THE FLIGHTDECK • May 2021
No matter how hard you rubberneck by the departure lounge window, it can be tricky to get a decent view of all the planes on the airfield. For true av-geeks, though, we have aviation museums. To mark International Museum Day (18 May 2021), expert in the field Steve Slack adds five of the best to your must-visit list...
Where: Toulouse, France
Toulouse is synonymous with aircraft engineering and the perfect place for a museum dedicated to designing and building flying machines. Located right by the airport (so close you could make a swift visit on a day trip from London Heathrow), the museum is home to some early pioneering planes, a range of military aircraft, not one but two Concordes and a Super Guppy, with its nose open for you to peek inside.
Top tip: Included in the ticket is the chance for kids (and big kids) to pilot a drone through obstacles and a race course.
Picture by: Frédérique Félix-Faure
Where: Washington, D.C.
By bringing air and space together under one roof, this museum shows just how closely linked aviation is with mankind’s stratospheric pursuits. It’s humbling to think how swiftly we journeyed from early pioneers such as the Wright brothers (who have their own exhibition) to the technological advances of today. Seeing it all laid out in physical form reminds us of a story of innovation that we may sometimes take for granted.
Top tip: The museum is part way through a multi-million-dollar redisplay of its collections, so there are some new galleries to see. Next to open are exhibits on the American aviation industry and World War II in the air.
Where: Sydney, Australia
This working museum, run by enthusiasts and former aviation professionals, insists you take a tour of its site – and it’s totally worth it. While you’re navigated through the hangars of static, restored and operational aircraft, take a chance to quiz these plane geeks and pick their brains. This volunteer-run organisation has attracted some high-profile donations – in 2017, it received a retired Qantas 747 (VH-OJA, the world record holder for the longest non-stop flight by a commercial aircraft) and John Travolta’s 707.
Top tip: Visitors can upgrade their tours with special extras such as sitting in the cockpit of the 747, visiting the cargo hold and even walking on its wings.
Picture by: Mark Mennie
Where: Manchester, UK
Home of the Lancaster, the Vulcan, the Nimrod and the BAe 146, this museum of legendary British aircraft is housed on the site where they were all developed. It might not sprawl as much as other aviation museums, but what it lacks in space it makes up for in character and charm. The star of the show is the lovingly preserved all-white Vulcan, which greets visitors face-on as they arrive.
Top tip: There’s no pedestrian access to this museum, so you’ll have to arrive by car. But that does mean you get to drive along part of the old runway of this disused airfield to get there. There’s a speed limit in place, so no going supersonic.
If you can, take the opportunity to be one of the first through the doors of this recently opened museum. The ultra-modern complex goes way beyond simply looking at aircraft. Yes, there are planes, but plenty of the museum is also dedicated to the skills, practices and experiences of modern flight. Steer a hang-glider, ride the dizzying Black Eagle stunt plane in an AR experience, and direct aircraft from the control tower.
Top tip: Take the 90-minute in-flight training experience to learn about the role of cabin crew (though they don’t teach how to run a drinks service during mild turbulence).