Imperial War Museum Duxford20 GBP
- Amazing collection of military airplanes of all times
- Combined with other collections, including civil ones
- Huge area, which can easily host a day-long visit.
- "Land Warfare" is a too much glorification of war in my point of view
- Student tours I ran into unfortunately strengthen that impression
The Imperial War Museum operates five sites throughout Britain. While I already visited the interesting Churchill War Rooms, I was looking forward to see their Outlet at the Duxford Air Field, when I was travelling around the North of London. Especially as an aviation enthusiast (though I am more more on the civil aviation side…), I was looking foward a wide collection of aircraft history.
IWM Duxford – Location & Admission
Duxford Airfield is located South of Cambridge. You can easily reach it by car, as it is right at the M11 motorway – you just cannot miss it. If you want to travel to Duxford, the closest airport is London-Stansted, which is less than one hour away. There is the possibility to get near Duxford airfield by rail and then take the last miles by taxi (or bus).
The IWM is open all year, apart from the Christmas holidays. Times are 10:00 to 16:00 hrs, the AirSpace hall closes at 17:00. You should not arrive too late as your visit can easily take you several hours. The adult admission is 20 GBP, you receive a 10 per cent discount if you order online before. The exhibition covers multiple buildings in a quite huge area. The airfield is also in public use and as you see below, there are also civil airplanes, which are typically privately owned and managed by The British Airliner Collection, which may be a bit confusing to the visitor here and there. That civil collection is run by the Duxford Aviation Society
IWM Duxford – The Visit
The museum suggests a certain order of visiting the exhibitions. I majorly followed that route, which majorly means that you start quite at the East of the exhibition and then walk on the West and most far away parts of the area. I excluded some of the civil aviation exhibits into a section below, where possible.
The AirSpace is the only space which shares civil and military jets. Before you stroll through the public part of Hangar 1, you first see an exhibition about flying history, aviation processes and aviation physics.
The key exhibits in this hall are likely the civil ones, though. I would say that the pre-production Concorde G-AXDN 101 is the most interesting exhibit in here, it also significantly differs from G-BOAC I explored in Manchester. Another key exhibit is a de Havilland Comet. The most rare military plane is likely the TSR-2, only two survivors are nowadays existing. There are also some First World War planes or the Eurofighter Typhoon. A small section deals with the British Army Parachute Regiment.
Flying Aircraft & Air and Sea
In Hangar 2, Flycing Aircraft, you majorly see the privately run The Fighter Collection. Many of the planes in there are in maintenance or under restauration. There are some really interesting models like a versions of the Curtiss P-40 or a Bristol Beaufighter.
Air and Sea also host some maritime exhibits on top of military airplane stock.
Battle of Britain
Hangar 4 is illustrating the Battle of Britain and also uses puppets. There are planes from both parties, including the German V-1 flying bomb or the Messerschmidt Bf 109E, but also British jets like a Hawker Hunter.
An annex also hosts a section on the war implications on ground.
American Air Museum
The American Air Museum is one of the hangars which have been added to the historic buildings. A couple of huge planes feel to be unavoidable eye-cathers in the building, majorly the Boeing B52-D Superfortress, the B-17G Flying Fortress and the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird. But there are also some other very interesting “smaller” planes and even few helicopters in the building.
The most far-away building hosts land vehicles and military weapons, no planes. The selection and display of the war items is very plastic, sometimes using figures to illustrate warfare. I unfortunately have to say that while I have been amazed by the vast collection of items, I did not like this part at all. By making war that transparent as in Land Warfare, you need to be careful that you do not create a too fascinating landscape. The exhibition just feels too much to be in love with war, it is glorifying warfare. This is unacceptable in my point of view. Only a section about World War II, which is a bit more interactive is having a more balanced view and is out of my critics that Land Warfare is finally a historized glorification of land warfare.
Historic Buildings and Exhibitions
Some of the exihibitions are located in smaller buildings. The most interesting one is definitely the 1940 Operations Room, which is located behind Hangar 5. It gives a really nice overview how the war strategies have been discussed, decided on and executed.
A small building near the Land and Sea hangar gives some insights about Historic Duxford.
IWM Duxford – Civil Aircrafts Outdoor Display
To me, a very interesting part of the aircrafts in display were the civil planes maintained by the Duxford Aviation Society. Apart from few ones being in display indoor, most of the planes are standing on the apron of the museum. You can only enter them at comparably rre occasions. One of the most interesting ones is the Vickers Viscont 701, but I also liked the Hawker Siddeley Trident 2E quite a lot. There are multiple very eye-catching planes at that display, though.
IWM Duxford – Services
There are a couple of plance which offer food. I had some fish at the restaurant in The Workshop, which was fair priced and really delicious. Other places just allow for basic snacks or serve some breakfast.
Of course, before you leave the Duxford grounds, there is time to grab some physical memories in the souvenir store.
There are also transport services, especially as the distances between the hangars may be quite long. The museum also does a lot of education programs for kids. I happened to run into a guided tour at the American air Museum. Unfortunately, I have to say that also that guide gave me too much of an impression that he glorifying war and gave the kids too much of an unreflected fascination for the technical details of the (flying) war machines – which I felt to be too disappointing.
IWM Duxford – Gallery
I published 388 of major size pictures to the travel galleries:
(July 2020 is the time of publishing. The time of visit was during 2019)
IWM Duxford – My View
At first sight, it feels like rating this amazing collection of so many historic items is a no-brainer, it must be a perfect one. However, I cannot a Top Pick! rating here. Especially in regards of the Land Warfare exhibition, but also when I saw how the items were presented to school kids, I have to say that at least part of the IWM is having a strong touch of glorifying war to me. The D-Day exhibition nicely shows how to give a more balanced view of what is happening to war and you may be fascinated by the technical progress of war machines, but finally it is a painful and non-desirable event. That is one of the key pillars of European culture the last seventy years. Parts of IWM Duxford are not part of it. Bad luck, as the sheer number of items in display is overwhelming.
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