Back at the end of February I was lucky enough to spend a few days in and around the Dutch capital. Essentially the visit was split into three, with our first full day spent visiting aviation museums with a bit of additional exploring in the evening; the second spent exploring Amsterdam; and our final day spent visiting a bit more of The Netherlands and spotting at Schiphol. I’ve decided that essentially, I’m going to split my blogs in the same manner and so this is the first of three posts covering my Dutch adventures.
On this trip I was travelling with my father and we’d chosen Amsterdam and its surrounds due to the proximity of two of Europe’s air museums that we are yet to visit. Having based ourselves in the town of Almere, we were already halfway from Amsterdam to the location of the first of these museums, Aviodrome, based at Lelystad Airport just outside the town of the same name.
The Aviodrome has been operating in some form since 1960 when it was founded with just seven aircraft as Aeroplanorama by a group of organisations including KLM and Fokker and used to be based at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Based at Lelystad since 2003, the museum now is home to aircraft ranging from a Fokker Tri-plane up to a Boeing 747-200.
In the main building of the Aviodrome there is an excellent exhibition of the history of Dutch Aviation from it’s early days through to the modern day including the part it played in the Dutch colonies, World War 2 and modern Globalisation. There were too many aircraft to count within the exhibition, however my personal favourites were a Douglas C-47 (DC-3) named ‘Iwan W. Smirnoff’ and a Lockheed ‘Connie’ Constellation named ‘Flevoland’.
The C-47, whilst displaying the registration PH-TCB, is in fact former G-BVOL which was initially built for the US Air Force as 42-23974 and also served in both the Royal Air Force and South African Air Force before continuing life in private hands. The actual PH-TCB (42-15044) served with the USAF throughout WW2 and can now be found as PK-RDA in the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre at Darwin Airport. Meanwhile, the Connie displays the markings PH-FLE, which are also a disguise as the aircraft is former C-GXKR and spent most of her life in the United States and Canada before being brought to The Netherlands in 2002 and was named ‘Flevoland’ in honour of the province it now resides in in 2004.
Parts of the exhibition also focus specifically on Dutch companies Fokker, the former aircraft manufacturer, and MartinAir, the former commercial airline that survives as the freight subsidiary of KLM. With most of the exhibition on the ground floor, the route then takes you up to a mezzanine which holds a small exhibit about Dutch space programs and provides excellent views of some of the main exhibits from above.
At the far end of the curved mezzanine, the exhibition route leads you to the museum’s centrepiece, KLM’s final classic Boeing 747-200 (PH-BUK) named ‘Louis Blériot’ which was sold to the museum for the symbolic amount of €1 in 2004. The aircraft, although still airworthy, had quite an adventurous trip to the museum due to Lelystad’s runway being too short to handle the Queen of the Skies. After being partially disassembled, the aircraft was loaded onto a barge (see a photo here) and transported to Harderwijk, south of Lelystad and then journeyed to it’s final resting place by land.
You enter the 747 as you would if you had been a passenger, via a jet bridge from the main building, although entering via the rear door rather than towards the front. PH-BUK was one of KLM’s 747-200 ‘combi’ aircraft, meaning that it operated carrying a mix of passengers and freight on its main deck. The interior of the aircraft has pretty much been left as it was upon retirement, meaning the rear section is still set up for freight with the middle and forward sections being for passengers.
With us being able to explore the Queen of the Skies at our own pace, we headed to the upper deck to see the ‘classic’ flight deck and explore the Business class cabin. The Aviodrome has set up a scaffold adjacent to the upper deck to allow for emergency evacuation, however this also allows you to get a true sense of the scale of the aircraft and grab some photos from an unusual angle.
Having headed back down to Economy and through the unusual long galley that KLM had installed on this 747, we headed outside to explore the rest of the museum. In addition to the main building, the museum has two other buildings on the site, the first a replica of the 1928 Schiphol airport terminal building and the second a restoration hanger attached to the main airfield.
I was extremely with impressed by the level of detail in the terminal building with replica departure boards showing the interesting multi-leg routes that KLM used to operate. The building also housed Schiphol’s control tower at that time and the replica provides great views out over the museum and the Fokker F27 Friendship that was parked on the apron outside the terminal.
