by David Allan-Petale
Cambridge is a fascinating place but if you get a bit sick of punting and Hogwarts imagery then I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. It’s a short bus ride away from the city centre and boasts a massive collection of airplanes from the First World War right up to modern times. You don’t have to be an anorak though you may become one after seeing so many magnificent flying machines.
It will cost you £17 to get in if you’re an adult, less if you’re a student or use your media card like me! Once you’re inside there’s lots of options. The air and sea exhibit boasts scores of helicopters and anti-submarine aircraft; even a few midget submarines. Or you can go over to the Airspace section which has a prototype of the Concorde as its centrepiece. You can hop on board and see how cramped this thing actually was. Imagine flying to New York next to a fat businessman in a seat even Ryanair would consider cruel! Thankfully the flight would have been over quickly.
It’s easy to miss but the sheds where the museum’s volunteers restore old warbirds is a real find. They were overhauling a top of the range Spitfire when I was there and stripping down an old P-40 Warhawk, one of my favourites of all time. Aside from the hero planes there were also a few ‘enemy’ machines, like the fearsome Hind helicopter gunship and the classic delta winged Mig-21.
Finally, the best bit. It’s as though the whole complex is designed like a childhood dinner time, where you have to eat all your vegetables before you get to the ice cream. The American Air Museum which was designed by Sir Norman Foster (the man who brought the iconic Gherkin building to London) is right at the back of the complex but do save some time for it.
The cavernous space holds the most impressive collection of aircraft I’ve seen outside of the Smithsonian collections in the United States. When you walk in, dominating it all, is a B-52 bomber whose wing span covers just about the entire floor space. Nestled under and around that massive behemoth is a host of classic yankee military aircraft.
Vintage B-17 and B-24 bombers rub wingtips with a Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird, an A-10 warthog tank killer and a swing wing F-111 Aardvark. These are the planes I filled my notebooks with drawings of in primary school. Hell, I still draw them when I doodle at work even now.
If you love aeroplanes as much as I do then for heaven’s sake take the detour and check out the IMW Duxford. If your other half isn’t keen to join then no matter, you’ll have the place to yourself (and the other anoraks!)