Visit the American Air Museum

Explore the story of Anglo-American collaboration through conflict from the comfort of your own home in this virtual panoramic tour of IWM Duxford’s American Air Museum. Our tour of this recently transformed exhibition takes you up close to the largest collection of American military aircraft outside of the United States.

This tour has been developed with the generous support of Foster and Partners, who designed and built the award-winning American Air Museum building in 1997.

Welcome to the American Air Museum
The American Air Museum tells the story of the collaboration between Britain and America in war. It focuses on how American air power has played a key part in conflict in the 20th and 21st centuries. At the heart of the story of Britain and America’s ‘special relationship’ is the close bond forged in the Second World War: when American aircrews flew, fought, and died, from Britain, including at Duxford.
What to look out for
Set against the backdrop of Duxford's historic airfield, you can get up close to the American Air Museum's dramatic displays of historic aircraft, many of which are showcased via hotspots throughout the tour. You can also find out more about the objects in the museum; and hear the stories of some of the men and women whose lives were shaped by conflict.
Americans in Britain
Over two million American servicemen passed through Britain during the Second World War to support Allied offensives against Nazi Germany. Many of these men had never travelled abroad before, and had to quickly adjust to life in a foreign country. To overcome the cultural differences which American servicemen encountered while dealing with Britons the United States' War Department published Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain in 1942.
Somewhere in England
During the Second World War thousands of Americans serving with the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) arrived in Britain. Their job was to man and maintain the vast fleets of aircraft needed to attack German cities and industry. Working with the Royal Air Force (RAF), their aim was to severely weaken Germany's ability to fight. Heavy bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress, were a central part of the Allied strategy for winning the war. Captions on official photographs kept the locations of US air bases secret: you can find out more about some of the men and women who served ‘somewhere in England’ below.
Learning to fly
Although officially neutral until 1941, the United States supported Britain’s fight against Germany. It supplied equipment, volunteer pilots, and training facilities. British men headed to North America to train to fly, as the UK alone could not produce the number of pilots required and the skies of America and Canada were also safer. Student pilots flying vulnerable training aircraft such as the PT-17 Kaydet could train unmolested by the enemy, or learn flight skills in the American-built Link Trainer: the world’s first flight simulator.
The real Catch-22
The aircraft with the tail fin marked 8U is IWM’s B-25 Mitchell: one of the most widely used aircraft of the Second World War. American author Joseph Heller flew on B-25 Mitchells during his service in the USAAF. He would later write Catch-22, a satirical novel about the experiences of a fictional squadron. Many of the characters and events illustrated in the book are parallels to Heller’s own experience of conflict.
She kept them alive in the air
American women also served in Britain, working for the American Red Cross or as members of the Women's Army Corps. Ethel Cerasale worked as a flight nurse, and was responsible for looking after casualties as they were transported by air. This job could be dangerous – Ethel remembered her aircraft being fired at by ground troops. One of Ethel’s fellow nurses became a Prisoner of War, one of the few women held as a Prisoner of War during the Second World War.
Mass Production
America’s ability to produce and maintain equipment was vitally important to the Allies’ eventual victory. The USA built more aircraft than any other nation in the Second World War: over 300,000. B-24 Liberators were made in huge numbers in American factories. 19,256 were built at five main locations. During the Second World War American aircraft factories became huge and complex. Car assembly lines shifted to producing aircraft, and new production techniques meant ever more aircraft were produced at record pace. At the largest factory: Willow Run in Michigan, where IWM's B-24 was built, a B-24 bomber was produced every 103 minutes.
Americans at Duxford
Can you spot our P-51 Mustang? It sports a black and white chequer-board nose: the tactical markings of the US 78th Fighter Group. Based at Duxford from 1943-1945, the 78th Fighter Group escorted heavy bombers on operations over occupied Europe, they also carried out ground support attacks in Normandy around the time of D-Day. Our Mustang represents ‘Etta Jean II' which was flown by Colonel Huie Lamb. Huie served at Duxford from 1944-45, he named his Mustang after his sister.
A D-Day veteran
The C-47 Skytrain (also known as Dakota by British troops) in the American Air Museum is a D-Day veteran, it dropped troops of the US 82nd Airborne Division over France on 6 June 1944 In June 1944, the Allies launched a massive land, sea and air operation to liberate France. American Paratrooper Duke Boswell jumped from a C-47 transport aircraft into occupied France that, tasked with a vitally important job.
D-Day at Duxford
See how the P-47 Thunderbolt and C-47 Skytrain have black and white striped wing? These were tactical markings used by the Allies during the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Duxford's 78th Fighter Group played its part in the build up to and execution of D-Day. and on 6 June 1944 every available Thunderbolt at Duxford supported the operation. The missions carried out by the 78th Fighter Group’s pilots helped to secure the skies over the Normandy beaches, and prevented the German army from reinforcing the defences.
The War in the Pacific
The war against Japan in the Pacific was fought over vast distances and attacking Japan was more difficult than attacking Germany. From mid-1944, the newly-developed B-29 could reach Japanese targets when operating from India, then from islands that the Americans captured. Japanese industry was spread around cities made of flammable, wooden buildings. American commanders sent B-29s, at low-level, armed with incendiary (fire) bombs. The effects were devastating. One raid in March 1945 destroyed nearly 16 square miles of Tokyo. B-29s continued to attack Japanese cities in the spring and summer of 1945. 300,000 people were killed. In August 1945 B-29s dropped powerful new weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: atomic bombs. They killed thousands of people. But they did help to force a Japanese surrender.
Nuclear deterrence
