The key to any successful mission requires a clear objective, smart strategy and a team of people pulling together to get the job done. These credentials were displayed in abundance over the last 25 years of the American Air Museum in Britain’s history.

In the 1980s, US Army Air Force veterans who had flown from Britain as young men during World War II began to realize that there was little left there to reflect the sacrifices they and their contemporaries had made 40 years earlier. They chose IWM Duxford to focus their efforts because its collection of American military aircraft had grown to become the largest of its kind outside of the United States, featuring notable types like the B-17 Flying Fortress and the P-47 Thunderbolt. From 1980, IWM Duxford had also showcased the first exhibition of its kind, dedicated to American forces in the UK.

Cleared for Takeoff

Following a major transatlantic fundraising campaign, launched by Senator John Tower in 1989 and supported by politicians, military veterans and royalty, construction of the American Air Museum began at IWM Duxford with 78th Fighter Group veteran James Stokes breaking ground on September 8, 1995. The building, designed by Sir Norman Foster and Partners, began rising to its final shape, which took inspiration from aircraft skins, fighter jet cockpits and World War II blister hangars.

Installation of the aircraft began in the summer of 1996 and was completed in early 1997. Member support sustained progress, while work on the displays continued until the very day of the grand opening.

Her Majesty The Queen formally opened the American Air Museum to the public on August 1, 1997. It was a day of great celebration. But it was only the first chapter of the museum’s storied and unfolding history.

Sacrifices Worth Remembering

The American Air Museum stands as a memorial to the 30,000 members of the US Army Air Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice in the course of flying from Britain during World War II.

This purpose is embodied by the museum’s Roll of Honour, which displays their names and faces to visitors. Supporting it is the glimmering glass sculpture, Counting the Cost, which lines the route to the entrance. Comprised of 52 panels engraved with the outlines of 7,031 aircraft, the sculpture is a stirring representation of each aircraft missing in action on operations flown by American airmen from Britain.

Telling the story of the men and women whose lives were shaped by American airpower over a century of war, the museum also showcases over 850 artifacts, including equipment, uniforms and personal objects belonging to privates, presidents, Oscar winners, brain surgeons and rocket scientists. All which provide visitors with insight into the lives, sacrifices, hopes and fears of human experience of conflict.

These stories are set against the backdrop of the finest collection of American military aircraft outside the US. These include a C-47 Skytrain with D-Day service, the massive B-52 Stratofortress and the altitude-record-breaking SR-71 Blackbird. The newest addition is an MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, which flew 288 sorties in Afghanistan and extends the museum’s story into the present day.

A Grand Reopening

Sustained by members, the museum underwent an extensive redevelopment, completed in 2016. The newly transformed American Air Museum opened to the public on March 19, 2016. The people who made over a century of Anglo-American history now sit at the heart of the new, extended displays, which are supported by an impressive reconfiguration of the aircraft collection.

From James Waddell, the African American engineer who built airfields in Britain during World War II, to Kate Adie, the courageous female journalist who reported on F-111 operations while in the line of fire in Libya, visitors come face-to-face with those people whose stories are inextricably linked with the aircraft on display.

After all, no aircraft could ever be designed or built, let alone flown, without people. It is only fitting—indeed, essential—for people to have a starring role at the American Air Museum.

Over the Horizon

Propelled by your support, we are always looking for ways to improve our audiences’ experiences and better fulfill the mission of the American Air Museum in Britain.

Our groundbreaking website, americanairmuseum.com, is undergoing a major overhaul this summer to make it more user-friendly and ensure it remains the primary online resource for the US experience of the air war during World War II.

Watch your mail and email for updates on new programs and exhibits that your support helps realize. For now, raise a glass—or cup of tea—to toast yourself and the American Air Museum in Britain’s achievements over our first 25 years with doors open to the public!

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