2019 was a big year at the National Air and Space Museum, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, commemorated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and worked hard on our ongoing renovation. We shared stories about these projects and more on the blog this year. Let’s dive into five of the most popular stories of 2019.
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.
Cecil “Teddy” Kenyon (1905-1985), on the left, and her husband Theodore "Ted" Whitman Kenyon (1899-1978) were a flying family – when they weren’t trick-or-treating, as this 1940s photograph from their collection in the Museum’s Archives Division shows.
The afternoon of October 15, 2009 was one of those rare moments when Americans from coast-to-coast were riveted to their television sets by a news story unfolding in real time. Six year old Falcon Heene was reported to be trapped aboard a helium balloon floating across the Colorado landscape at 7000 feet. The image on the screen was surreal, a strange craft looking like a cross between a Mylar grocery store balloon and a flying saucer, with a small circular structure on the bottom that appeared to be just large enough to house a small child. When the balloon came naturally to earth after a fifty mile flight, however, the boy was not aboard.
As mentioned in Dom Pisano’s recent post “From Collecting to Curating,” six interns, including myself, and two volunteers (with our supervisor, enough for a baseball team!) photographed, scanned and catalogued much of the museum’s collection of over 1,300 posters at the Paul E. Garber Facility's collections processing unit this summer. It sounds like a lot of posters, but you may not have seen any of them, unless you have a great memory of advertisements you glimpsed in airports over the years while running to catch your plane.
The Museum-going public doesn’t often get the opportunity to observe the work that goes on behind the scenes in a museum. The National Air and Space Museum’s poster collection is a case in point. The items in this collection, which range from notices for early aviation exhibitions to commercial airline advertising, were collected over many years. It is only recently, however, that the posters have been curated; i.e., cared for as a collection.