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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yesterday I Spent at RAF Duxford Airfield and Cambridge

The real Memphis Belle is in the USAF Museum in Dayton.

Tuesday morning I woke up with no particular plan. Lulu was off to Stonehenge - and I had visited there 3 times already. Even though they were taking their own Mercedes bus - I wanted to see something new.

I had heard about RAF Duxford Airfield and even though it was all the way north by Cambridge - I decided it would be a perfect trip for the clear day we were having.

After my shave and shower - I walked to the train station. A round trip to Cambridge was 22 pounds ($33). By 11 - I was zooming north at about 80 MPH. The express train had no stops and in no time I  was at Cambridge Station. Just outside the door I saw a bus with RAF Duxford on the front. I paid the driver 16 pounds ($24) and that included the 1/2 hour drive to the museum and the admission.

Duxford is a small town about 12 miles south of Cambridge - actually back toward London. RAF Duxford is really a big grassy field about 1 miles by 2 mile. It was one of the main airfields during World War II. Many of the scenes from the movies "Battle of Britain" and "Memphis Belle" were shot here. The majority of the original buildings are still there. There are 8 museums in all - yes 8 giant buildings - and there is quite a walk between them. 

Most of the museums were real WWII airplane hangars with giant accordion wooden doors. The 8 museums were themed to a degree - but after a while they started to blend into each other. 

I had taken about 200 pictures - and I know you should not put so many pictures in one story - but I whittled it down to 45 - and dampened down the quality so that they are not too slow to load. If you double click on each picture - it will blow up to 4 times the size. Anything pictures I put on my web page are open game. If you use any it is nice to credit - - but you do not have to.

I roamed through all 8 museums from about noon to 4. There were not a lot of people there - you could tell it is geared for big crowds. In September they have a giant air show there - it is supposed to be a zoo. I am glad I had it to myself and maybe 500 people. In place this big 500 people is nothing. 

When I got to the last museum - I met a museum attendant that was in heaven. He lived in London for 60 years - worked in a high paying high pressure job (not teaching). He moved to Duxford to retire. He loved airplanes. He landed a job there as a walk-in. He said he would work for free if he had to. the airfield is busy with historic traffic. The planes stopped right before his work station - stop - rev up before takeoff. He has ridden on many - and taken pictures of even more. When I asked him how fa fit was back to the other end - he said one mile. I said I wanted to catch the 4PM bus - he got on his radio - called for a Mercedes shuttle - and I was wished down the taxi way - in a couple minutes - all by myself. 

When I got on the bus to Cambridge - a Russian family group was going to town with me. They loved the US hangar (number 7). When they found out I was American - they were full of questions about USA museums - aircraft - rockets - etc. Before I knew it I was back in Cambridge and I missed my stop. I stopped the bus - got out and walked thru downtown Cambridge. 

Cambridge is the closest thing I ever saw to a real town like Disneyworld. It was full of bright kids - tons and tons of bike traffic - narrow narrow streets - about 30 different colleges - lots of places to eat and drink - real buildings from the 1200's in excellent shape - nice weather - and a cute little ice cream cart with hand dipped cones for only a pound  ($1.50)  :-)    If you would take Harvard - Yale - Princeton - Penn - Duke - Georgetown - and multiplied it  by 5 - you would get the idea how it felt. There were no parking places for cars anywhere. If you owned a car - you had to have an off street parking place for it. No wonder bikes are so fashionable there - they are tied everywhere. I am not talking cheap Walmart or Sears bikes either. having a nice bike is fashionable - and I would guess they average about 500 pounds ($750) each. The kids were nice to me - it did not feel snobby as I expected it would. When Lulu took her students to Oxford - she kidded them that when they got off the train - they had to rent a gown to walk around in all day. They believe her.

At around 6 PM -  I walked back to the station (with my second ice cream cone). My ticket said I could catch any train - I had a choice of an early regular train or a later express train. I waited the 10 minutes for the express and beat the other brian to town by about 20 minutes. There is nothing quite as unnerving as blast through a station at 100 miles per hour with people just 3 feet away behind the safety of a yellow painted line on the platform. It is even more scarey to me being one of the standees. But I am guessing the scariest thing would be driving the train. You are the engineer with your hand on the throttle with a train coming at you at 100 MPH and you are going 100 MPH - the buffeting when they passed shook my heart. I can't imagine at night seeing that singular headlight coming straight at you. I keep keep thinking - what if something left a track switch open. 

The train was pretty full. A couple of young co-eds sat down across from me. They were really enjoying life.they had some school work with them - one miss was obviously an artist. They were both dressed very nicely - and at the top of their life. they laughed and smiled - had food and drink and offered it to anyone around them. They asked questions - never once adjusting their hair or clothes - even though they obviously very pretty and smart. It made me feel very good about the leaders of tomorrow. They seem to follow the beat of a different drummer - probably I did  that once too - I am 3 times their age now. I chucked the other day when someone stole a TV in our neighborhood. I said, "A conservative is a liberal that had their TV stolen." Is that really what changes us? I remember when Judy Collins sang a song in the 60s called "Both Sides Now." I had no idea what she was talking about.

