I had to hold back my emotions as I photographed the blue and gold F/A-18C Hornet aircraft approaching the Udvar-Hazy Center on November 18, 2020, by the realization that my photography career had, in some way, just come full circle. My journey began back in 1973 when I had the good fortune of being assigned as the photographer for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team.
This is a story about light and time and distance, about years and light years and how they intersect. It is partly a personal story, so I beg your indulgence. I hope it will inspire you to find your own star. I moved from Boston to Northern Virginia in November 1983 to work as an editor for a national association. In my free time, I began exploring the museums on the National Mall. I visited the National Air and Space Museum for the first time, and there I encountered an exhibit I’ve remembered ever since.
Led by object conservator and project leader Lauren Horelick, the National Air and Space Museum staff continues preparing the Horten IX V3 center section to move early in January (weather and roads permitting) to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where it will eventually be joined to the outer wing panels that are already displayed in the hangar.
Although the collection of the National Air and Space Museum contains some of the best air- and spacecraft, it also has one of the best collections of artifacts from the often forgotten days of ballooning. Before humans were able to fly into the heavens on wings or rockets, they first rose off the ground in balloons, often tethered to prevent complete flight.
The possibility of human mechanical flight held particular fascination for Leonardo da Vinci. He produced more than 35,000 words and 500 sketches dealing with flying machines, the nature of air, and bird flight. He produced one notebook, or codex, almost entirely on flight in 1505-1506, known as the Codex on Bird Flights. In this codex, Leonardo outlined a number of observations and beginning concepts that would find a place in the development of a successful airplane in the early twentieth century. This extraordinary document, exhibited outside of Italy only a few times, is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age gallery from September 13-October 22, 2013. The story of the journey of the Codex on the Flight of Birds from the hand of Leonardo to the National Air and Space Museum exhibit is as fascinating as the document itself.
A leading pioneer in the sport gyroplane community, Ken Wallis passed away on September 1, 2013. He is best remembered as Sean Connery’s stand-in during the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Wallis appeared as Agent 007 while flying the “Little Nellie” gyroplane of his own design.
As you turn to leave, you suddenly stop, frozen in wonder, beholding an oasis so calm and cool and quiet that your airplane-addled, spaced-out brain can hardly believe it isn’t a mirage. It’s not. On your floor plan it’s labeled Flight and the Arts. And much to their loss and to your relief, most visitors overlook it.