Also on display outside are a KLM Cityhopper Fokker 100, a KLM DC4 in ‘The Flying Dutchman’ colour scheme and a Lockheed P-2 Neptune of the Royal Netherlands Navy. Inside the final building, the museum’s restoration hangar, were several partially restored aircraft including a DC-2 painted in the colours of the famous De Uiver which came 2nd in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race.
All in all, I was extremely impressed with the Aviodrome museum and the range of exhibits they have aimed at visitors of all ages. Obviously, the highlight was the Boeing 747, however as a Civil Aviation enthusiast, the large number of civil aircraft was definitely a plus. If you are heading to the museum at the weekend or during school holidays, I’d recommend getting their early as by the time we finished the museum was very busy with families.
Just after lunch, having spent the morning at the Aviodrome, we were back on the road and heading towards the city of Utrecht and the National Militair Museum (Militair). This museum is based on the former airbase at Soesterberg, a 940-acre site which it shares with a nature park and various hiking and cycling trails and combines the collections of the former Military Aviation Museum and Army Museum.
Whilst the upper floor of the museum contains an exhibition on military history in The Netherlands, we decided to skip this and head to the main floor after a quick visit to the restaurant for some coffee and cake. There is a wide range of aircraft on display within the main building ranging from a British built Hurricane to a Catalina flying boat that served for the Dutch Naval Aviation Service in the Dutch East Indies.
A staple of many western aviation museums is the Douglas C-47 Skytrain/Dakota, the military version of the DC-3 and the most widely produced airliner in history with more than 15,000 produced. The vast majority of these were the military variant with only 607 of the civilian version produced. Of course Militair was no different and is home to former 43-15652, which as with the C-47 on display at the Aviodrome is disguised and displayed in the colours of the Royal Netherlands Indies Air Force whilst it spent most of it’s life serving in the Norwegian and Danish Air Forces.
In addition to the vast collection of aircraft, military vehicles and memorabilia within the museum building, there are also a small collection of aircraft on display on the remaining piece of apron outside the building. These include a C-10, the military version of the Fokker F27 Friendship; a Lockheed P-2 Neptune; and a Bréguet 1150 Atlantique. The latter two performed similar roles for the Dutch Naval Aviation Service being used for reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare.
I certainly found the Militair museum enjoyable and would recommend that, if you are planning on spending time going around all of the exhibits in depth, you dedicate a day to the museum as there was way too much to see in a few hours. As with the Aviodrome, the museum was very busy with it being a weekend, so for a quieter visit head there during the week.
Having had our fill of aviation museums, we planned to explore a bit more of the province we’d based ourselves in, and the youngest province of The Netherlands, Flevoland. The vast majority of Flevoland is land that was reclaimed in the 1950s and 60s as part of the Zuiderzee works, however some parts of the province existed as islands before the draining of the sea.
The first of these former islands that we visited was Schokland, a former settlement which is now a museum and was the first UNESCO World Heritage in The Netherlands. Unfortunately, we arrived just as the museum was closing, however its location on what is now a small hill allowed us to get an excellent view of the church and former sea wall of the island. If you want to visit the museum, it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am until 5pm. After our fail at visiting Schokland, we headed for our final destination for the day, the town of Urk, which as with Schokland used to be an island prior to the Zuiderzee works.
Urk is also home to, at a whopping height of 8m, the highest point in the province of Flevoland and it was to climb this ‘peak’ that we were visiting the town. The town was quiet on our visit on a Sunday evening in March and we enjoyed a peaceful walk past historic buildings on our way to the seafront. Close to the highest point is the ‘Kerkje aan de Zee’ or Church at Sea and the Vissersmonument which displays the names of the townsfolk that lost their lives as sea on fishing vessels. Our visit to the town was short but enjoyable and is certainly somewhere to return to for an explore one afternoon when the weather is a bit warmer.
After a long but fun filled day in and around Flevoland (and a bit of Utrecht) we headed back to our base in Almere and some dinner at a restaurant near our BnB, Restaurant El Mundo which we ate at a couple of times during our stay. I thoroughly enjoyed our day at the aviation museums, and it was nice to be able to see some more of Flevoland as well. The next of the three posts about our trip to The Netherlands will be all about Amsterdam itself and some of the things we got up to whilst in the Dutch capital.