This summer, the world is marking the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest milestones in aerospace history, and one of the most remarkable of all human achievements—the first Moon landing by Apollo 11. But the summer of 2009 also marks another meaningful event in aerospace history. It is the centennial of military aviation.
When a colleague of ours, the curator of the model airplane collection, Tom Dietz, passed away recently, I was reminded of the time I spoke with him about two of the Museum’s model airplanes that I find most intriguing.
Looking elegant but a bit bulky, Lieutenant Gilbert L. Meyers of the 35th Pursuit Squadron models his government issued flying ensemble: an A-8 oxygen mask, B-6 goggles, B-3 winter jacket, A-3 trousers, B-5 helmet, A-9 gloves, A-6 shoes, and S-1 harness.
On June 23, 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded ground access to West Berlin, at that time occupied by the United States, Great Britain, and France. All road, rail, and barge traffic was shut down. President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the American Military Governor of Germany, resolved to keep the city supplied by air. The resulting “Operation Vittles” – also known as the Berlin Airlift – was a massive combined effort of all the U.S. armed services and the Western powers.
On May 14, 1909, Alexander Graham Bell wrote to Charles D. Walcott, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, detailing his plans to donate C. H. Claudy’s photographs of the Wright brothers’ 1908 Army Trials at Fort Myer, Virginia. The two page letter details the significance of the photos and his desire to have them perserved by the Smithsonian institution.
Last month, the National Air and Space Museum lost long-time employee, Tom Dietz. Tom began his time at the Museum in the late 1980s as an intern, and joined the permanent staff in 1989 as a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Division.
The high-priority project these days is the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight gallery update, and several of the aircraft planned for the gallery are at the Garber Facility for cleaning, repairs, and preparation for hanging. Let’s take a quick look.
May 6th, 1944 - one month to the day before D-Day - German troops scatter for safety as Lt. Albert Lanker of the 31st Photo Reconnaissance Squadron flies fast and very low over the beach in "Outlaw", his F-5 Lightning (a variant of the Lockheed P-38 fighter). Lanker's job was to photograph the beach obstructions on the Normandy coast for the planners of the massive invasion; it was only his third mission. Jobs of this sort were called "dicing" missions, because the pilot, flying low (and unarmed) was dicing with death every time he flew.
The millions of visitors who pass through the doors of the National Air and Space Museum each year come to see the real thing, the actual air and space craft that shaped history – from the world’s first airplane to the back-up hardware for the latest robot spacecraft on its way to explore another world.
Every year, the Smithsonian holds a huge Kite Festival on the National Mall. The weekend prior to the festival, the National Air and Space Museum has a Kite Family Day where kids and their families can make their own kites, learn how to fly them, and watch indoor kite flying demonstrations. I often search the web to find out what visitors are filming, photographing, blogging and tweeting about the Museum. I found lots of images and videos of the outdoor Kite Festival, but one of our educators found this great YouTube video which captures the fun of the indoor Kite Family Day in 2008.