What?: Hendon’s Royal Air Force Museum has been at the bottom of our very long to-do list for a very long time – partly because I don’t find planes hugely interesting, partly because I didn’t think Babu would either, and partly because it’s in Hendon, which just sounds really depressing and remote. Then three things happened: I found out about the museum’s twice-monthly Little Swifts sessions for 2-5s, Babu suddenly developed a keen interest in plane-spotting, and I realised Colindale, the museum’s closest tube, is just four stops on the Northern Line from a walkable station – and just like that it catapulted itself to the top of our list.
We started our day with Little Swifts, which took the form of an all-singing, all-dancing drama class led by an inexplicably enthusiastic yet oddly not at all annoying teacher called Dina. I’m telling you, I’ve never seen Babu so engaged in my life – she didn’t bug me for snacks once during the hour-long session and that’s basically unheard of, so it must have been good. There was storytelling, there were bubbles, there was a giant parachute-type thing, teddies, dancing, some kind of conga line situation – I mean ordinarily I probably wouldn’t take her to that kind of class because cringe but oh my God. Actually it’s made me wonder if I should be taking her to more of these generic Amanda’s Action Club-style classes but I’m worried she might get hooked and I don’t know if I can hack them on a regular basis.
Anyway, the museum itself is huge – hangar-like, you might say. And actually that’s exactly what it is because, duh, aircraft. In fact the whole museum is divided up into hangars, with one celebrating the RAF’s centenary, another exploring the earliest days of flight during the First World War, another examining the period between 1918 and 1980 and the final one focusing on the RAF in recent decades. Basically there are a lot of planes, including one with teeth, another that says POO down its side and some really cool early wooden warplanes. One of the hangars houses the promisingly named but disappointingly crappy Aeronauts Interactive Gallery, which has a few kiddy-friendly bits and bobs to interact with but is absolutely crying out for a makeover.
Thankfully the brand-new outdoor playground more than makes up for it with its obscenely beautiful and imaginative apparatus, including a massive playhouse modelled on one of the museum’s old buildings, a bright yellow rescue helicopter, a warplane with twin slides running down its back and a Land Rover whose steering wheel makes a fart noise, though presumably that’s unintentional. And if the weather’s crappy when you visit there are still plenty of interactives dotted around inside to keep little hands occupied, from photo-friendly planes to pilot (see photo) to touch screens, magnetic walls and wooden plane-building stations. Plane fans or not, you will not be bored here.
Where?: The museum is located in Grahame Park Way, Hendon, and is a 13-minute walk from Colindale Underground station.
Best Bits: The playground, the playground!
Worst Bits: I guess the Aeronauts gallery was the worst bit but even that provided 20 or so minutes of amusement.
Facilities: Cloakroom, step-free access, baby changing, cafe.
Would We Come Back?: Yes! I’m keen to try out the art-based Little Swifts session they run once a month in addition to the drama class.
Babu and Finn ride the spitfire at the RAF Museum, Hendon.