Flying high at IWM Duxford
Up up and away! Duxford is our absolute favourite of Imperial War Museum's 5 sites. It's just up the road from us, and like HMS Belfast, this is SO much more than a Victorian building full of glass cases (no offence British Museum) - the entire site IS the museum. This famous RAF airfield played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain, and was still operational up to the Cold War. You are literally walking through history as you explore the runways, hangars and operation block.
Plan to spend an entire day at Duxford, you'll need it - the site is huge, the largest air museum in Europe, and there is so much to see! Your visit begins in the Airspace hangar, home to iconic planes such as Concorde (which you can walk down), a Lancaster Bomber with its Dambusters bouncing bomb, a Vulcan, and if you look upstairs, a piece of the Wright Brother's plane. Don't miss Airborne Assault, the parachute regiment exhibition tucked away in the back left corner!
Our particular highlight for us in this hangar was the Avro York. Would you believe, this is the very plane that my step grandfather, Ken Edney, flew during the Berlin Airlift?? We were able to go on board, and it was so special. He also made a model of the plane which is displayed next to the York in a glass box. All four of our male grandparents were airmen in various capacities (2 were navigators in Dakotas, one flew Corsairs in the Fleet Air Arm, and Ken flew Halifaxes and then the York), and so we've always had a soft spot for Duxford.
The way that Duxford displays its planes is brilliant. Some hang from the ceiling that captures their movement in a really dynamic way, and others you can walk beneath. The Vulcan had its bomb hatch open, and it was awe inspiring to go under the vast flat wings and look up inside.
What to see at Duxford:
Air and Sea displays boats and aircraft from WWI through to the Falklands.
In the Conservation in Action hangar, you can see the Duxford engineers restoring and working on historic aircraft.
Flying Aircraft is where Duxford keeps the flyable aircraft of their private aviation companies, such as the Fighter Collection, who has Spitfires, a Corsair and a Mustang.
Land Warfare, located right at the far end of the site, holds a staggering number of tanks. You can walk through the Normandy Experience, see Field Marshall "Monty" Montgomerie's command caravans, and upstairs is a tribute display of brirthday cards written to Captain Tom, the hero 100 year old veteran who became famous in the first UK lockdown when he walked 100 lengths of his garden to raise money for the NHS.
The Battle of Britain exhibition is in the hangar used by Duxford's fighter squadrons during the historic 1940 battle. You can see a Spitfire, Hurricanes and even a downed Messerschmitt!
Close by is the Ops Block, the airfield's nerve centre where you can learn about the men and women who plotted routes and advised Duxford's pilots as they engaged the Luftwaffe. There is a really effective audio visual recreation which transports you to September 15th, 1940, when the pilots scrambled to intercept a wave of hundreds of German bombers and fighter planes.
The American Air Museum is another massive hangar, and highlights include an enormous B52 bomber, a B17 Flying Fortress, predator drones and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a 2200mph supersonic American spy plane. It's the only one outside the USA and has been flown to the edge of space! There is also a small display about the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001, with a piece of twisted metal from the buildings themselves, and a radar video showing how quickly the normally exceptionally busy airspace over the USA was emptied as everyone was immediately grounded.
Can you see flying planes at Duxford?
Yes indeed! While Duxford has specific ticketed dates for its flying days and spectacular air shows, it is still a functioning airfield, so keep your eyes peeled as you walk between the hangars! We saw a Spitfire taxi, take off and land a dew times through out the day. That Merlin engine throb is so iconic!
You can also see planes parked up along the runway, such as Sally B, the only airworthy B17 Flying Fortress in Europe. She frequently takes part in flying displays, and took the starring role in the 1989 film, Memphis Belle. You can still see the iconic pin up girl on the plane's right hand side.
Did it feel covid safe?
Definitely! The hangars are all so big and airy that you have plenty of space to enjoy the exhibits without getting close to other people and Concorde has free timed tickets and a traffic light system to manage the numbers on board. The site still recommends that you wear masks inside if you can, and we saw staff frequently going around sanitising hand rails and high contact areas.
IWM Duxford is open from 10am - 6pm - NB from September 6th it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
For tickets for 2021 Flying Days and Air Shows click here
Disclaimer: we were invited to Duxford for a free visit in return for writing this blog and posting on Instagram, but as always all opinions are our own and this is an accurate and honest account of our day!