You may have already spotted that the massive B-52 Stratofortress fills the entire museum! This giant bomber was deployed on round-the-clock flights close to the borders of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The advent of nuclear weapons forced governments to change their approach to conflict. B-52s armed with nuclear weapons allowed the US adopt a state of permanent readiness for nuclear warfare.
Helicopters in Vietnam
The US Army operated 10,000 helicopters during the war in Vietnam, and at the height of the conflict there could be 2,000 in the air. They were used to reinforce surrounded positions and to move troops and artillery quickly. When the US sent combat troops to Vietnam in 1962, the UH-1H Helicopter, known as the 'Huey' proved its worth in the casualty evacuation role. Military planners saw that the aircraft could be used to move troops forward as well as bring casualties back, and soon units were being transported into battle by helicopter. The simple troop-carrying Huey was also accompanied on attacks by ‘gunship’ versions to suppress enemy fire while the troops were disembarking.
Spies in the sky
The U-2C spy plane was developed in the 1950s and is still in USAF use today. It was developed to fly over the Soviet Union, between US bases in Turkey and Norway. This was one of the few ways the US could obtaining information about new Russian bombers and missiles, but it had to be gathered in secret, against international law. From 1956, at least 30 photographic reconnaissance missions were flown over the Soviet Union in U-2s operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1960 Gary Powers’ U-2 was shot down on a mission over Russia. He was placed on trial in the Soviet Union after he was captured. Clear evidence that American aircraft had been flying over Soviet territory caused an increase in tension between the two countries.
Flying fast and high
The large, sleek black aircraft you can see in this 360 is the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird. The world’s fastest and highest flying manned aircraft. It was built in secret and flown by the US Air Force to the very edge of space, and capable of cruising over three times the speed of sound. Our Blackbird is the only one on display outside the United States of America. Only elite pilots got to fly the Blackbird, but while the aircraft they flew was secret, they wore bright orange flight suites to denote their special status!
Saddam Hussein's secret weapon
Can you spot the object that looks like a giant cotton reel between the aircraft? It's a section of a giant ‘supergun’. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein intended to use Western expertise to build a monster weapon to threaten Iraq’s Middle East neighbours. His plan was to build the largest gun in the world with a barrel 156 metres (512 feet) long. It would fire conventional, chemical or nuclear shells over hundreds of miles from its hidden location on a mountainside north of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. The gun was designed so that the components could be manufactured around the world by leading specialists. It was hoped that this method would keep the gun a secret. But in April 1990 HM Customs seized a number of full-size tubes made in Britain on their way to Iraq, exposing and effectively stopping the project.
An age of terror
After the Cold War, British and American forces were involved in a series of conflicts triggered by many issues, including nationalism and religion. The twisted pieces of metal were lifted from the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City. On the morning of 11 September 2001, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger aircraft in the United States. Two were flown into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, causing both buildings to collapse. The third aircraft was flown into the Pentagon in Washington DC. The fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania after the crew and passengers fought the terrorists for control. In less than 2 hours, 3,000 people were killed. Most were civilians, and they came from over 70 countries. The attacks marked the start of what President George W Bush called a ‘War on Terror’.
Roll of Honour
The American Air Museum stands as a memorial to the 30,000 airmen who died while flying from Britain during the Second World War. The museum’s digital Roll of Honour lists these airmen who died serving with the USAAFs Eighth or Ninth Air Forces. Their names and photographs are drawn directly from the American Air Museum website. If you have a photograph of an American airman, you can help us to recognise their sacrifice and put a face to a name by uploading it to the American Air Museum website
Counting the Cost
The Counting the Cost sculpture (1997), by artist Renato Niemis illustrates the number of American aircraft lost during the Second World War. The sculpture is comprised of 52 glass panels, engraved with the silhouettes of aircraft. Each silhouette represents an aircraft of the US 8th and 9th Army Air Forces which failed to return to Britain from combat operations: there are 7,031 of them on the sculpture.
The building
The American Air Museum building was designed by celebrated British architect, Lord Norman Foster, and completed in 1997. In 1998 it was awarded the RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture. The glass wall of the building looks out over IWM Duxford’s airfield, tying together the dramatic displays of aircraft inside the museum, with the historic war birds flying at Duxford today. This tour has been developed with the generous support of Foster and Partners, who designed and built the award-winning American Air Museum building.
More from the American Air Museum
While we hope you enjoyed this look around the American Air Museum, there's even more to see online. The American Air Museum's interactive archive records the stories of the men and women of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) who served their country from the UK in the Second World War. It also records the memories of the British people who befriended them. You can browse, edit and upload your own photographs and memories to help us build an online memorial to their lives.
Keep exploring
You may not be able to visit today you but there are many ways you can continue to interact with IWM and our world-leading collection. You can explore the stories and objects that feature in our galleries and discover the true stories behind battles such as Dunkirk and Battle of Britain. Explore our collections online, plus hundreds of articles and podcasts. Keep up to date with our latest videos on YouTube and join us via social media for daily updates and stories.
previous
next
  • Welcome to the American Air Museum
  • What to look out for
  • Americans in Britain
  • Somewhere in England
  • Learning to fly
  • The real Catch-22
  • She kept them alive in the air
  • Mass Production
  • Americans at Duxford
  • A D-Day veteran
  • D-Day at Duxford
  • The War in the Pacific
  • Nuclear deterrence
  • Helicopters in Vietnam
  • Spies in the sky
  • Flying fast and high
  • Saddam Hussein's secret weapon
  • An age of terror
  • Roll of Honour
  • Counting the Cost
  • The building
  • More from the American Air Museum
  • Keep exploring

