Cyrus K. Bettis was a leading US Army Air Service pilot in the 1920s that became the world’s fastest air racer in 1925. In July 2018, members of his family visited the Museum to donate artifacts and archival materials documenting his life near the airplane that he flew and the prizes that he won.
May 20-21, 2010, marked the 83rd anniversary of Charles A. Lindbergh’s historic solo, nonstop flight from New York to Paris. As a result of this feat, Lindbergh became an instant hero and celebrity. But how do we explain the overpowering public reaction to what some thought was a stunt? In his essay titled, “The Meaning of Lindbergh’s Flight,” published in 1960, historian John William Ward theorized that Lindbergh enabled Americans to look both forward to the technological future, which they feared and misunderstood, and backward to their pioneering past. A more cynical interpretation is that while Lindbergh’s flight was a truly courageous act, he became famous for being famous. Also, we know that his advisors crafted a tightly-managed persona and created a squeaky-clean, idealized public image of him. There is perhaps more than a grain of truth in each analysis.
It was 78 years ago, on May 20, 1932, that Amelia Earhart set out in her Lockheed 5B Vega to become the first woman to fly nonstop and alone over the Atlantic Ocean. Departing from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and landing in Londonderry, Northern Ireland about 15 hours later, she also became only the second person to solo the Atlantic, the first being Charles Lindbergh in 1927. It was also her second trip across the Atlantic. Earhart first came to the public’s attention four years earlier, in June 1928, when she made headlines for doing nothing more than riding as a passenger--but she was the first female to do so. And although it didn’t matter to the public that she never touched the controls of the aircraft during the transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Wales, it mattered to Earhart.
This month marks 80 years of female flight attendants. It's hard to imagine a time without them, but until 1930, airlines employed male stewards. That changed when Ellen Church, a nurse from Iowa, approached Steve Simpson at Boeing Air Transport (later United Airlines) with the radical idea of putting women nurses on airliners.
The superlatives tend to pile up pretty quickly when it comes to the rigid airship Hindenburg, the pride of the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei line...It’s a shame, though, that the Hindenburg is remembered today primarily for its tragic final flight.
Sometimes seemingly ordinary people become extraordinary by staying remarkably calm and capable in a crisis. The crew of US Airways Flight 1549 performed exceptionally on January 15, 2009, when their Airbus A320 jetliner became disabled over New York City after flying through a flock of geese moments after they took off from LaGuardia Airport. Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles masterfully guided the powerless aircraft to an emergency “landing” on the Hudson River.
National Air and Space Museum staff are hard at work renovating the Pioneers of Flight gallery, scheduled to open later this year. It will be filled with the fascinating stories of the colorful personalities of early aviation, including Jimmy Doolittle, Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, and Charles and Anne Lindbergh, plus Robert Goddard and other rocket pioneers. One of the featured artifacts is the newly cleaned Lockheed Sirius Tingmissartoq, the dual cockpit plane that carried Charles and Anne Lindbergh on their exploratory trips across several continents in 1931 and 1933. The trips made headlines and were the basis for two popular books written by Anne, North to the Orient and Listen, the Wind! Cognizant of their place in history, the Lindberghs carefully saved the majority of items they packed for the trips. Now after several decades in storage, many will be on display for the first time.
I was perusing that perennial bestseller, the FAA’s “Aeronautical Information Manual,” the other night, and ran across an intriguing reference to code beacons and course lights. Code beacons, in general, flash identifying information in Morse code; coded course lights are used with rotating beacons of the Federal Airway System, are highly directional, and are paired back-to-back pointed along the airway. What interested me was the appended note:
Add wildlife conservation to the growing list of special jobs that only ultralight aircraft can do. Right now, a volunteer group called Operation Migration is using Cosmos Phase II ultralights to lead a flock of endangered whooping cranes on the first migration of their young lives, from Wisconsin to Florida. The excellent control and performance of the ultralight at speeds much slower than more conventional aircraft makes this possible. After months of intensive training, the Operation Migration staff have trained the birds to follow the ultralight as though it were another crane.
The Smithsonian acquired its Jenny in 1918, only days after the Armistice ending World War I. The airplane was re-covered in the 1920s, and remains completely original from that time. The Museum's Jenny is one of the true jewels of the collection. It has a particular place of pride in my curatorial responsibilities, and the whole museum staff has a great soft spot in our hearts for our Jenny. When the opportunity to put it on display in the Mall museum presented itself with the building of the new commercial aviation exhibition, America by Air, a few years ago, I was delighted to make it available to the curator of the new gallery. When the exhibition opened in 2007, it was a great success and the Jenny looked fabulous on its perch, drawing visitors toward America by Air. A museum favorite finally was center stage for all to enjoy.