Plane spotting, nostalgia and simulators: The ultimate road trips for AvGeeks

Jul 15, 2020

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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

Leonardo DaVinci summed up how we all feel about flying when he said: “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

If we live by what Leonardo DaVinci said you can also enjoy the thrill of flight with a U.K. road trip focused on all things aviation. Road trips around the U.K. are fun to plan and you just need a car (other methods of transport also available), some imagination and all-weather clothing.

Read our guide below for a selection of handpicked activities for the AvGeek in all of us (and sometimes your loved ones) to enjoy.

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Related: 7 of the best road trips around the UK

(Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

The world’s shortest commercial flight — The Orkneys, Scotland

If you are around Scotland this summer, be sure to take in some amazing nature in the Hebrides and also the archipelago of Orkney filled with 5,000-year-old Neolithic sites, tall sandstone cliffs and seal colonies.

While you are there, you can experience the shortest commercial flight on earth. Just under two miles in distance from takeoff to touchdown between the islands of Westray (WRY) and Papa Westray (PPW), the total flight time is 90 seconds. Operated by Loganair, there is one flight per day from Westray (usually in the morning) and one flight a day returning back (usually in the late afternoon). Read our full review here.

Once you climb aboard the Britten Norman Islander aircraft, there are just nine seats to choose from so no need to worry about priority boarding. At the end of the flight, you will also receive a charming certificate to show off to all your friends.

How much does it cost? A bargain, at around £14.50 for a return flight (includes 15 kg of luggage).

How to get there: You can fly, drive, get the train or spend the day on a coach to get to Scotland. There are a number of airlines that fly routes from every London airport (City, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Southend and Stansted) to Scotland including British Airways so you can use up some spare Avios. EasyJet and Loganair also fly directly to Scotland.

Emirates Aviation Experience — London

Take to the (virtual) skies in an Airbus A380 and Boeing 777. Select one of ten destination airports, the time of day and weather conditions then pilot the plane through the skies including takeoff and landing. No previous experience is required as an instructor can guide you through the session too.

(Photo courtesy of Emirates Aviation Experience)

The fixed base simulators are so realistic as they are exact replicas of the actual cockpits with landscape visuals, controls and displays including the sidestick/yoke, throttle, pedals and landing gear. The A380 also has speed brakes and flaps.

How much does it cost? £60 for a 30-minute session for up to four people.

How to get there: The Emirates Aviation Experience is located beside Emirates Air Line Terminal Greenwich Peninsula. You can get there by cable car, tube, bus, or boat. Parking is available at The O2 for £6 for up to two hours although you can get four hours of free parking if you also combine your experience with a trip to Cineworld. When the film’s finished, take your unpaid parking ticket and cinema stub to the parking office and they will validate it.

Related: The best plane spotting options in 3 of the United Kingdom’s largest cities

United Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft landing at London Heathrow International Airport in England, UK on 2 August 2019 during a summer day. The airplane has the registration N77019, has 2x GE90 engines and the name Larry Kellner. United Airlines UA UAL is a Star Alliance aviation alliance member. The carrier connects London to Chicago O'Hare, Houston Intercontinental, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, Washington Dulles, Denver. The airliner is photographed from the famous plane spotting location Myrtle Avenue while it is landing on runway 27L. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
United Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft landing at London Heathrow. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Plane spotting on Myrtle Avenue — Heathrow

Myrtle Avenue is a plane spotter’s dream. This suburban residential street has a small patch of grass at the end and is about as close as you can get to Heathrow airport without buying a plane ticket. There’s an almost unrivalled view of the planes landing into Europe’s busiest airport about 200 metres away.

You can see the planes when they are very low, seconds from landing on runway 27L. You face north with the sun roughly behind you so photography opportunities are excellent. You can also walk along the main road for 100 metres or so and stand directly underneath the flight path of approaching planes.

Be prepared when you visit so take a blanket, some snacks from the BP petrol station up the road and a fully-charged phone to check FlightRadar24 (which gives a live feed showing you what’s flying overhead). Just be aware that it is loud especially when the A380s from the likes of Gulf carriers Etihad, Qatar and Emirates make their final approach.

How much does it cost? Free.

How to get there: Myrtle Avenue is easily accessible by tube (Piccadilly Line, Hatton Cross station and then approximately a seven-minute walk) or by car. Parking is limited on Myrtle Avenue but can be found on nearby streets within a three to five-minute walk.

