A list for anyone with an interest in military or aviation history. The Top Ten UK Air Museums. With over 50 aerospace museums, there was a lot to choose from. But we have narrowed it down to these ten. Is your favorite included, check the list to find out.
10 – City of Norwich Aviation Museum
Norwich Aviation Museum is located on the edge of Norwich airport.It is a very good museum which displays not only aircraft but also has a number of other exhibitions relating to aviation in Norfolk. These include displays about the history of famous airfield’s in Norfolk and the RAF and USAF groups based in the region. These are interesting displays with a wealth of information and photographs to give people an idea of just how vital Norfolk’s airfields were during the years of WW2.
There are a number of interesting aircraft for visitors to see as well. The highlights are arguably the huge Avro Vulcan bomber (one of the greatest British aircraft) and the impressive Nimrod patrol aircraft. Other interesting aircraft included in the museum are a rare French Dassault Mystere IV and a pair of Hawker Hunters. Norwich Aviation Museum is a must see for aviation enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in the history of Norfolk.
Location: Norwich, Norfolk
Photos obtained with permission from Norwich Air Museum
9 – Avro Heritage Museum
The Avro Heritage Museum is located on the famous Woodford Aerodrome. This aerodrome was a production site for military aircraft. Aircraft produced here include the Lancaster and Vulcan bomber. The museum itself is centered around Avro, one of the most famous producers of military aircraft. Avro played a major role in WW2 designing and producing the Lancaster bomber, the main RAF bomber of the war.
Although one of the smaller museums on our list, the Avro Heritage Museum is well worth a visit solely because of the historical importance of Avro and it’s role in defining British aviation. The museum includes a wealth of information about the history of Avro, it’s aircraft, the role it played during wars and it’s decline. It is worth a visit just to learn more about one of Britain’s great companies.
As well as the excellent information about Avro heritage, the museum also has a fine collection of Avro aircraft. The highlight is the museums mighty Vulcan bomber, one of the truly iconic British aircraft. The museum’s Vulcan has reently been expertly restored and is the only white Vulcan in the UK so is a unique example of this brilliant aircraft. There is also a cockpit section of a 2nd Vulcan which visitors are allowed to sit in. Other aircraft on display include a Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft (Open to visit in 2018), a Canberra bomber and a VC-10 cockpit which is also open to visit.
Location: Woodford, Manchester
Photo’s obtained via Avro Heritage Museum’s website and Facebook.
8 – Yorkshire Air Museum
Yorkshire Air Museum is an excellent museum located on the site of RAF Elvington, a former WW2 airfield. The 20 acre site contains many buildings and hangars from the war, many of which are classed as listed buildings. Of particular interest is the fact that as well as containing over 50 aircraft, many of the buildings are designed to resemble the way they would during the war. Visiting the air control tower, the officer’s mess and the Royal Observer’s Corps building is a great way to see what an authentic WW2 airfield was like. All of these contain interesting displays and information which makes walking around this historic airfield a great experience.
There are 20 different buildings and exhibitions in the museum so you can spend hours walking around. As well as the aircraft there are displays on uniforms, air gunners, the History of Bomber Command and the Pioneers of Aviation exhibition. The History of Bomber Command is especially interesting, especially given the fact RAF Elvington flew bombers (Whitley and Halifax) during the war.
For those looking to see aircraft, Yorkshire Air Museum has an impressive collection of over 50 as well as a number of other military vehicles. Noteworthy aircraft on display include a WW2 Halifax bomber, a Gloser Metero jet fighter and a Nimrod MR.2 patrol aircraft. The highlight however is the museums Handley Page Victor bomber, part of Britain’s “V-Force” which included the mighty Vulcan. This Victor is one of just five remaining examples remaining.
Location: Elvington, Yorkshire
7 – Aerospace Bristol
This huge museum contains over 8000 artifacts. The museum will take visitors on a journey of aviation history from the early 1900s until the present day. The museum is split into 7 eras of flight. These are 1903-1910, the First World War 1914-1920, the growth of flight 1920-1930, WW2 1935-1945, the start of the jet age 1945-1960, the start of the space age 1960-1981 and the modern era 1981-today. Each of these zones is full of interactive exhibits and displays which make it a great way for children to learn about the history of flight. Out of all the museums on this list, Aerospace Bristol is arguably the one best suited to spend a day with your children at due to it’s fun, interactive displays.
As with all aviation museums, Aerospace Bristol has some impressive aircraft on display. It is noteworthy for having a fine collection of Bristol aircraft on display, doubling somewhat as a Bristol Aviation Heritage Centre. Noteworthy aircraft included are a Sycamore helicopter and a Sea Harrier. The highlight however is the museums Concorde. The most famous and fastest passenger jet of all time. The Concorde on display was the last of this important aircraft to fly. If you have kids, a trip to Aerospace Bristol makes for an excellent day out.
