A new museum of U.S. warplanes is ready for takeoff, providing shelter and a showcase for the aircraft that were the workhorses of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Queen Elizabeth II will open the American Air Museum in Britain at Duxford, 50 miles north of London, on Friday.
“Old aircraft fall to bits if they are not well taken care of. So we are helping them to survive by making this museum an efficient machine,” architect Sir Norman Foster said.
Duxford, which already has 141 historic aircraft, is the aviation branch of the state-run Imperial War Museum in London. The new Foster building houses 21 American aircraft that flew missions in both world wars and in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
Among the planes in the new museum are a French-built SPAD XIII biplane used by Americans in World War I, a B-17G Flying Fortress, a B-29A Superfortress, a replica of a P-51 Mustang, a B-25J Mitchell and a P-47D Thunderbolt - as well as a little Schweizer TG-3 glider that trained glider pilots for D-Day.
The shape of the concrete and glass building - called the largest precast concrete structure in Europe - was dictated by the biggest warplane, a B-52D Stratofortress with swept-back wings spanning 185 feet and a tail fin 52 feet tall. The bomber flew more than 200 missions from Guam in the Vietnam War.
Visitors enter the museum at the back through a tunnel, which comes out at the bomber’s nose.
Walking down ramps on either side of the bomber, they pass the other aircraft on the floor or suspended from the concrete roof. They can see forward beyond the B-52’s tail to the glass wall with views out to the airfield and aircraft old and new constantly on the move.
The Cold War isn’t forgotten. A section of the Berlin Wall, bearing the graffiti of contemptuous West Berliners, stands beside the B-52. A U-2 hangs over the same model of Soviet missile that brought down Francis Gary Powers’ plane in 1960.
A glass sculpture outside the museum remembers the 30,000 American airmen and 7,031 aircraft lost in World War II from British bases.
American veterans and other U.S. donors contributed one-third of the new museum’s cost, and a major part of the funding came from Britain’s national lottery, which supports a variety of charities.
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