Related: 5 Must-See museums and Tours for Aviation Enthusiasts

The Royal Air Force Museum — London and Cosford, Shropshire

This British institution has two museums — one in London and one in Cosford, Shropshire. Both locations have a host of activities and exhibitions for aviation enthusiasts young and old. The London museum is at the former Hendon Aerodrome in north London with six buildings and hangars. There are over 100 objects on display including a Blériot XXVII. Take the pilot’s seat and fly a Typhoon in their Simulator Zone and there is a new 4D ride with the Red Arrows too.

The Royal Air Force Museum. (Photo by Loop Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
The Royal Air Force Museum. (Photo by Loop Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

In Cosford, there are over 70 aircraft displayed across three wartime hangars. There is also a Cold War section with tanks and other items where you can learn about the bravery of pilots in Test Flights and see the last surviving example of a Boulton Paul Defiant Mk 1.

How much does it cost? Free although special exhibits, rides and tours are extra.

How to get there: For the London museum, the SatNav postcode is NW9 5QW (different to the usual postcode) and car parking is available costing £4.50 for up to three hours. Cosford is centrally located with good motorway access from the M6 southbound (Junction 12) via the A5, one mile from junction 3 on the M54 for northbound travellers. The museum is only thirty minutes from the centre of Birmingham and ten minutes from Telford. Car parking is available and costs £5 for up to seven hours.

Fly a Warbird — Sywell, Northhampton

Having just commemorated the Battle of Britain 80 years ago, you can now take the controls of your own Spitfire, Mustang or ME109 and take off from Sywell Aerodrome near Northampton. A flight with Ultimate Warbird Flights in their P-51 Mustang (£2,500) is under the guidance of a skilled pilot and you will experience aerobatics and combat manoeuvres in 25 minutes of flight. After landing, you will receive a professionally produced DVD, a flight certificate and complimentary gift pack.

(Photo by Baz Richardson/Flickr)
(Photo by Baz Richardson/Flickr)

If you want to experience the thrill of open cockpit flying in this iconic biplane, fly in the aircraft that trained a generation of RAF Fighter Command pilots, the Tiger Moth. Feel the thrill of open cockpit flight in a true icon of aviation with a Tiger Moth experience (£125) that includes a pre-flight briefing with your pilot and 10 minutes flight in a Tiger Moth G-ANTE.

The airfield is also home to The Aviator Hotel, meaning you can make your warbird experience into an overnight extravaganza. Although the beds in the rooms are not in the shape of planes, the restaurant is themed in authentic Art Deco flight style and overlooks the airfield. In the morning, have a quick peek into the Sywell Aviation Museum which is free.

How much does it cost? Warbird flight experiences are from £2,500. Rooms in The Aviator Hotel are from £65 per night for a double room.

How to get there: Sywell Aerodrome is located on the edge of Sywell village in Northamptonshire, four miles from the centre of Wellingborough and 10 miles from the centre of Northampton. Sywell is no more than an hour away from Coventry, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge.

Airport beach at Barra — Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Finally, back to Scotland to another unique aviation experience. The airport at Barra is one of the most unusual in the world, with flights landing on the beach at Cockle Strand between tides. The only commercial beach runway in the world, at high tide the runway disappears beneath the waves.

There are four carefully timed flights every day between Barra and Glasgow (two from Glasgow and two from Barra) so if you wanted to, you could fly in and out of the same day just to enjoy the takeoff and landing from a beach or you could stay awhile and enjoy the Hebrides — it’s full of rugged landscapes, untouched beaches, whisky distilleries and incredible wildlife.

Image of an airplane landing at Barra Airport, Scotland, by marcomanzini/Getty Images.
(Photo by marcomanzini/Getty Images)

How much does it cost? A one-way flight to Barra from Glasgow is around £80 with Loganair. The return flight is around £160.

How to get there: You can fly to Barra (BRR) from Glasgow (GLW) in 70 minutes. There are a number of airlines that fly to Glasgow (the U.K.’s best airport) including British Airways and EasyJet.

Bottom line

Although most major airshows are cancelled this year, you can still inject some excitement into the great British summer by indulging in some really fun AvGeek experiences around the U.K. on the ground or even in the sky for an AvGeek themed day out.

Featured image courtesy of Photo by Ken Yam/Unsplash

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