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Take a tour of the American Air Museum and the Imperial War Museum Duxford (pictures)

Take a tour of the Imperial War Museum Duxford, including the American Aviation Museum. Across its many hangers sit everything from a B-52 to an SR-71 Blackbird to a B-29 and a Concorde.

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Geoffrey Morrison
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1 of 63 Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Welcome to the Imperial War Museum

A few miles north of London, on a still-active airfield, lies the Imperial War Museum. Our tour starts at the huge AirSpace hanger.

Check out the full story at A photo tour of the American Air Museum and the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

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Resto

Here a Eurofighter Typhoon and a Handly Page Victor await restoration.

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From all eras

So many cool planes. On the right is a Short Sunderland (which I've toured before). The big one in the middle is an Avro Vulcan (ditto).

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Lancaster

The epic Avro Lancaster.

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Mossie

I've taken a bunch of pictures of this plane across multiple articles, but I just love it. The de Havilland Mosquito.

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York to Canberra

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101

This is Concorde 101, the fastest of its type. It was a test platform, never carrying paid passengers, but flying at 1,450 mph.

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That's quite a tail

Because of the delta wing, the Concorde uses elevons instead of traditional elevators and ailerons.

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Escape Hatch

Being a research prototype, this Concorde had escape hatches (middle-left).

All Concordes had radiation detectors, since at 50-60,000 feet there was far less atmosphere to shield the craft. Especially worrisome was proton radiation.

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Analog

Though still the fastest airliner when it retired over a decade ago, the Concorde 101 is a product of its era: analog dials, and even a flight engineer (modern cockpits use LCDs for most everything, and only have a pilot and co-pilot).

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Research

In place of regular seating, Concorde 101 had 12 tons of research equipment.

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'First' class

A far, far cry from modern lie-flat seats and TV screens, the seats on Concorde barely look bigger than coach seating today. Since the fuselage was so narrow, there wasn't much space for anything else (and not a lot of headroom either).

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Leg room

OK, there's a bit more space than normal coach. More like "Economy Plus."

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Comet

round window version of the Comet, specifically a Comet 4.

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R.E.8

Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 bomber and reconnaissance plane. Your car can drive faster than it flies (probably by a lot).

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Flying Aircraft hangar

The next hangar on the tour is the Flying Aircraft hangar, which houses...guess.

Privately owned but flyable aircraft fill these two attached hangars. Maintenance crews keep these aging beauties in airworthy condition.

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Bearcat

A flyable and immaculate Grumman F8F Bearcat.

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What is this awesomeness>

I love weird planes, and this is definitely a weird plane. It's called a Dragon Rapide, by de Havilland.
It's a short-range (under 600 miles) passenger aircraft built in the '30s. This one was built in 1941, and was restored to flying condition in 2004.

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One of these things is not like the other

Just a B-17 on the flight line. No biggie.

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Air and Sea

The next hanger is called Air and Sea.

Britain rightly loves their Spitfires, and here are several different versions (note the different canopies, among other things).

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Contra-rotating

Can't say I'd ever seen one of these either. It's a Fairey Gannet, which the British Navy used in a variety of carrier-based roles (mostly anti-submarine) in from the '50s to the '70s.

Yes, that wing folds in two places.

Contra-rotating props are cool.

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Hawk and Vixen

On the right, a Hawker Sea Hawk. On the left, a de Havilland Sea Vixen. Notice how the latter, in addition to its cool twin-boom design, has an offset cockpit. This is to make room for the radar operator to the right (and inside the fuselage).

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Not a brick

The gyrocopter is cool (a Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 according to a reader, I missed it in my notes).

The block, however, is cooler. It's a piece of the waist armor from the Tirpitz, sister ship to the Bismark and the heaviest battleship ever built by a European navy. It was 13 inches at its thickest point.

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Resto

The next hangar labeled Conservation in Action, for obvious reasons. Here you can see a F-15 getting some special treatment.

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Shackleton

An Avro Shackleton in pieces.

Contra-rotating props are... wait, did I say that already?

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Volksjäger

One of the Luftwaffe's many bizarre late-war designs, the He 162 Volksjäger was very fast, around 519 mph.

This A-2 carried two 20mm cannons.

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Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain hall actually highlights aircraft and equipment from multiple conflicts throughout the 20th century.

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109 down

An actual "survivor" of the Battle of Britain, this Bf 109E's engine failed and it crashed in Sussex. The pilot was captured.

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Bristol

This Bristol F2B was part of the Home Defense Squadron in Essex in 1918, protecting Britain from German bombers.

