The story of aviation during the First World War is one that, until now, has remained largely untold. The First World War in the Air, a major new permanent exhibition at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, London, brings to life the compelling stories of the people, the innovations, the engineering, and the aircraft of the war, and ultimately helps audiences understand the pivotal role of aviation—then and now.
The exhibition, which displays one of the world’s most significant World War I aviation collections, was a key part of the RAF Museum’s World War I centenary commemorations; its opening was synced with that occasion.
The exhibition is rich with interactivity, dramatic media, and period collections. The thrilling story of the evolution of flight, from its earliest incarnations to full-force fighting machines, is underpinned by stories of the people “on the ground.” The exhibition also explores the extraordinary expansion of the Royal Flying Corps from 250 men in 1914 to a Royal Air Force of 250,000 men and women in 1918.
The RAF Museum’s audiences typically possess varying levels of knowledge about its subject matter. Many of its local and international visitors are almost entirely unfamiliar with aviation, with the RAF itself, and in some cases with the context of the First World War. As a military and aviation heritage museum, the RAF Museum also attracts relatively specialized audiences with a highly developed interest in these areas. Addressing the needs of these diverse audiences was one of the goals of the project.
As the first element in the Museum’s new ten-year masterplan, The First World War in the Air was a pioneering project that sought to fundamentally change the way in which the RAF Museum relates to its visitors. Through a new approach to curation, interpretation, and design, we sought to enhance the visitor experience and engage a wider, more diverse audience with the Museum’s collections. Doing so allowed us to shape a groundbreaking template for future exhibitions.