On April 1, the 2013 Major League Baseball season begins. The National Air and Space Museum’s hometown Washington Nationals begin their season at home. My beloved Baltimore Orioles, however, begin their season on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida. Like most teams, they will take a chartered airplane to their destination.
Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum don’t often get to see the work that goes on behind the scenes. This is especially true in terms of the labor that goes into collecting and caring for our artifacts. Many may wonder where all the air and space stuff (we call them artifacts) comes from. The answer is from a variety of places, including the United States Air Force, NASA, and the general public. These artifacts vary; some are large (aircraft and spacecraft) but many are relatively small (aircraft equipment or military or commercial airline uniforms and insignia, for example, or items of popular culture—air and space toys and games).
Just when I think I might know something about women in aviation, or just when we think we’ve heard all the stories about “the greatest generation,” I find out about another group who contributed to the World War II effort. They were not Rosie the Riveters assembling aircraft on production lines nor were they the pilots known as the WASP. By now, most people have heard of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, 1,074 civilian women who, from 1943 to 1944, flew more than 60 million miles ferrying military aircraft, towing targets, and performing other administrative flying duties for the US Army Air Forces.
In a recent post, Tom Paone described the plans of William Powell, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, for a Confederate helicopter. In fact, Powell’s scheme was only the tip of the iceberg. In researching a scholarly paper on Civil War Planes, I have catalogued a score of plans for powered flying machines developed on both sides of the battle lines. Perhaps the most interesting of these was the work of Colonel Edward Wellman Serrell , a professional engineer serving with the Union Army of the James in 1864. Inspired by the well-known hand-held helicopter toy, Serrell had begun studying aeronautics several years before the War.
The recent seventy-fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, stirred up considerable media attention – particularly in light of another expedition to the South Pacific in the hopes of solving the mystery. While the fate of Earhart has enthralled the public since 1937, the story of how Earhart figures into the larger history of air navigation and long-distance flying is often overlooked.
As my colleague Dr. Tom Crouch referenced in a previous post, our nation is currently in the midst of commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War (or sesquicentennial for you Latin fans).
On January 10, 2012, the National Air and Space Museum Archives Department officially opened its new reading room at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center to public researchers. We welcomed six researchers that day, including two who had scheduled a trip from Germany to coincide with our grand opening.