A Trip to the Famed WWII Airfield at Duxford, England
By Harold Cannon, President, EAA Warbirds of America
Although it is hard to admit, there are warbirds destinations outside of Oshkosh. I recently had the opportunity to visit the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England. This is normally referred to simply as "Duxford." I guess having a one-word name is one similarity with Oshkosh. Duxford is actually a bit more like a warbirds air and space museum combined.
The Duxford site was originally planned as a World War I aerodrome. World War II saw Duxford play a prominent role in the Battle of Britain, and later, as the war included U.S. forces, it was used to launch Allied bombers. Duxford saw much action as B-17s from the United States participated in the assault against the Axis powers on the continent.
In the late 1960s, the airbase was decommissioned, and the Imperial War Museum began to use the site for storage. This evolved into the excellent museum on the grounds today.
Many of the original hangars and buildings from the Battle of Britain era are still in use. The basic layout is one of seven hangars that parallel a runway which is still an active "aerodrome." During our visit, a T-28 and a Cherokee 140 ran up and departed the field. The hangars range in size from immense to moderate. The first hangar houses an air and space exhibit that explores technology from the beginning of flight into the space age.
As one walks down the path parallel to the runway, other exhibits from other eras are displayed. I found perhaps the most intriguing one to be the Battle of Britain hangar, which displays a Messerschmitt largely intact after a forced landing. One gets a real idea about the immediacy of World War II history in England when you see the actual aircraft with its prop plates bent back, largely intact, and displayed next to a photograph of the same aircraft with the battle damage that you are now inspecting in person. Looking over a home bomb shelter really makes you thankful that the continental United States was spared.
There is also a working hangar where the flying collection is stored and maintained. Here several aircraft were obviously undergoing deep restoration. The collection there included aircraft ranging from a B-17 down to an L-4 Cub (one of my favorites as we are privileged to have one). The last hangar in the row houses an excellent collection of U.S. warbirds; everything from a P-51 to a B-52 is on display.
Duxford hosts an annual warbirds air show - this year's event will be held July 13 to 14. Just make sure you're back in time for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh!