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  • Friday, January 13 2006 @ 02:20 MST
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Chantelle\'s Ramblings Chocks off! Goggles on... My travels this Monday the 9th of January took me to the IWMís air museum at Duxford.

First off, on a day that the Tube was on strike I managed to bus to the train station, take the train and then bus again out to the airfield all within 3 hours and with no troubles at all. In Calgary, if I was trying to get to Heritage Park on the bus I would still be wandering around parts of the city Iíve never seen before desperately trying to figure out what to do next. On the other hand, had I tried to drive to Duxford today, I would likely have taken a wrong turn and now be in the rough side of Dublin talking to the locals like Cst. Fraser from Due South so I guess it all cosmically balances out.

At any rate, I did indeed arrive at Duxford. Iíd like to thank Jen for her philosophy of ďThereís no harm in askingĒ and Candice for her understanding of how to get a bargain. You see, admission to this museum is pricey, about $24 Canadian and Iíve been doing so well on my budget, Iíd hate to blow it now (plus I seem to have gotten really cheap in my old age). So I took out my student pilot permit, claimed that my flight school doesnít have student cards and got into the site for half price. Hey, I am a student and who needs to save money more than a student pilot?

Duxford is a bit of a Mecca for me, as I believe a lot of the filming for Memphis Belle was done here. Memphis Belle was the movie that made me want to get my wings and featured my first love in aviation, the B-17.

Duxford was a base for Fighter Command during WWII and still looks largely of the era. Itís pretty country too and I was lucky enough to have some blue sky and sunshine today. In the summer, Duxford is home to many air shows and Iím sure itís a great venue for such things.

What I did not like about Duxford is that it suffers from Plastic-on-the-Couch Syndrome. Itís very well organized and nice to look at but there is no opportunity to actually get up close to some of the aircraft. Now I know that no one yells louder than me about the need to preserve the heritage of the First and Second World Wars. I realize that no normal person is going to let a five-year-old crawl all over a lovingly restored Fokker Tri-plane but I think that some exceptions can be made.

The American Air Museum portion is a striking building and well laid out but you canít go on the B-17, B-24 or the Super Fortress. These things were built to take a huge kicking on a regular basis. I understand the need to preserve them but the occasional fat bottom like mine plunked in the Captainís chair is not going to hurt them. Charge extra during certain times a day to limit the amount wear and tear but donít shut these up forever never to be shown to anyone. People like me will pay for the privilege because itís the closest weíre ever going to get to pilot one of these things.

They do make some effort by opening up the hangers where restoration is taking place to the public. It is also possible to take flights in a Tiger Moth as well as some vintage civilian planes. These are dependant on booking ahead and what the weather (of course) is doing. I wasnít going to risk booking because Iím only here for two weeks and itís not as though Iím close to the airfield. Weather has been the bane of every pilot for years particularly VFR people like me. I was studying one day and started to rage at the meteorology part of my studies that I hate ďdid Bishop have to worry about this nonsense, did Richtoven have to be bothered about temp and dew point!Ē Later that night I was reading a book about the first British gas attacks during WWI and I found out that in order to calibrate the direction of the gas the officer in charge of the attacks used the Royal Flying Corps weather department to assist him. Egg on my face; I went back to studying my met.

The museum is in the process of building another huge hanger to put a history of British aviation in and its centrepiece will be the Concord. I gather from some signage about the place that until recently they were offering tours through the Concord. There are also two civilian aircraft on the tarmac that can be toured through. For the record, cabins 40 years ago look pretty much like cabins now. Iíd say the one big difference is that I can actually recognize some stuff in the *censored*pit of one of these old girls. When I glimpse the *censored*pit of a modern passenger jet Iím not sure if Iím on an airplane or the Millennium Falcon.

There is also a building dedicated to tanks, obviously there because the collection needs to be housed in a big space and the IWM in London just doesnít have a place for them all. The IWMís does their displays well. Thereís not just tank after tank sitting in a row but every era of tank and other big equipment is displayed in such a way that you can see it in situ. Points of interest for me included the command caravans (we call them RVs) of Monty on D-Day and the D-Day display itself. You enter the exhibit by walking through an open amphibious vehicle and onto the ďbeachĒ. I found this to be a bit of a creepy experience because as I walked off the platform on the other side I couldnít help but think that were it really D-Day and I was really on that craft I would likely now have large holes in unpleasant places in my body.

The IWM both in Duxford and in London has increased my knowledge about army operations in the 1st and 2nd World War 10-fold and certainly given me a new respect for ground-pounders so maybe I shouldnít be so hard on them about their air displays. Thereís probably some army person walking through right now that is miffed that he canít climb into one of the WWII tanks and have a look around.

At the end of my tour I sat down in the coffee shop for a pint of bitter before heading back. If I were a student at Cambridge I can see myself spending serious time studying in that coffee shop as there is a certain calm for me in listening to the roar of prop driven aircraft tearing down a strip and into the wild blue yonder. Forget modern jets, Iíll take four Rolls engines any day.

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