The National Air and Space Museum is known worldwide for its collection of rare and historically significant aircraft and spacecraft, as well as its thousands of related smaller artifacts and archival materials. This includes more milestone first or one-of-a-kind aircraft than any other museum. These collections are cared for by a professional team of museum specialists, conservators, and archivists. Some highlights of the team’s work in 2018 include:
- Conservation of 492 artifacts
- Moved 2,757 artifacts from the Paul. E. Garber facility to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center both for the Museum’s Transformation and in support of the long-term plans to move items from Garber.
- The Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia was given a thorough conservation treatment in preparation for its two year, four-city tour in the Destination Moon traveling exhibition.
- Treated and readied 10 large artifacts for display as part of the Transformation effort.
- Among the significant acquisitions in FY 2018 were:
- “Skybirds” Trading Cards, Gift of Martin Eichelman, 68 objects
- The Amazon Mk-23M-1 Hybrid Delivery Drone, Gift of Amazon.com, Inc.,
- Sharp Nemesis NXT Sport Class Air Racer Aircraft.
- Clock and fabric from the Mitsubishi A6M5 “Zero” fighter plane of ace Shinya Ozaki shot down over Guam in 1944
- Spacelab 2 Infrared Telescope transferred flown on Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-51 in 1985
- Scale model (1/96) of the USS Langley, the US Navy’s first aircraft carrier
- The Collections Processing Unit (CPU) produced 36,800 digital images as part of regular artifact processing and created 27 360 degree montages, which are comprised of 5,800 images. These images will help the Museum reach even more people through its digital outreach efforts.
- The 360 VR tours CPU staff created went live in February on NASM’s website.
- Accessioned 85 new collections, totaling over 100 cubic feet of materials including the Pamela Melroy Papers consists of correspondence, memoranda, reports, checklists, manuals, notes, photographs, brochures, pamphlets, programs, newsletters, newspaper and magazine articles, and related training materials Melroy created or collected over the course of her life and career in the US Air Force and as a NASA astronaut.
- The NASM Archives worked closely with the curators and the Smithsonian Institution Archives regarding the disposition of all archival material collected by the curatorial departments before the curators’ offices were moved from the Mall building. Over 100 cubic feet of material was transferred to the NASM Archives
- The Gale Cengage Digitization Project digitized over 900,000 archival items from the NASM Archives collections. Over 64,500 of those digital assets are now attached to collections finding aids in the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive (SOVA), which assists people doing research.
- An additional 2,200 digital assets were attached to the Archives collection finding aids available to the public on the SOVA collection finding aids. Prior to this year, The Archives had only 8,000 digital assets attached to the finding aids on the SOVA.
Ideas That Defy – Innovation in conservation
Innovation is not just the heart of stories the museum tells, but part of the work it does. The conservation team is a prime example. While they often use tried-and-true techniques to conserve and restore our amazing collections, the one-of-a-kind nature of so many artifacts means they often have to be as creative as the people who built these magnificent flying machines.
That is the case with two treatments they devised to prepare Flak-Bait for exhibition. Flak-Bait is the Martin B-26B-25-MA that survived 207 operational missions over Europe, more than any other American aircraft during World War II.
While enemy fire may have pierced the exterior many times during battle, the enemy of the interior lining fabric was moths. By the time it reached the museum, they’d begun feasting on the wool lining, badly damaging it. Utilizing modern cutting tools that weren’t available when Flak-Bait flew, conservators tried something new. “We were able to save and ‘visually reintegrate’ most of the original fabric with the use of laser-cut replacement fabric samples,” said Engen Conservation Fellow, Meghann Girard. “The samples are from a similar pool-table cloth we found that we had custom dyed to match the original fabric. Losses in the original fabric were traced, scanned and laser-cut replacements were created and sewn into the areas of moth damage.”
The control surfaces (rudder, ailerons, elevators) were badly deteriorated due to natural degradation of the doped fabric. It shrinks and becomes brittle over time, causing tears and making it prone to breaking under the slightest pressure. The traditional solution is to cut off the damaged sections and completely replace them with new materials.
“On Flak-Bait, these components also exhibited combat damages with in-the-field repairs and patches. We really wanted to save this important evidence of the aircraft’s operational history,” said Conservator, Lauren Horelick. Their innovative solution drew on the lessons learned from how fine art is conserved. “We performed a lining technique to provide the structural support the doped fabric needed. This allowed us to preserve the original fabric with the combat damages and we were able to fill and blend the more modern damages caused by time,” Horelick added.
Thinking and working creatively will help the team reach its goal to preserve the aircraft to look as it did in 1945, with all its wear and tear from two years in combat.
As a leader in aircraft conservation, the National Air and Space Museum wants to share our innovations with others and in support of this, team members recently presented these techniques at conferences and through a coming peer-reviewed article, helping others in the field preserve important parts of the nation’s collective air and space legacy.