My 13-year-old daughter didn’t respond well to being attacked by enemy aircraft.

As she fired her machine gun at advancing fighter planes, she managed to score only two hits.

A teenage boy, who had tested his skills on the air gunnery simulator before her, scored 89. “Well, he’s probably had lots of practise on computer games,” she said as she raced away from the machine, embarrassed as it flashed up a message in large letters: ‘The last score is two hits: Can you beat it?’ We were spending an afternoon at Yorkshire Air Museum and Allied Forces Memorial at Elvington near York. Now one of the largest independent aviation history museums in Britain, its collection covers the history of manned flight from its origins in Yorkshire through to the supersonic age.

The museum, which opened in 1986, is also renowned as being a unique memorial to allied air forces personnel, including the women’s services.

The site is atmospheric in itself. A wartime bomber base, the original air traffic control tower and adjacent buildings were rescued from dereliction and restored by a team of devoted volunteers. It doesn’t feel like a museum – it feels real, and it’s very easy to imagine the hive of activity during Second World War.

Entering the museum, we passed a Spitfire, a replica commemorating 609 (West Riding) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Spitfire was Britain’s most advanced fighter, an information board told us. It was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft, with more than 22,000 of all types made, including fighters, high-speed reconnaissance and naval.

We started off in the air gunners’ exhibition which displays a number of turrets from which the airmen aimed their guns. So cramped and exposed, it must have been terrifying. Most were aimed by hand, but some used gyroscopic sights operated by foot pedals.

The flying suits were particularly interesting. Some fleece-lined suits were electrically heated. It was also vital that boots were waterproof as any moisture could freeze at altitude causing discomfort and possible frostbite.

Next, we looked around the control tower, the interior of which has been painstakingly recreated. It appears operational, with coffee mugs, newspapers and other everyday items adding to the atmosphere. You feel as though you’ve gone back in time and half expect the sound of planes overhead. The names of those leaving for Germany are written upon a large blackboard. It must have been terrible watching for their return, hoping they’d all make it back.

Inside a huge hangar containing the main aircraft display, we saw a group of volunteers skilfully building a Mosquito from salvaged parts. Known as ‘the wooden wonder’ after the material from which it is predominantly made – is of particular interest to my family, as my husband’s father, a former RAF pilot, flew them before moving on to Meteors.

There is so much to take in inside the hangar, but one thing I liked about about the museum was that you’re not overloaded with information. The boards beside each aircraft offer a little history and a handful of interesting facts – not the essays you find in some museums.

My husband was disappointed, however, that he couldn’t get close to the Halifax bomber as it was in the middle of the space, hemmed in by other exhibits.

My daughter was amused by the quirky little Gyroplane, which looked like a flying dodgem car. No wonder these machines were grounded after a numer of fatalities.

A highlight of the afternoon was the museum restaurant, a large, light, airy space with model planes hanging overhead. It was very reasonably-priced – tea, coffee, hot chocolate and cake for three brought plenty of change from £10. A wide range of meals are available during the day.

And we loved the French officers’ mess. Open the door to this scruffy hut and what a surprise! A living room with open fire, easy chairs, a piano, radio and all the trappings of home. The large paintings on the wall were painted by a French officer stationed at Elvington during the war. It looked so cosy, I could happily have moved in myself.But it can’t have been much of a comfort, as every mission could have been their last.

The museum is currently staging an excellent exhibition, Against the Odds, The Story of Bomber Command in the Second World War, which shows video clips of crews being briefed, taking off and flying over Germany. Just over half of bomber airmen were killed in action, and 55,588 lives were lost.

Another exhibition looks at the Pioneers of Aviation, incluidng Sir Barnes Wallis – there’s a great model of a bouncing bomb which is shaped more like an oil drum than the round shape I’d imagined it to be – and Amy Johnson, a typist from Hull who was the first woman to fly solo to Australia and Russia.

It also features Scarborough-born Sir George Cayley, the world-renowned Father of Aeronautics, a pioneer of aeronautical engineering who in 1799 laid down the concept of the modern plane as a fixed wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion and control. He also designed the first glider to carry a human being into the air.

The museum is a registered charity and receives no local or Government funding. It’s educational and fun – there are a couple of cockpits into which visitors can climb. It was a tight squeeze even for my daughter – I couldn’t imagine squashing into it and going up to face enemy aircraft.

The museum makes a great afternoon out – I’d thoroughly recommend it.


* Yorkshire Air Museum is at Elvington, York.

* Admission is £8 for adults, £4 for children (aged five to 15), £6 for senior citizens and £22 for a family of two or three.

* For more information, ring (01904) 608595, or visit