Wings at Four Winds
Located just south of Madrid’s historic Cuatro Vientos (Four Winds) Airport, this is the official museum of the Spanish air force. Known officially as Museo de Aeronáutica y Astronáutica o Museo del Aire, the facility is typically referred to simply as Museo del Aire. I paid this museum a visit in mid April of 2018.
While the museum was established at its current location in 1981, the idea for it and development of it had been in slow progress since the end of the Spanish Civil War. The museum has existed, at least on paper, officially since 1966.
The Cuatro Vientos location, in the south-west suburbs of Madrid, could not have been a better choice as a place for the museum from a historical standpoint. Aviation activity has been going on in Spain since before the First World War; Cuatro Vientos and nearby Getafe Air Base are two of the oldest airports in the country, both having been formally established in 1911. The area truly is the cradle of Spanish aviation.
Museo del Aire is a sweeping collection of more than 150 aircraft in both indoor and outdoor displays spread across an area of almost 67,000 square metres. As European air museums go, this is a major one.
All eras of Spanish military and governmental aviation are well covered between the outdoor exhibits and the seven hangars holding the indoor exhibits. A good cross section of domestically designed and produced aircraft are on display alongside various foreign types which saw Spanish service.
At that, let’s take a look at Museo del Aire:
The sizable outdoor display area is the first part of the museum to greet visitors after they pass through the entry gate.
This part of the collection is organised into sections for fighters, helicopters as well as transport and utility types.
It doesn’t take long after entering the museum for the diverse history of Spanish military aviation to become apparent. Spain saw many political changes through the 20th century and the various alliances the nation held through the century dictated where much of their military hardware came from at any given time.
Aside of domestically developed aircraft; visitors can also see aircraft of American, British, Canadian, French, German and Italian origins to name but a few. There are also a number of foreign aircraft types which were built under license by Spanish companies.
Among the aircraft you can see in the outdoor section in Spanish colours are the hulking Boeing KC-97 tanker aircraft, the domestically designed CASA C-207 transport, Canadair CL-215 firefighting aircraft, Dassault Mirage III and F.1 fighters as well as the distinctive Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.
The outdoor collection is not limited to aircraft which saw service in Spanish hands, a number of types in foreign colours are also on display. Among the fast jets, you can see Soviet designed Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17, 21 and 23 types as well as a Sukhoi Su-22 strike aircraft. There are also a couple of former Swedish air force types in the form a Saab 32 Lansen and a Saab 37 Viggen.
While, as one might expect, a number of the outdoor aircraft show one degree or another of exposure to the elements; a pleasing number of them have clearly been given fresh paint quite recently. It’s good to see such a clear sign of a museum taking care of their outdoor collection.
As mentioned earlier, the museum’s indoor exhibits are distributed among seven hangars. They are organised largely by theme rather than era. During my visit, not all the hangars were open.
Hangar 1 focuses on early aviation themes running from the pre WWI period to the Spanish Civil War. The hangar was partially closed during my visit, so I was only able to view the parts covering up to the First World War.
The exhibited aircraft I saw in Hangar 1 are well presented, but the dim lighting made photography a very challenging prospect.
Hangar 2 is dedicated to aeronautical technology themes such as airframe structures and engines through the years.
Here you’ll see not only engines ranging from very early piston types to modern turbofan types, you’ll also see flight simulators for a variety of aircraft types as well as examples of aircraft stripped to their bare frames to show internal structures.
Hangar 2 also has displays of unmanned drone aircraft, bombs and missiles as well as some items of space exploration.
As with Hangar 1, low lighting conditions make photography in Hangar 2 a similarly challenging task.
Hangar 3 focusses on light aircraft and training types through the years.
The diversity of aircraft that have been used by Spanish military aviation over the years is displayed particularly well here as there are American, British, Czech, German and Italian originated aircraft on display here to name a few.
Hangar 3 houses aircraft displaying markings of both sides of the Spanish Civil War as well as more modern Spanish air force markings.
Aside of powered aircraft, there is a selection of sailplanes hanging from from the ceiling of this hangar.
As with the first two hangars, photography is also something of a challenge here. Partly the challenge comes from artificial and natural light sources conflicting with each other and the aircraft being in very close quarters with each other so as to negate many pictures focussing on a specific aircraft.
Hangar 4 is dedicated to rotary flight and displays a good selection of autogyros and helicopters.