Photos obtained via Aerospace Bristol’s website and Facebook.
6 – De Havilland Aircraft Museum
The de Havilland Aircraft museum is a museum dedicated to the aircraft manufacturer de Havilland. This historic company has made some of the finest and most famous aircraft ever flown. This includes the Mosquito, a wooden WW2 aircraft that is one of the most versatile ever built performing fighting, bombing, recon and maritime patrol missions. Other notable de Havilland aircraft are the Vampire fighter and the first jet engined passenger aircraft, the Comet.
The museum helps preserve the heritage of de Havilland aircraft, not only through aircraft displays but by a number of exhibits about the history of the company. The information on display makes for excellent reading and truly puts across how vital de Havilland Aircraft was in Britain’s aviation history.
As with most air museums, the highlight is the aircraft and the de Havilland Museum doesn’t disappoint. This includes a number of the famous Mosquito, a Venom fighter jet and a Sea Vixen carrier aircraft. The aircraft are well preserved with plenty of information about their design, role and history. As well as aircraft on display, the museum has an impressive collection of historic de Havilland engines from a number of different aircraft.
Location: London Colney, Hertfordshire
All photos obtained from de Havilland Aircraft Museum.
5 – Kent Battle of Britain Museum
Located on the site of RAF Hawkinge, a former WW2 airfield. The Kent Battle of Britain Museum is, as the name suggests, a museum dedicated to the Battle of Britain. It is the oldest museum dedicated to the Battle of Britain where the RAF managed to defeat the Luftwaffe and halt the planned German invasion of Britain. Some of the WW2 era buildings still contain scars obtained during bombing raids during the war. The site gives visitors a great idea of what a WW2 airfield was like.
The museum is separated into 5 display areas. The Stuart Buttle Hangar contains replicas of the famous Hurricane and Spitfire. These replicas are significant as they featured in the excellent Battle of Britain movie. Notably this display hangar includes an original Harvard training aircraft and original vehicles which would have served on a WW2 airfield. The Stuart Buttle hanger also houses an impressive collection of original engines, including one from a Defiant turret fighter.
The Dowding Memorial hangar features replica BF-109 aircraft (which again featured in the Battle of Britain movie) and an original German glider. The highlight are the remains of BF-109 fighters shot down in WW2. The displays are excellent and informative, with easy-to-digest information. The other display areas are the armoury which features WW2 weaponry and uniforms and the impressive Wall of Honour. This excellent display features autographs of 600 Battle of Britain pilots. As with the rest of the museum, the displays are well presented and informative.
The V1 display is housed in an original WW2 hut. It is about the V1 flying bomb which terrorised Britain during the war. It features photographs and information on the V1 raids as well as an actual example of a V1 flying bomb.
Finally there is the Operations Block which is housed in an original building from the WW2 Airfield. This display is a WW2 enthusiasts Aladdin’s Cave of relics from the war recovered from the airfield and donated to the museum by collectors. This is a very impressive display and a couple of hours exploring this hall is a great way to get a feel for the story of the famous Battle of Britain.
This museum is the only Battle of Britain museum endorsed by veterans of the battle and contains a number of items, keepsakes and photographs donated by them.
Location: Folkestone, Kent
Photos obtained with permission from Kent Battle of Britain Museum.
4 – Fleet Air Arm Museum
The Fleet Air Arm Museum is dedicated to British naval aviation. It is located on the RNAS Yeovilton Airfield. An airfield which is still in use today by units flying Wildcat and Merlin Helicopters and Hawk trainers. The museum features viewing areas which allow visitors to view the military aircraft at the base taking off and landing.
There are four main halls at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. Hall 1 is about the development of naval aircraft through the years. The display includes a Short 184, WW1 era torpedo plane as well as a number of helicopters. Hall 2 is devoted to WW2. Particularly impressive is the kamikaze exhibition which includes letters from kamikaze pilots and a Ohka “manned missile”. Aircraft on display here includes the only surviving Fairey Fulmar and a Supermarine Seafire.
Hall 3 is particularly impressive, having being converted to a mock-up of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. The entrance to this hall is alot of fun as it is a simulated helicopter ride. The final hall contains a large number of aircraft. This includes a Harrier, a Concorde and Hawker Hunter.
As well as aircraft on display, the Fleet Air Arm Museum has a number of other exhibits. Of particular note is an exhibition about the Battle of Taranto where British Naval Aircraft attacked the Italian fleet destroying or damaging 6 ships.
Location: Yeovilton, Somerset
3 – RAF Museum London and Cosford
There is little to seperate the London and Cosford RAF Museums so we have a joint entry. Both are the same collection, housed on different sites. The London exhibit having a more WW2 focus whereas Cosford’s focus is on the Cold War era. Both museums house an impressive collection of aircraft. At London, notable aircraft include a B-17 Bomber from WW2, an Avro Vulcan and a Fairey Battle WW2 bomber. At Cosford, must-see displays include a Argentinean Pucara attack aircraft captured in the Falklands and a Mig-15.
