Most of the thousands of World War I photographs in the collections of the Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department are grimly utilitarian – aerial views of trenches, aircraft and details of their construction and the damage they sustained during dangerous missions. But the young pilots who flew those missions had a reputation for light-heartedness, and found their fun wherever and whenever they could.
December 17, 2013, marked the 110th anniversary of the first powered, controlled flight of an airplane. Wilbur Wright had made the first attempt three days before, when the brothers laid their 60 foot launch rail down the lower slope of the Kill Devil Hill...He had set up a camera that morning, pointed at the spot where he thought the airplane would be in the air. When John T. Daniels walked up the beach with three other surf men from the nearby Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station, Orville asked him to squeeze the bulb operating the shutter if anything interesting happened. The result was what has arguably become the most famous photograph ever taken.
Recently, however, some skeptics have suggested that the image does not depict a real flight at all.
The high-flying long-range North American P-51 Mustang escort fighter was a war-winning weapon for the United States and its Allies during World War II. As American Mustang pilots protected bombers and pursued their enemies in the air over Europe and the Pacific, they earned a place for themselves and their airplane in the annals of military and aviation history. The availability of surplus Mustangs and other fighters such as the Corsair, Bearcat, Airacobra, and Lightning after World War II and into the 1950s helped create what we call the “warbird” community today.
During World War II, a group of young, enthusiastic and skilled African American men pressed the limits of flight and the boundaries of racial inequality by becoming Army Air Forces pilots. Most of these pilots trained at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama.
The relationship between film, history, and mass culture is especially intriguing when we examine the correspondences between the representation of pilot-heroes in film and public perceptions of aviation. These connections are applicable during the heyday of the aviation genre film—the interwar years and WWII.
During the recently completed centennial of naval aviation (2011), there were many and varied tributes to the factual history of naval aviation. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that public perception of the armed forces is also a strong historical consideration.
Airplane designers will tell you that the wing is the heart of an airplane. For conventional airplanes, it provides most of the lift generated by the airplane; the fuselage and tail contribute only a few percent of the overall lift of the airplane.
Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website .
During the past two years, it has been my privilege to work closely with the curatorial staff of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to locate an aircraft with a lineage tied directly to the Tuskegee Airmen. We were fortunate enough to accomplish the mission that will culminate in the acquisition of a PT-13 Stearman that flew at Moton Field, Alabama, during WW II—the home of the Tuskegee Airmen.