out in this hangar is the ‘Airfix’ Spitfire built by James May and the pupils of Thomas Telford School as part of his Toy Stories Series – it took my husband pointing out that it was the model for me to realise it wasn’t a real plane.
After three and a half hours, our four year old was getting a little fed up, so we decided to call it a day. My daughter was still full of questions and curiousity, as were my husband and I.
It’s a fascinating way of looking at modern history and watching technology evolve. It’s well run, clean, tidy, fun, educational, undercover and ,best of all, FREE!