The Imperial War Museum is delighted to announce that IWM Duxford has received a grant of £980,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) 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. The American Air Museum 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.

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 (USAAF) in Britain during the Second World War. 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.

Diane Lees, Director-General of Imperial War Museums said: “I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has supported the American Air Museum redevelopment. This exciting project will bring to life Anglo-American relations past, present and future, in a way that enthralls and engages. Whoever we are, wherever we live, this is our story and one that we can work together on for the benefit of future generations.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for the East of England said: “The American Air Museum has possibly the best collection of US military aircraft outside the USA. This project will give IWM Duxford the opportunity to overhaul the displays and galleries and bring many of the fascinating stories of the First World War, Second World War, and more recent conflicts to life in new and exciting ways which will give many people the opportunity to get involved. We look forward, in particular, to the museum’s interpretation of the Freeman Collection of photographs, many of which have never before been seen by the public.”