I have been retired almost 10 years now. I could never imagined I would be traveling so freely and having such a wonderful time. I have to thank Lulu mostly for that - I had visions of pinching pennies on teacher's pension. So far- they have been the best years of my life. A day in Duxford and Cambridge will do that to you.

They have a big air show in Duxford every year.

In WWII - they used to drop motorcycles out of airplanes like this.

This jeep is suspended on a crash pad to be dropped by parachute.

One of my favorite planes is the Harrier jump jet. It can take off and land like a helicopter - then fly straight at 500 MPH.

The Concord is the only passenger jet that could fly faster than sound.. It could go 1500 MPH - cross the Atlantic in 2 hours - but only people like Mick Jagger could afford the $10,000 ticket. They never made any money - it used too much fuel - only held 88 people.

Richard Branson flew this balloon gondola from USA to Britain. It flew in th ejet stream and took less time than Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic.

You could take a ride in this Hellcat aircraft carrier plane.

This plane was painted up like Memphis Belle - even though it was a B-17 named Sally B. It wa suited in the movie "Memphis Belle."

They would restore planes here. These are wings from a Spitfire.

This guy is working on a US plane.

This is a full restored and flying Messerschmidt. Keith and I saw it flying at an air show 3 years ago.

This is a real Duxford hangar from WWII - bricks and wood.

This is the original airfield tower - also used in Memphis Belle movie.

This is an operating USA P-51 Mustang. Itr was recently use din the movie  "RedTails."

This interesting Ford Model T was rigged to start airplane engines. In the old days you started engines by hand - very dangerous. This thing made fit safer.

You could take flights in authentic WWII planes here.

I took this picture of the sign - did not realize that I could have flown in a war bird for 40 pounds ($60).

This is an air raid shelter by the hangar.

This Messerschmidt crashed landed during the Battle of Britain..

This is simple a jeep with hand welded armor put on it. Not very effective but it made the people feel goos during the Blitz - expecting the Germans that never came.

This truck had a barrage balloon on it. these trucks were manned by women. When and air raid siren blew - they would put up the balloons hoping planes would run into the cables. The German chose to fly higher - with less accuracy. 300 V-1 Rocket Bombs hit the cable and crashed. 

These concrete pill boxes were built at the factory and carried by truck all along the coast. Again it made them feel good. During the day they sunk into the ground -during a raid - the gas cylinder would pop them back up if needed.

Search lights were placed in a lattice every 3 miles. When they saw a plane at night - they would hand it off to the next light - while guns tried to destroy the plane.

This was General Montgomery's field car.

Several small building on the base were restored to 1945 condition.

This was the Operations Room - notice the bomb mounds protecting it .

Inside the Operation Room - they conducted the Battle of Britain and movement of planes.

Here is a list of several airfields around London.

These buildings housed officers.

They buildings housed soldiers and airmen.

After the war - Britain needed 1 million new home. This is a prefab home - 4 rooms and a bath. They were delivered by truck - you put them together in 3 days. they were supposed to last only 10 years - but today many people still live in them. I lived in a kit home I assembled in Tamaqua for 30 years.

This is an Anderson Shelter. It was similar to a steel pipe you covered with dirt. There is one in the backyard of our London apartment. People did not like them and resorted to just going under their stairs in the house.

This is a portable cabin. It is like a trailer with no wheels. Notice they were stackable.

This is a German V-1 Buzz Bomb. They would launch them from France or Holland. they had no pilot just 2000 pounds of TNT. They would run out of fuel and fall. 6000 people were killed by them. The worst one hit in Chelsea - and it killed 100 Americans at once.

This is a map of the 8 museums at Duxford.

This is a drawing of the 8 museums at Duxford.

"Neve run the course of human events has so much been owed to so few." - Winston Churchill during the Battle of Britain. Spitfire and Pilot.

This is Trinity College in Cambridge.In the movie "Chariots of Fire" the race to beat the chiming clock was run here.

This is St Johns College in Cambridge.

The USA Museum was a clutter of planes - it was hard to get good pictures. Here you see and A-10 Warthog and a B-52 bomber.

Patton said 3 things won WWII - the Jeep - the Higgins Boat landing craft - and the C-47 Gooniebird shown here.

Jimmy Doolittle led a group of B-25's to bomb Tokyo right after the Pearl Harbor attack. It was a moral victory America needed at the time - it did not do much damage but really peed off the Japanese.

The SR-71 is the fastest planes in the world - it could fly 2000 MPH and take pictures from about 20 miles up. 

This is the engine of a Sherman tank. It is five 6-cylinder car engines arranged in a circle making 450 HP.  They are just regular flathead engines used in the 1930s - 1940s - and 1950s.

During the crisis in Northern Ireland - the Brits used this robot to get bombs out of cars.

Finally - a favorite of mine - a 1939 Volkswagen "jeep boat." It has 4 wheels drive and a sealed body with propeller. You could go straight from land to water  on the fly. The body reminds me of the American dune buggies of the 1960s.

If you stuck with me this far - thank you.


Bill Digiglio said...

Great pictures Thanks..

Anonymous said...

I stuck with you to the end. I wish we could get the Jeep Boat and mess around with it.


Anonymous said...

Good picts and commentary, JP