5 Aviation Museums in Southern England where you can see a Spitfire
While nothing really beats hearing and seeing a genuine Spitfire roaring in the sky above, getting up close and personal with one of these icons of World War II aviation must come pretty close. So, what are your chances of seeing one in the South of England? There are, of course, still a number of Spitfires actively flying in the UK, but many more can be seen at static displays around the country. For real enthusiasts, a fully immersive experience is a must. Into The Blue offer Spitfire flights and experiences where you actually get to go up in a very rare 2-seater Spitfire TR9. For the rest of us on the ground, there is plenty of opportunity to view one of Britain’s finest aircraft ever built in many locations across the Southern half of the country.
1. Solent Sky Museum, Southampton, Hampshire
It all started in Southampton – it’s where the prototype Spitfire, designed by RJ Mitchell, first took to the air at Southampton Airport in 1936. Production took place at the Supermarine factory at Woolston and Southampton suffered heavily as a result of its role in military aircraft production, being bombed several time by the Luftwaffe. By the end of World War II nearly every family in and around Southampton and Salisbury was touched in some way by 8,000 aircraft produced there.
Solent Sky Museum is an independent museum that showcases aviation history in Southampton and around the Solent. Exhibits here include a Spitfire Mk 24 (PK 683), the record breaking Supermarine S6A, one of the forerunners of the Spitfire. The museum is open 7 days a week throughout the year and can be contacted at www.solentskymuseum.org.
2. Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum, Manston, Kent
RAF Manston was an RAF station near the village of Manston in northeast Kent. The museum here has 2 fully restored World War II fighter aircraft displayed side by side – a Spitfire Mk XVI (LF) (TB 752) and a Hurricane Mk IIc (LF751).
TB 752 was built in 1944 and its war record includes first serving with 6 Squadron over Holland and Germany, and then with 403 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force where she was victorious several times over German enemy planes including a Messerschmitt, a Focke Wulf and a Heinkel bomber. After the war, the Spitfire acted as gate guardian at RAF Manston after which she was restored and put in the Museum in 1981.
The Museum at what is now known as Kent International Airport near Ramsgate is open daily and admission is free. Visit www.spitfiremuseum.org.uk for more information.
3. Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, Chichester, West Sussex
This museum was opened in 1982 to promote public awareness and education of the UK’s military aviation heritage and is situated on the former RAF Tangmere airfield in West Sussex. It is staffed entirely by volunteers. There’s a large display of historic aircraft including several aircraft simulators for an interactive experience.
Merston Hall is the location of several aircraft including the Supermarine Swift FR5 (WK 281), and a
prototype Spitfire K5054 replica commissioned by Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill, Gordon Mitchell (RJ Mitchell’s son), members of the original design team and The Spitfire Society. The replica was unveiled at the RAF Museum in 1993 and was presented to Tangmere Museum as a gift by The Spitfire Society in 2013.
The Museum is open daily between February and November, with opening hours, ticket prices and direction available from the website www.tangmere-museum.org.uk.
4. Royal Air Force Museum, North London
With 2 major UK locations in Cosford, Shropshire and Hendon, North London, the RAF Museum offers a thrilling day out and a unique experience for all the family. There’s a world class collection and display of aircraft, engines and missiles as well as films, special exhibitions, research and education facilities to tell the story of the RAF past and present.
The Hendon site, widely considered to be the cradle of British aviation, is home to 100+ aircraft. Several Spitfires can be seen in the Historic Hangars and on External Display, including a Supermarine Spitfire F24, Spitfire I, Spitfire Mk XIVE, Spitfire Mk XVI and Spitfire Vb. What’s more, the museum offers a ‘Sit in a Spit’ close-up Spitfire experience, allowing visitors to climb into the pilot’s seat of a Spitfire Mk XVI.
Admission is free and details can be found on the RAF Museum website by clicking here.
5. Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire
There’s always been a special relationship between RAF Duxford and the Spitfire, the iconic aircraft of the Battle of Britain. 19 Squadron was the first RAF squadron to be re-equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire, the first one being flown into Duxford in August 1938.
RAF Duxford was closed in 1961 and now lives on as a heritage attraction and an important Imperial War Museum (IWM) site. There are 200+ aircraft on display across 8 exhibition spaces and regular air demonstrations too. One of the major exhibits of the Battle of Britain exhibition is the Dunkirk Spitfire Mk Ia (N 3200) which was shot down and lost for 50 years before being returned to IWM Duxford for restoration.
The museum is open from 10am-6pm every day, and you can book tickets online by clicking here.