Explore Further

Second World War
10 Incredible Photos Of American Servicemen At Duxford In The Second World War
The US Eighth Air Force's 78th Fighter Group was based at RAF Duxford between April 1943 and October 1945. The following 10 photos show the kinds of things they got up to when Duxford was the place they called home.
Off Duty: Locals and United States troops meet at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 1944.
American troops and locals at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, in Dorset, 1944.
Second World War
Tips For American Servicemen In Britain During The Second World War
In 1942, the first of over 1.5 million American servicemen arrived on British shores in preparation for the Allied offensives against Germany during the Second World War. That year, the United States' War Department published Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain to help soldiers, sailors and airmen – many of whom had never travelled abroad before – adjust to life in a new country. 
Keystone Photo Shows: Gable talks, from behind a machine-gun, to Sgt. Gunner Phil Hulse, of Springfield, Mo., Right, and Sgt. Gunner Kenneth Huls, from Perkin, Oklahoma.’ On reverse: US Army General Section Press & Censorship Bureau [Stamp]. Print No: 268131.
Second World War
American Airmen In Britain During The Second World War
Over two million American servicemen passed through Britain during the Second World War. In 1944, at the height of activity, up to half a million were based there with the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). Their job was to man and maintain the vast fleets of aircraft needed to attack German cities and industry. 

American Air Museum in Britain

American Air Museum in Britain

Discover more powerful stories of the men and women of the US Army Air Forces on the American Air Museum website.  

Explore the interactive archive, read personal stories and find out how you can contribute to building an online memorial for those who served.