FAQ

This page can help answer some of our most commonly asked questions. If you have questions about acquistions, donations, and appraisals, you can find more detailed information here. 


Questions


Answers

What do you have that is digital?
We are working to make more digitized content available on the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives. You’ll notice that some of the search results have a large blue box icon next to the title. That's the SOVA’s symbol for digitized material. Not everything is digitized (our colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution Archives wrote a great post about why digitization is not as quick or as easy as it seems). We have close to 1200 collection records and finding aids overall. Some of the collections may only have one or two digital images (or none). If what you want isn’t digitally available in the SOVA or you’re not sure if we even have what you want, you can sent a request to the Archives Reference Desk.  You can learn more about the SOVA and how to use it from an October 2020 blog post.

I know you have a photo in your collection.  Why can’t I find it online?
The National Air and Space Museum Archives has over 3 million photographs in the collection. Thousands of digitized images are available to search and download online.  If you are unable to find the photograph you are looking for on our website, it is possible that it has not yet been digitized. Please contact the reference desk so that we can assist you.

I can't come to the Archives to do research in person for my project. What can I do?
The Archives Reference Team can help with some aspects of your project — please contact the Reference Desk for initial assistance. We spend no more than one hour of research time on any request, and we will not accept more than one research request per month per person or organization. Some projects may be too large or too complex for us to do for you. We impose these limitations so that we can give assistance to the largest number of researchers in a reasonable period of time. You may wish to hire a professional independent researcher to visit the Archives for you.

Can you help me identify an old propeller?
Possibly — please send a written request to the Archives Reference Desk. Your request should include as much of the following information as you can provide: dimensions, size and placement of bore holes, text of any labels on the propeller, and a photo (if possible).

Do you have any information on my relative who was involved in aviation?
Possibly, although he or she would have to have been at least moderately famous. You're welcome to send a specific research request to the Archives Reference Desk, and we'll be happy to check our collections for you. Please provide as much biographical information as possible, especially full name; birth and death dates; and the area of aviation or space history involved (air mail, military, space program, etc.).

I'm trying to learn more about my/my relative's airplane. What kind of information do you have?
If the airplane in question was once a military aircraft belonging to the Air Force or Navy, the Archives may have Aircraft History Cards, which give the inventory history (not operational history) of an aircraft. We would need the military serial number. If the aircraft in question was registered as a civilian aircraft in the United States between 1926 and 1946, we may have selected registration information. We would need the registration number. You can submit a request for the information about no more than three aircraft to the Archives Reference Desk.

I'm working on a National History Day project. Can the Archives help?
We'll be happy to help you with your project, but please be sure to narrow your topic enough that you can make a request on a specific subject. For instance, for topic, "Frontiers in History," do not ask us the question "How is space a frontier?" Choose some aspect of the history of space exploration, and, after you've done your initial research, ask us for assistance by contacting the Archives Reference Desk. You may also find the National Archives and Records Administration History Day website of use.

Do you have anything on African-Americans involved in aviation? Anything on the Tuskegee Airmen?
Yes. We have basic information available on both the Tuskegee Airmen as a group, as well as many individual African-American pilots of the past (including Bessie Coleman). While we do not have any prepared information available, you are welcome to send a specific research request to the Archives Reference Desk.

Patrons interested in photographs used in the publication Black Wings should review the permissions page, and be prepared to specify which photographs you would like to use in your project.

Do you have anything on the history of women in aviation? Anything on the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)?
Yes, we have a large amount of material in our collections relating to women in aviation, both as individuals as well as groups such as the WASP. While we do not have any prepared information available, you are welcome to send a specific research request to the Archives Reference Desk.

I'm trying to find information on the history of a specific military aviation unit. Can you help me?
Possibly. Our coverage of military aviation units is highly variable. For some units we have a lot of information, for others we have nothing at all. In general, we have better coverage of USAF units and their predecessors than for Navy or Marine units. You are welcome to send a specific research request to the Archives Reference Desk for more information. Patrons interested in U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) units may wish to do research in the U.S. Air Force Pre-1954 Official Still Photography Collection, located at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Can you tell me if the National Air and Space Museum has a particular aircraft or spacecraft?
The Museum's Collections pages have useful lists of artifacts on display as well as an extensive Collections Database.

Everything in the National Air and Space Museum collections is in the Public Domain, right?
No, many images in the collections are copyright National Air and Space Museum and/or copyright Smithsonian Institution, and written permission from the National Air and Space Museum Archives is required to reproduce these images. Copyright on some images is held by a third party, and permission would need to be obtained directly from those copyright holders. Most images that originated with the U.S. Government are in the public domain.

Can you tell me where I can buy models, postcards, replica spacesuits, etc.?
The Museum Store can provide an assortment of aviation and space related items.

What happened to those USAF photos that used to be at the National Air and Space Museum Archives?
The U.S. Air Force Pre-1954 Still Photo Collection has been transferred to the Still Pictures Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and relocated to the National Archives facility at College Park, Maryland.

Still Picture Reference
National Archives at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, Maryland 20740-6001
Phone: (301) 837-0561
Email: stillpix@nara.gov

I'm looking for a photograph of the nose art and/or nickname on a particular aircraft. Can you help me?
Possibly. Please send a written request to the Archives Reference Desk. Please indicate the type of aircraft as well as any unit information you might have. During World War II, the same nickname (DuchessShoo Shoo BabyPistol Packin' Mama, etc.) was often used on several different aircraft.

Do you have film of the Wright brothers' first flight?
No because it does not exist. No motion picture film was shot of the Wright brothers' first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The earliest motion picture footage of a Wright aircraft in flight shows the Wright Type A undergoing military trials at Fort Myer, Virginia either in 1908 or 1909.

Where can I buy a copy of the film Powers of Ten?
Powers of Ten (1968), a scientific film essay by Charles and Ray Eames, is available from Pyramid Media.

Do you have a copy of that film with the wacky old aircraft? Those guys are contemporaries of the Wright brothers, right?
Despite its frequent use in documentary films as an illustration of unsuccessful aircraft designs which preceded the Wright brothers' successful 1903 Flyer, the film entitled Aeronautical Oddities in the News (circa 1948) is a compilation of newsreel film clips dating from the mid-1930s. Duplicate copies of this film are not available from the National Air and Space Museum's Archives.

I'm interested in the UFO phenomenon — does the National Air and Space Museum Archives have anything on UFOs?
No. We are predominantly concerned with identified flying objects.