Photography

Historic hangars: Tours of the American Air Museum and Imperial War Museum Duxford

The American Air Museum and the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, UK sprawl across multiple hangars and contain dozens of fascinating aircraft, from a B-52 to an A-10 to a Concorde to an SR-71. Here's a full tour.

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Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

A few miles north of London, on a still-active airfield, lies the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. In addition to housing dozens of historical aircraft, there are facilities to restore important aircraft, and even maintain flight-worthy planes.

In its own special building is the American Air Museum, home to several impressive warplanes, like an entire B-52, a B-29 and even an SR-71 Blackbird.

Here's a full tour.

Getting to Duxford isn't as simple as getting to the other Imperial War Museums, or even the Royal Air Force Museum. If you have a car it's no problem, of course, but after a little over an hour train ride, you've either got to get a taxi, or walk about 2 miles. It's a lovely walk, actually, presuming the weather is clear (I laughed typing that last bit).

The museum is huge, spread out over multiple hangars, and down nearly the length of the airfield. The first hangar, AirSpace, houses Concorde 101, the fastest of the fleet. A Lancaster, a Comet and many other famous aircraft from the past 100 years fill out this hangar.

Down a bit is the Flying Aircraft hangar, which houses privately owned, but airworthy, aircraft, including a Mustang and a Bearcat.

Then, in the Air and Sea hangar, a collection of important navy aircraft. Next door is the Battle of Britain hangar, which not only houses aircraft from that slice in time, but also from WWI and the Cold War.

The Conservation Hanger is impressive in its own right, housing aircraft in varying states of restoration, including an F-15 and an Avro Shackleton.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Down the end is the American Aviation Museum. How they fit all the aircraft, some of them huge, in this one building is a marvel in itself. Seeing a B-52 next to a B-29 and an SR-71 (above) requires a surprising readjustment in the expected size of each.

At the very end is a long building with some very non-aircraft machines: tanks and other land vehicles, in the Land Warfare building. Though packed tight, each area has a sort of diorama of the environment its tanks and trucks would have found in their working life.

Duxford is still a working airfield. While I was there, a Spitfire did touch-and-goes, the roar of its Merlin filling the windy air.

I'm glad I made it out to the IWM Duxford, not least to see a B-29 and B-52 in person. I'd even go back for a chance to enter more of the planes, something that happens occasionally, usually for a small extra fee.

Check out the gallery above for the full tour.