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BE2c

This Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c was built in 1916 and based in Dover. By 1919 it was already in a museum.

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Speed walking

Apperently I'm a very fast walker.

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Ops

This is what the Duxford Aerodrome's Operations Room would have looked like circa 1940.

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1918 on

Duxford functioned as an airbase from 1918 until 1961. During WWII it was an American airbase, and after it closed it was used for, among other things, a filming location for "The Battle of Britain" and "Memphis Belle."

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Commercial

Duxford has a bunch of commercial airliners from different decades, some of which you can tour. When I was there they were closed, however. Bummer.

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American Air Museum

This gorgeous hangar is the American Air Museum.

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Memorial

This sobering memorial is dedicated to the airmen lost flying from UK bases in WWII. Each type of plane lost is represented. It continues all the way up and around to the entrance.

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Launch ramp

V-1 and its launch ramp.

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Buff

The smiling face of a B-52 greets you as you enter. Check out the incredible use of space. There are some big planes in here.

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SPAD

A French airplane! The US Army Air Service flew the SPAD S-13 in WWI.

This, however, is a replica (painted to look like Major Rickenbacker's plane circa 1918).

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Warthog

Though nicknamed the "Warthog," the official designation is the A-10 Thunderbolt II. What's that sitting underneath? Those cheeky Brits...

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30mm

The GAU-8 Avenger cannon can fire depleted uranium shells, weighing nearly a pound each, at up to 3,900 rounds per minute.

Though it looks like it's mounted off-center (OK, technically it is), the firing barrel is dead center.

They used to use it to hunt buffalo with... up close.

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100D

The F-100 Super Sabre, because apparently "Guppy" and "Catfish" were taken.

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B-29

This is the first time I've seen a B-29 up close. While certainly bigger than the nearby B-17, it wasn't quite as big as I expected. Possibly because it was sitting next to a B-52.

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"It's Hawg Wild"

This B-29 is one of only two on display outside the US.

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Blackbird

Now this one is definitely big. Not sure there's any guy within 10 years of me that didn't have a poster of this plane at some point.

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Flying!

Didn't notice this when I was there, but the wheels aren't touching the ground. Makes sense, just didn't notice it.

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So much thrust

I expected these marvels to be... bigger.

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Exhaust

The business end of the SR-71. Capable of over 2,200 mph.

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107 feet long

Still a sleek and modern-looking plane, despite being 50 years old.

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Four years

How's this for mind blowing: The B-29 was retired in 1960. The SR-71 first flew in 1964. Four years apart.

OK, yes, from first flight to flight it's 22 years, but doesn't even that seem crazy short?

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Rock Lobster

Another plane I'd never seen up close. The B-52 isn't flashy, but very impressive.

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P&W

This D-variant had eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-19W turbojets. Interestingly, this is the same engine in the F-100D we saw earlier (and a bunch of other aircraft).

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Old man

The Air Force is expecting to keep using the B-52 well into the 2040s. Which means some of the airframes will be 90 years old. That's incredible.

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744

Of the 744 B-52s built between 1952 and 1962, 85 are still flying.

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U-2?

Turns out, the Air Force still has U-2s in service. I had no idea.

They're phasing them out in favor of UAVs, though.

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Not airplanes

Just past the American Air Museum is the Land Warfare building, housing tanks and land vehicles from multiple wars. This side of the building is mostly WWI vehicles.

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WWII and beyond

This side has WWII-era and newer tanks and vehicles.

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Chief

British Chieftain Mark 6/4c main battle tank.

It was replaced by the tank in the next slide.

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Challenger

Not sure if this is a Challenger 1 or 2. Anyone have a guess?

Given that it's in a museum, probably 1.

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A wee one

This is a British Conqueror heavy tank. The notes say it was "withdrawn after only seven years because the tank was too large, too heavy, and too difficult to maintain."

A tank that's too big. Awesome.

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Aerodrome

A view back down towards the flight line from the Land Warfare building. A gorgeous view. The AirSpace hangar is visible in the distance.

Yeah, it's a bit of a walk...

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Interceptor

OK, not a plane or a tank, but definitely an immaculate Jensen Interceptor, one of my favorite cars. I have to assume this belonged to one of the restoration guys, since it certainly would require constant looking after.

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So long, Duxford

I spent most of a day at IWM Duxford, including the walk to and from the train station.

Admission wasn't cheap (£17.50), and it's a bit of a hike to get out there if you don't have a car, but well worth seeing for aviation buffs.

Check out the full story at A photo tour of the American Air Museum and the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

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