As the summer comes to an end, it’s time for many to go back to school. Most students have mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation at the thought of returning. Imagine how the students at the earliest aviation schools felt!
While it might come as a bit of a shock, the topics of aviation and sharks rarely intersect here at the National Air and Space Museum. (Sure we have some nifty nose art, but admit it; connecting these two subjects in any way, shape, or form is really quite a stretch!) Luckily, just in time for Shark Week, the NASM Archives accessioned a new item into its collection: The Harry Bingham Brown Scrapbook (Acc. No. 2014-0038)!
Every Fourth of July, visitors and locals alike crowd the National Mall to watch the fireworks show with the Washington Monument as one of its focal points. The monument reopened to the public in May 2014 as the last vestiges of scaffolding were removed from it, a visible reminder of the damage caused by a 2011 earthquake. Every year, thousands of visitors photograph themselves on the National Mall with the monument in the background. It is no surprise that it is popular in aviation photography as well.
This, the 87th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s epic solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1927, gives us an opportunity to revisit the diminutive Ryan airplane that carried the twentieth century’s best known aviator into history.
Aerial weddings may now be considered quite commonplace. Just a quick online search turns up a number of places that provide skydiving services. But in the nineteenth century, the idea of flying at all was still exciting. Balloon weddings? Those were spectacles! Mary West Jenkins and Dr. John F. Boyton intended to be married on November 8, 1865, in Thaddeus Lowe’s balloon, high over New York City.
For many people, sitting down and reading a thick history book is not the most exciting proposal. I have had more than one relative question my choice to study history, and inform me that it was their least enjoyable class in school. Luckily for them, history can be found in more places than traditional scholarly textbooks. History can be found in television, movies, and even comic books. Although it may be more enjoyable to experience history in this way, these sources may not always be the most accurate representations.
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.
In 1898, Walter Wellman led an attempt to reach the North Pole using ship and sledge via Franz Josef Land, a group of uninhabited Russian islands in the Arctic Ocean. A journalist who had already made an unsuccessful polar attempt in 1894, Wellman also hoped to discover what had become of Swedish explorer Salomon A. Andrée, who had attempted to reach the Pole via balloon in 1897. Many notable names provided funding for the expedition, including President William McKinley, Vice President Garret Hobart, J.P. Morgan, and William K. Vanderbilt. The expedition arrived at Franz Josef Land in July 1898 and built their headquarters, “Harmsworth House.” Wellman sent Evelyn B. Baldwin, a meteorologist with the United States Weather Bureau and a veteran of one of Robert Peary’s Greenland expeditions, ahead north to establish an outpost to be used in the spring for their push to the Pole.
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.