The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has the world’s premier collection of aviation and space artifacts. Less well-known is that the museum also has an outstanding collection of aerospace models.
You may be surprised to know that in addition to the largest collection of authentic aviation- and space-related artifacts in the world, our Museum also has an impressive model collection. Our model collection contains more than 5,700 models of aircraft, balloons, and more. Nearly 1,100 of those models are on display at our Museum and the rest are in storage. Approximately 800 of those models share space with our staff on the third floor of the Museum in Washington, DC. But not for much longer. Last June, we began the time-consuming process of relocating the models from the third floor to storage at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The move was brought on by a multi-year project at the Museum in DC to upgrade the exterior of the building and the interior mechanical systems. Before construction begins, the models need to be moved. How do you relocate more than 800 delicate models?
In his memoir Moon Lander, Grumman project manager Thomas Kelly describes the exhilaration at Grumman for winning the contract to build what became the Lunar Module (LM), followed by trepidation when the design team realized the severe weight restraints they had to work under in order to get two astronauts safely to the lunar surface and back to lunar orbit. At the outset, Grumman and NASA worked with an initial estimate of 30,200 pounds, which was within the limits of the Saturn V’s booster capability; but this began to grow ominously as the work progressed.
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.
When the National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976, the production model of the Starship Enterprise was prominently and dramatically displayed hanging at the entrance of “Life in the Universe” gallery. Later, when that gallery closed, and the starship was moved to several other locations within the museum.
When a colleague of ours, the curator of the model airplane collection, Tom Dietz, passed away recently, I was reminded of the time I spoke with him about two of the Museum’s model airplanes that I find most intriguing.