Topic

Early Flight

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Thu, August 22 2013

Leonardo da Vinci and Flight

Until the nineteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci was generally known only as a painter.  Little or nothing of his sculpture or engineering works survived, and his notebooks, the only surviving evidence of his insatiable curiosity and fertile mind regarding science and technology, were long hidden away, dispersed in private hands.  It was only after 1800 that the record of his intellectual and technical accomplishments, the thousands of pages of writings and drawings that we collectively refer to today as Leonardo’s codices, began to surface, be studied, and published. 

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Thu, July 4 2013

Up in the Air on the Fourth

Uncle Sam and two lovely ladies cruise serenely above the clouds — avoiding all those holiday traffic jams — in this patriotic postcard by the great postcard artist Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle (1865-1934), who had a real talent for holiday-themed airships.

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Thu, February 21 2013

Civil War Planes

In a recent post, Tom Paone described the plans of William Powell, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, for a Confederate helicopter. In fact, Powell’s scheme was only the tip of the iceberg. In researching a scholarly paper on Civil War Planes, I have catalogued a score of plans for powered flying machines developed on both sides of the battle lines. Perhaps the most interesting of these was the work of Colonel Edward Wellman Serrell , a professional engineer serving with the Union Army of the James in 1864. Inspired by the well-known hand-held helicopter toy, Serrell had begun studying aeronautics several years before the War.

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Wed, January 23 2013

Plans for the Little Known Confederate Helicopter

As my colleague Dr. Tom Crouch referenced in a previous post, our nation is currently in the midst of commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War (or sesquicentennial for you Latin fans). 

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Thu, June 21 2012

Watching the War From Above

The nation is in the process of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and those of us at the Smithsonian are very much involved, searching our collections for items that will help our visitors better understand the conflict that divided 19th century America. As might be expected, the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Museum of American Art preserve and display a wealth of objects, portraits, and images that help to bring the Civil War era to life. Who would have guessed, however, that the National Air and Space Museum would hold a single object used by more high ranking Union Army officers than any other surviving artifact in the entire Smithsonian collection!

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Tue, April 24 2012

Pilot Error, Evidently

 In the years before the invention of the flight data recorder, the "black box" that records essential flight data, an aircraft accident investigation could occasionally degenerate into a mere finger-pointing exercise, like this one from Russia during World War I — a group of aviation cadets at the Gatchina Military Flying School near Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) point fingers of scorn at a student pilot identified only as "Ivanov" after his less than perfect landing, fortunately injuring only his dignity.

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Sat, December 17 2011

WINGS: From the Wright Brothers to the Present

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.

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Sun, October 23 2011

The Tomboy of the Air

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 .

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Fri, September 9 2011

Preserving and Displaying the “Bat-Wing Ship” – August Update

This post is a follow up to Preserving and Displaying the "Bat-Wing Ship" published on June 24, 2011.

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Tue, April 19 2011

The Real Wright Flyer

Things such as the Hope Diamond, the Star Spangled Banner, the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis airplane are good examples—one-of-a-kind items, familiar to all, and widely known to reside at the Smithsonian.  Also in this subset of signature objects is one of the most significant in the entire Smithsonian collection—the Wright Flyer, the world’s first airplane.

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