American Air Museum aims for the skies after £1 million boost from Heritage Lottery Fund

| 22 January 2014

One of the best collections of American military aircraft outside of the US is about to get an overhaul, as Esther Blaine, of Imperial War Museum Duxford, explains

A photo of a large military museum at dusk
© IWM
"IWM Duxford has received a grant of £980,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the American Air Museum redevelopment project.

The American Air Museum was built at IWM Duxford in 1996-7 to present for public display the best collection of American military aircraft outside the United States. It tells the story of American air power and the integral relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.

The heritage presented in the American Air Museum has a relevance to everybody living in Britain, particularly people in the East of England. Our aim, in the redevelopment of the American Air Museum, is to inspire people to relate the objects in the museum’s collection to their own lives and to the world in which they live.

We’ll be asking people to get actively involved in the project by contributing recollections from their own personal and community heritage so that we can create an impressive bank of memories, knowledge and information for current and future generations.

A black and white photo of a pilot carrying a gun
Lieutenant Colonel David C Schilling, of the 56th Fighter Group, was a leading ace of the war before becoming a pioneer of long-distance jet flight who made the first non-stop fighter jet crossing of the Atlantic. Kansas' Schilling Air Force Base is named after him© IWM Roger Freeman Collection
There are three main aspects to the American Air Museum redevelopment project. The first is a dynamic website based around The Freeman Collection, a compilation of approximately 15,000 prints and slides assembled by Roger Freeman [1928-2005], a hugely respected aviation historian and a native of East Anglia.  Many of these images have not, up to now, been publicly available.

The Freeman Collection shows the many and varied experiences of the United States Army Air Forces in Britain during the Second World War. The images depict the different roles undertaken by members of the USAAF and also off-duty leisure time, the aircraft, the combat missions, events and the local communities in which the USAAF served.

Using The Freeman Collection of photographs as its core content, the website will link each photograph to the serving group or unit it represents. It will show the geographical location in which the photograph was taken, the type of aircraft the group operated and may also give the personal story of a man or woman shown in the photograph.

With thousands of images in the collection, we’ll be asking people to help us uncover the stories behind the photographs by logging on and telling us what they know. We hope that the first phase of the website will be live from summer 2014.

Secondly, we’ll be refreshing and re-energising the American Air Museum to ensure that it is impactful for the next generation of visitors.

We’ll be helping our audiences to understand the co-operative relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, which was forged in the East of England during the First World War and the  Second World War and which has shaped the modern world ever since. Visitors will discover this theme from a personal, regional and national perspective.

Thematically, we’ll be displaying our key objects in new ways and redeveloping our existing displays by layering in new interpretive material which will help visitors see our museum objects in a new light.

We’ll be placing a greater emphasis on the individual stories of war and conflict which show events from a range of personal perspectives.

We’ll also be bringing the American Air Museum exhibition up to date with material covering the last two decades of conflict, looking at the personal stories and political context of that period.

Thirdly, we’ll be undertaking detailed conservation work on the aircraft and objects in the American Air Museum to ensure that this important collection is kept in good historical condition for future generations to enjoy.

This large-scale conservation project will involve lowering suspended aircraft from the ceiling, taking out the large plate glass wall from the rear of the American Air Museum and removing all aircraft from the building.

This huge undertaking should prove fascinating for visitors, who will be able to see the work in progress."

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a modern military museum full of planes
The interior of the American Air Museum, showing the B-52 Stratofortress around the dimensions of which the American Air Museum was built© IWM
A black and white photo of a man and woman from RAF personnel laughing
Virginia Irwin, a features writer from a Missouri newspaper, interviews Lieutenant Glennon T 'Bubbles' Moran of the 352nd Fighter Group at Bodney air base in Norfolk© IWM Roger Freeman Collection
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