A Gathering of Eagles; A Pride of Lions, or a Flight of Airline Pilots; any of which might well be a description of an aviation heaven that’s about 50 miles from London, and is only 45 minutes by express train. It’s also far better known as the Imperial War Museum (IWM) Duxford. This dear reader, is an aviation paradise, and the home of many classic British, American and German aircraft from WW2.There are over 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery and some “minor naval vessels” here. Indeed Duxford IS aviation and military nirvana.
Consider the following as an in introduction: a B17G Flying Fortress; a B-29 Superfortress; a marvelous B-52 Stratofortress that flew into Duxford in 1983; an F-15 Eagle from the USAF; an RAF Mosquito; and an airplane that ushered in the true jet age for airline passengers, a British Comet; a superb German “terror of the skies” for allied air crews flying over occupied Europe – an FW 190, and a German ME-109; a Lockheed SR 71 Blackbird; a B-24 Liberator; and a classic C-47 Skytrain (a hugely popular variant being the famous DC-3); a nifty Hawker Hunter; a De Haviland Sea Venom; a Harrier jump jet that saw active service in the Falklands war; a superb Avro Lancaster; a classic Short Sunderland flying boat. Wow, what a collection – and yes, of course several Spitfires; an American Lockheed Lightning; and the unique British Westland Lysander; and a BAC Concorde among many others.
Not all the aircraft are on the Flight Line. Many are either in one of the hangars, or come from private sources such as The Shuttleworth Collection, the Old Flying Machine Collection and the Duxford Aviation Society.
Of special interest to American visitors is the “American Museum,” the planning for which began in the mid-1980s. A world famous architect, Sir Norman Foster, was commissioned to design it, and it IS spectacular – indeed there were over 50,000 individual US subscribers to help with the funding, and it opened with much fanfare in September 1995. It is 61 feet high and 330 feet deep, dimensions being dictated by the need to accommodate the classic, and huge, B-52, along with the SR Blackbird and others in the same “unique category.”
If you’re into aviation virtually every aspect of Duxford will thrill you, but one of the things that I found especially fascinating, was the large number of workshops (many are the real WW2 hangars!) where skilled mechanics are restoring aircraft. History buffs will know that back in the dark days of the early 1940s, Duxford played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain when it was an RAF fighter base. It was also where the famous RAF Ace Douglas Bader was based – not only for his flying skills, but it was where he became known for the fact that even though he had no legs, the RAF still wanted him to fly as a fighter pilot, and so fitted him with artificial ones.
Later in the war the USAAF took over operations at Duxford culminating – in December 1944 – with Duxford being a USAAF P-51 Mustang fighter base. Sadly, by 1969, Duxford was no longer required as an active air force base, and closure seemed on the horizon. But then the IWM stepped in, and requested that some of some of its (stored) aircraft be placed there on as permanent basis. Over the years its aircraft collection grew and grew and by August 2005 Duxford welcomed its ten millionth IWM visitor!!!
There are numerous air shows throughout the year, and to learn more about every aspect of the place, Google it and type in “Duxford Aviation Museum” and you’ll see a long list of websites. Get your tickets online as well, as it saves time and money. There are rates for seniors (60 plus), kids, groups and students. If you’re in London, the fastest way to get there is a 45 minute ride in an express train from Kings Cross Station to Cambridge, and then either a bus or taxi to Duxford.