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Approach to the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The glass exhibit shows the total number of U.S. aircraft lost flying from bases in the U.K.
Approach to the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The glass exhibit shows the total number of U.S. aircraft lost flying from bases in the U.K. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
Approach to the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The glass exhibit shows the total number of U.S. aircraft lost flying from bases in the U.K.
Approach to the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The glass exhibit shows the total number of U.S. aircraft lost flying from bases in the U.K. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
Inside the AirSpace exhibit at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. Visitors can explore around and underneath famous aircraft like the Lancaster, Spitfire, Concorde and Vulcan.
Inside the AirSpace exhibit at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. Visitors can explore around and underneath famous aircraft like the Lancaster, Spitfire, Concorde and Vulcan. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
A rebuilt Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Nicknamed "Sally B," it's the only airworthy B-17 in Europe and was used in the 1990 film Memphis Belle.
A rebuilt Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Nicknamed "Sally B," it's the only airworthy B-17 in Europe and was used in the 1990 film Memphis Belle. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
A Republic P-47 Thunderbolt at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. This Thunderbolt was flown by the 48th Fighter Wing in World War II and is painted in 492nd's scheme from that period.
A Republic P-47 Thunderbolt at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. This Thunderbolt was flown by the 48th Fighter Wing in World War II and is painted in 492nd's scheme from that period. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
The painted front of a Westland WS-61 Sea King at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The Sea King was primarily designed for performing anti-submarine warfare missions.
The painted front of a Westland WS-61 Sea King at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The Sea King was primarily designed for performing anti-submarine warfare missions. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
A Messerschmitt Bf 109 plane inside the Battle of Britain exhibit at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The German World War II fighter aircraft crash-landed in England on Sept. 30, 1940, and the pilot Horst Perez was captured.
A Messerschmitt Bf 109 plane inside the Battle of Britain exhibit at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The German World War II fighter aircraft crash-landed in England on Sept. 30, 1940, and the pilot Horst Perez was captured. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
A McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II flown by Royal Air Force 74 Squadron on display at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The Phantom is a large fighter with a top speed of over Mach 2.2 that can carry more than 18,000 pounds of weapons.
A McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II flown by Royal Air Force 74 Squadron on display at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The Phantom is a large fighter with a top speed of over Mach 2.2 that can carry more than 18,000 pounds of weapons. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)
Inside the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The museum tells the stories of U.S. servicemembers who served their country in the U.K., from World War II to modern day.
Inside the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England, on Oct. 30. The museum tells the stories of U.S. servicemembers who served their country in the U.K., from World War II to modern day. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

In my first visit to the Imperial War Museum Duxford, I learned about the influence of military aviation on the nature of war and people’s lives over the past 100 years.

I also walked about 3 miles while exploring seven hangars, two of them packed floor to ceiling with aircraft ranging from World War I biplanes to Gulf War jets.

The aerodrome at Duxford was built during WWI and used as a training station for the Royal Air Force. It played an important role during the Battle of Britain and was home to the American 78th Fighter Group in World War II.

Now the site houses the largest aviation museum in Europe with exhibitions with more than 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery, aircrew rescue boats and even a small German submarine captured during WWII.

Seeing and smelling the equipment up close was amazing. The personal stories told inside the American Air Museum impacted me the most.

Dramatic displays with personal items and recorded testimonies shared the experiences of 85 people whose lives were shaped by military conflict.

Instead of just staring at the static display of a U-2 spy plane, I learned about how CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission in Soviet airspace in 1960, the subsequent trial, prisoner exchange and the mistrust he experienced after returning home.

I learned about CNN cameraman Dave Rust’s embedded life covering various conflicts in the past 30 years, and how President George H.W. Bush felt about sending troops away from their families during the Gulf War.

The aircraft on display became an afterthought as I moved from one story to the next until it was suddenly closing time at the museum.

If you plan a trip, keep in mind that the museum is extremely large. So just make sure to wear comfy shoes, and bring an umbrella.

howard.william@stripes.com Twitter @Howard_stripes

DIRECTIONS: Address: Duxford, Cambridge CB22 4QR, U.K. From RAF Mildenhall, take the A1101, College Heath Rd and Bury Rd/A1101 to A11, continue onto the A11, exit onto the Newmarket Bypass/A14, and then follow the A505 to Cambridgeshire. Follow signs for Duxford. The museum entrance is on the left.TIMES: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. dailyCOSTS: Adults are 17.50 pounds ($22.30) online, 19 onsite; 8.55 per child online, 9.50 onsiteFOOD: Deli sandwiches are available at the Armoury Cafe; American-style cuisine is at the Workshop Restaurant; and baked goods are at the American Air Museum Cafe.INFORMATION: Online: iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-duxford

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