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. These collections are cared for by a professional team of museum specialists, conservators, and archivists.
- As of the end of FY 2016, the National Air and Space Museum holds 46,064 aviation artifacts, 17,097 space-related artifacts, and 5,441 works of art.
- The reopening of the redesigned Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall was a major effort in 2016, which included the movement of several large, historically significant objects that hadn’t been moved in decades. Conservators performed treatment on a great number of these artifacts in preparation, including the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model; the Friendship 7 and Gemini IV capsules; the Lunar Module 2; and the Spirit of St. Louis.
- The Collections Processing Unit continued the multi-year task of moving items out of the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility to the Udvar-Hazy Center for storage or display. In 2016, they relocated more than 7,250 objects.
- The Conservation Unit was awarded a Collections Care and Preservation Fund grant for the conservation of artifacts requiring immediate stabilization treatments. 210 artifacts were treated and moved to storage at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
- Major acquisitions in FY 2016 included components of the Apollo 11 F-1 engines salvaged from the Atlantic Ocean, the wide angle and narrow angle camera flight spares from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter program, a US Coast Guard HH-52A Seaguard helicopter, an original WWI fabric insignia form the 94th Aero Squadron, and a series of photographs by the photographic artist Marcus Lyon.
- The estimated 17,665 cubic feet of material, including two million photographs, more than 20,000 motion picture and video items, 16,000 reels of microfilm, and two million technical drawings in the Museum’s Archives make it one of the world’s premier locations for research into the history of aviation and space exploration.
- During FY16, Archives staff handled over 3,000 requests for information and/or for copies of documents, drawings, and technical information from the collections. The staff also assisted 603 visiting researchers.
- Major acquisitions in the Archives included materials relating to the career of Robert Collins Truax (1917-2010), whose research for the Navy laid the foundation for the liquid-propelled rockets, and material on lighter-than-air technology created or gathered by Norman Mayer during his career, 1941-2000s.
Preserving the Martin B-26 Marauder Flak-Bait
The Museum's Martin B-26B-25-MA Marauder Flak-Bait and its crews survived 207 operational missions over Europe, more than any other American aircraft during World War II. In 2014, the aircraft was moved from display in the Museum in Washington, DC, to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center to undergo treatment to preserve its structural, mechanical, and surface features.
The artifact still bears the patched holes from combat damage, chipped paint, dents, and other wear and tear. The plan is to perform thorough, in-depth treatments aimed at providing the best long-term protection for the aircraft while disturbing as little original material as possible. The completion of this multi-year endeavor will mark the first time Flak-Bait will be fully assembled since the end of World War II. When the project is completed, Flak-Bait will be put on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Museum conservators are developing new techniques for treating this special airplane to preserve its originality. Here are a few of those techniques.
- Paint: Conservators are performing analysis and tests aimed at preserving what remains of the D-Day Invasion stripes on the bottom surfaces of the wings. These stripes, although faded and deteriorated, are most likely the only original markings of this kind left on any WWII aircraft. Conservators are analyzing the composition of the paint and testing techniques that will preserve these markings on the aircraft well into the future.
- Rubber: The tires on Flak-Bait are original to its operations in combat and replacements are no longer available. A synthetic adhesive that has traditionally been used in the conservation of paintings on canvas is now being used to not only repair breaks and tears in original rubber but also restore some of the physical properties. This innovative repair technique will allow the tires to remain on the aircraft and to appear just as they did in 1945.
- Fabric: A new technique to save the original doped*-cotton fabric coverings on the control surfaces of Flak-Bait has been developed. The fabric on Flak-Bait is original to its WWII history. Conservators have borrowed and refined techniques typically used to repair torn canvases on paintings and have utilized them with great success. In contrast to paintings, where a conservator’s objective is to repair and hide damages, National Air and Space Museum conservators are focused on stabilizing original combat damages, maintaining the aura of authenticity.
* “Dope” is a varnish applied to the fabric surface of aircraft to strengthen it and keep it sealed from the elements.