Sport Aviation

Sport aviation is personal flying for pleasure rather than for military, commercial, or business purposes. Sport pilots fly gliders, sailplanes, hang gliders, ultralights, homebuilts, and other types of aircraft that date to the earliest days of aviation. The growth in popularity of ultralights—the most economical powered airplanes flying—is an important trend.

At the turn of the 21st century, Beechcraft, Cessna, Piper, and other companies were still mass-producing designs nearly a half-century old. By contrast, designers of homebuilt aircraft use the most advanced ideas in aerodynamics, propulsion, and structures. Their airplanes often perform better than assembly line models and usually cost less to construct and fly. Burt Rutan exemplifies the creative talent often seen among homebuilt designers. His VariEze, on display here, is one of the most innovative and influential homebuilt airplanes.


Monnett Moni at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Monnett Moni
Schoolteacher John Monnett designed the Moni (mo-nee) during the early 1980s, and then coined the term "air recreation vehicle" to describe this airplane. Monnett's design almost captured all the merits that so many leisure pilots longed to find in one aircraft. The Moni looked great just sitting on the ramp. It performed well, and someone reasonably handy with average shop tools could construct one in their own garage. The design had much going for it, but like so many homebuilt aircraft before and since, a few key engineering lapses in the design, plus problems with the engine and propeller, relegated the Moni to the category of homebuilt aircraft that promise much in design but fail to deliver. Harold C. Weston generously donated his Moni to the National Air and Space Museum in April 1992. Weston built the airplane himself and flew it more than 40 hours.

More information: Monnett Moni

Bowlus 1-S-2100 Senior Albatross Falcon at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Bowlus 1-S-2100 Senior Albatross Falcon
Hawley Bowlus developed the Senior Albatross series from a design he called the Bowlus Super Sailplane. In Germany, designers and pilots led the world in the building and flying of high-performance gliders, and Bowlus was strongly influenced by their work. He and German glider pioneer, Martin Schempp, taught courses in aircraft design and construction at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in Glendale, California. The two instructors led a group of students that built the Super Sailplane in 1932. The Super served as a prototype for the Senior Albatross.

In May 1934, Warren E. Eaton acquired the Senior Albatross now preserved at the National Air and Space Museum from Hawley Bowlus. Eaton joined the U. S. Army Air Service and flew SPAD XIII fighters in the 103rd Aero Squadron, 3rd Pursuit Group, at Issoudon, France, from August 27, 1918 to the Armistice. He was credited with downing one enemy aircraft in aerial combat. After the war, Eaton founded the Soaring Society of America and became that organization's first president.

More information: Bowlus 1-S-2100 Senior Albatross "Falcon"

Grob 102 Standard Astir III at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Grob 102 Standard Astir III
Test pilots at Grob-Werke GmbH & Company KG in Germany first flew the Grob 102 Standard Astir III late in 1980. The Standard Astir III is one of several models that the Grob company designed specifically to conform to the international Standard Class category of competitive sailplanes adopted in 1958. On February 17, 1986, Robert Harris flew this Grob 102 Standard Astir III and set a world altitude record of 14,899 m (49,009 ft).

On June 4, 1997, Robert Harris and his wife, Susan Rothermund, donated the Grob 102 to the National Air and Space Museum.

More information: Grob 102 Standard Astir III

Arlington Sisu 1A at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Arlington Sisu 1A
Leonard Niemi's Sisu is the most successful American competition sailplane ever flown. John Ryan in 1962, Dean Svec in 1965, and A. J. Smith in 1967, all won the United States National Soaring Championships flying a Sisu ('see-soo'). In 1967, Bill Ivans (his Schempp-Hirth Nimbus II is in the Museum's collection) set a national speed record flying a Sisu 1A at El Mirage, California, by skimming across the desert at 135 kph (84 mph) over a 100-kilometer (62-mile) triangular course.

Alvin H. Parker took off from his hometown, Odessa, Texas, at the controls of the National Air and Space Museum's Sisu 1A and flew 1,042 km (647 miles) on July 31, 1964. This flight also shattered a symbolic and psychological barrier that had defeated sailplane pilots around the world for years. Joseph Lincoln called the 1,000-km milestone "for a good many years... the soaring pilot's four-minute mile on both sides of the Atlantic" in his soaring anthology, On Quiet Wings, published in 1972.

More information: Arlington Sisu 1A