Significant in this hangar are examples of Cierva autogyros. Created by Juan de la Cierva (1895-1936) in 1920, the autogyro was a truly Spanish contribution to aviation history.
More importantly to rotary aviation, Cierva also developed the articulated rotor. This was a critical moment in helicopter development as it enabled stable rotary flight.
For the invention of the autogyro and associated technologies, Cierva was awarded the 1932 Daniel Guggenheim Medal for aeronautics and the 1933 Elliot Cresson Medal for invention.
Aside of the aircraft in this hangar, there are several display cases lining the sides of it with more detailed information about Cierva and the autogyro.
Hangar 5 is rather less focussed than the first four. Here, there is a range of military and civil aircraft covering interwar, early jet and sport flying categories.
Upon entering this hangar, one is greeted by a pair of DeHavilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide aircraft, one in British registration that Francisco Franco himself flew in and one in Nationalist markings of the Spanish Civil War.
The early jets include a North American F-86 Sabre fighter, a Lockheed T-33 trainer and two variants of the domestically developed Hispano Aviación HA-200 Saeta trainers.
Two North American T-6 Texan trainers and a small selection of civil sport aircraft can also be found in Hangar 5.
Unlike the first three hangars, photography is quite easy in Hangars 4 and 5.
At the time of my visit, Hangars 6 and 7 were closed. However, through information in a leaflet I received upon entry to the museum and some internet searching, it seems that Hangar 6 contains the museum’s Dornier Do 24 flying boat and a pair of Heinkel He-111 bombers while Hangar 7 contains a display of scale models.
Paying a Visit
Museo del Aire’s size and scope are more than enough to justify a special trip to see it if you’re in the Madrid area and you’ll certainly see some unique subjects on display that you might not see otherwise. For example, less than 30 CASA C-207 Azor transport aircraft were made and only five are known to have escaped scrapping when the type was retired. Two of the world’s remaining Azors are here.
While I heartily recommend a visit to Museo del Aire, there are some things to be aware of before you go:
Despite its size and status as the official museum of the Spanish air force, Museo del Aire has some surprisingly limited hours. It pays to get there for opening time as they are open only from 10:00-14:00.
While it is not widely advertised, a number of websites I’ve visited indicate that the museum is closed completely through the month of August.
The museum has a decently stocked gift shop. However, you may want to take a snack with you or eat a big breakfast before you go as the museum has no proper restaurant, only a small café with very limited options, and there are no larger dining establishments in the immediate vicinity of the museum. There is enough walking around at this museum to build an appetite.
Museo del Aire is something of a challenge to get to given the size of the attraction and its importance.
If you go by road, it will involve a trip along the A5 motorway. The A5 is a six lane road connecting Madrid to the Alcorcon and Mostoles suburbs. There is not much in the way of signage for the museum along the road and save for a small watertower with “Museo del Aire” painted on it, the museum is not visible from the road. The museum has some free parking available if you go by car.
If you don’t have a car, the most common ways to get to the museum are by going to the Principe Pio train station and taking one of the green Intercity busses in the direction of Alcorcon and Mostoles, there’s four bus routes that run quite regularly along the A5 between the city and those suburbs.
If you go by bus and don’t speak Spanish, have “Museo del Aire” or “Escuela de Transmisiones” written on a piece of paper to show the driver where you want to go. The latter term is the name of the precise stop you want to get off at for the museum; based on my experience, it may be the better option to show the driver.
Once you get off the bus, there is a bridge over the A5 that you have to cross to get to the museum.
As an alternative to the bus, you can take the Madrid Metro train as far as Cuatro Vientos airport. Take the Line 10 in the direction of Puerta del Sur and get off at the Cuatro Vientos station.
The Metro option comes with the advantage that it lets you off on the museum side of the A5. However, getting to the museum itself will require a kilometre and a half or so of walking from the station.
Unfortunately, it seems the museum doesn’t have much of a presence of its own on the internet. Most of the web addresses I have located that are supposed to take one to the museum’s website are no longer functional.
However, I was able to locate the following links to reports written about the museum by others who paid visits to it prior to my own.
Between these links, which both show aircraft in the museum collection that I did not have access to when I visited, and what I have written here; you can get a very good idea of what there is to see there:
This link will take you to Madrid’s multilingual tourism portal. Through the museums section of this site, you can find more detailed information about the museum’s hours of operation and so forth: