A Royal Air Force Museum was proposed as early as 1917, by the first Lord Rothermere, and approved in principle by the Air Council in 1931, but the idea was not pursued with vigour until the early 1960s. As a result of proposals made by an Air Ministry Committee chaired by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Dermot Boyle, the RAF Museum was established by the Air Council in 1964. It operates under a Deed of Trust dated 26 August 1965, which states that
"The object of [the Museum] shall be for the benefit of the Royal Air Force-
a. to collect, preserve and exhibit articles and records relating to the history and traditions of the Royal Air Force and air forces associated therewith.....and to collect and publish information relating thereto; and
b. to encourage research into the accumulation and dissemination of information and knowledge bearing on the said history and traditions and matters connected therewith."
A number of potential sites were considered and the Museum was finally built at Hendon on land leased by the Ministry of Defence [MOD] to the trustees for 99 years under a deed of gift. It was formally opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 15 November 1972. Funds for the building were raised by a public appeal, with the MOD agreeing to fund the running costs. The Trustees are appointed by the Secretary of State for Defence and include a serving member of the Air Force Board as ex officio member. The Trustees purchased the lease for the site, together with further land from the former RAF Hendon site, in 1998.
Since its opening, the Museum has benefited from several additional buildings at Hendon: the Battle of Britain Hall (opened in 1978) includes a unique collection of British, German and Italian aircraft which were engaged in the Battle, and the Bomber Command Hall (opened in 1983) describes the history of aerial bombardment. Two further buildings opened in December 2003: Milestones of Flight, which marks the centenary of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight, and the 1917 Grahame-Wight hangar, moved onto the Museum's site from the former RAF Hendon, which displays the bulk of the Museum's First World War aircraft.
Sections 30 and 31 of the National Heritage Act 1983 made provision for changes in the way Armed Forces museums were funded: instead of their costs being met from a number of different MOD votes, the Secretary of State was empowered to make grants-in-aid to the Trustees of designated museums. Statutory Instrument No.422 designated the RAF Museum under the terms of the Act and the Museum was formally devolved from the MOD on 1 August 1984, becoming a Non-Departmental Public Body.
The Museum is currently organised into three divisions: Collections, Operations, and Group Business Development. Collecting departments include Aircraft and Exhibits, Visual Arts, Medals & Uniforms (including Film, Photographs, and Fine Art), and Research & Information Services, the last of which is responsible for the library and archive collections. The Collections Division is also responsible for Design, Collections Management and the Restoration Centre. The day-to-day running of the Museum is the responsibility of the Operations Division, whilst Group Business Development includes marketing, publicity and fundraising. The Access & Learning Development Department provides educational facilities. A trading company, Royal Air Force Museum Enterprises Limited, generates income through the Museum's shops at Hendon and Cosford and through the hiring-out of premises for functions.
For many years the RAF Museum managed the Cosford Aerospace Museum near Wolverhampton on behalf of the MOD, until 1998 when it formally became part of the main museum and was renamed The Royal Air Force Museum Cosford.
The Museum's Reserve Collection and Restoration Centre moved from RAF Cardington when the station closed in 2000. The Michael Beetham Conservation Centre is housed in purpose-built premises at Cosford, whilst the Reserve Collection of artefacts is stored at RAF Stafford - it is the Museum's only site not open to the public.
The Museum has been appointed as a place of deposit for its own records under Section 4(1) of the Public Records Act 1958. As a Trustee Museum, its records are not public records and would only become so if the Museum were added to the Table in the First Schedule of the Public Records Act 1958.
The Royal Air Force Museum is at Grahame Park Way, Hendon, London NW9 5LL (telephone: 0208 208 2266): http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/