Each museum houses different displays with different theme. RAF London’s displays are the Milestone’s of Flight which features a number of historically significant aircraft, the Bomber Hall and the Historical Hanger. At Cosford you can see the War in the Air display (Including a Catalina flying boat) the test flight exhibit (displaying experimental and prototype aircraft) and the Cold War display.
Both museums are on important, historical aviation sites. RAF London is based on Hendon Aerodrome which was formed in 1908. The Cosford museum is based on RAF Cosford, an airfield which opened prior to WW2 and was a maintenance and training unit. During WW2 the Air Transfer Auxiliary Unit was based at Duxford, tasked with transporting fighters to different bases and returning damaged aircraft to Cosford for repair.
There are lots of interactive exhibits and displays so the museums are excellent for kids and adults. I’m sure nobody is ever too old to feel thrilled at the chance to sit in an actual Spitfire, which is possible at the London Museum. Likewise even the dullest adult I’m sure will feel excited when stepping on board the museum’s Short Sunderland flying boat (also at London). There is fun for kids and adults at Cosford too. Fly with the Red Arrows in the excellent 4D Theatre and experience the Eurofighter Typhoon in the flight simulator.
Location: London and Cosford, Shropshire
2 – The Shuttleworth Collection
The Shuttleworth Collection is based in the Old Warden Aerodrome. The collection includes not only vintage aircraft but also vintage cars. Many of which are still in working order. The collection was established in 1928 and contains a number of noteworthy aircraft. The most well-known of which is the museums airworthy Bleriot XI. This is the oldest airworthy aircraft in the world. The museum also includes a Deperdussin dating from 1910 which still flies on event days.
If you are a fan of vintage aircraft you are spoilt for choice at The Shuttleworth Collection. Among the collection are an impressive number of rare, WW1 era aircraft. The Sopwith Pup, Avro 504 and RAF S.E.5 are particular highlights of the collections WW2 planes. From WW2, the museum houses the highlights include a Gloster Gladiator fighter, Westland Lysander observation plane and the last surviving Hawker Hurricane which served during the Battle of Britain. All of these aircraft are airworthy and can be seen flying at events at the museum. If you are a fan of vintage aircraft then a trip to The Shuttleworth Collection is a must.
Location: Old Warden, Bedfordshire
1 – Imperial War Museum Duxford
An obvious winner here, and for good reason. The Imperial War Museum Duxford is one of the finest military museums in the world and the largest in the UK. Based on the famous Duxford Aerodrome which dates from 1918, IWM Duxford has over 200 vehicles on display. Even without the aircraft and military vehicles, Duxford Aerodrome would be worth a visit for it’s historical value alone. The aerodrome was the base for Hurricane and Spitfire fighters during the Battle of Britain. Towards the end of the war, the United States Air Force flew Mustangs on bomber escort missions from the airfield. Many of the historic buildings from that period remain and 30 are classed as listed buildings with historical significance. The history of the aerodrome can be explored via the museums Historic Duxford exhibition.
Today, over 200 aircraft and vehicles are on display at Duxford set in 5 hangars. The collection includes many notable and famous aircraft from various periods in history. AirSpace is the largest hangar, displaying over 30 aircraft from WW1 to the present day. Notable aircraft on display include a WW2 Lancaster Bomber, the mighty Vulcan bomber, a Harrier jet which served in the Falklands War and a Panavia Tornado from the Gulf War. AirSpace is also home to one of only two surviving TSR-2 Strike Aircraft. A British supersonic bomber project which was cancelled in the 1960s.
Whilst AirSpace is the main hangar, the other parts of the museum host a number of treasures too. Hangar 2 is home to the museums flyable aircraft and allows visitors a unique look at ongoing preservation and repairs. Hangar 3 is home to the museums naval exhibition. As well as naval aircraft such as a Fairey Gannet torpedo bomber, the hangar also features a collection of small boats and a midget submarine.
Hangar 4 is home to the Battle of Britain exhibition. As well as aircraft, this hangar also features a fascinating exhibition about the history of Duxford Aerodrome and is a must see for any aviation enthusiast. Hangar 5 is the conservation hangar and let’s visitors see staff at work conserving and restoring many aircraft.
Finally, Duxford is home to the very impress American Air Museum. This exhibition features a large number of American aircraft on loan from the USA. Amongst the aircraft on display are the SR-71 Blackbird (the fastest aircraft in the world), an A10 Warthog and the huge B-52 Bomber.
Thanks for reading this article. Of interest might be our new article, Top Ten British Military Museums.
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