In the years following WWII the United States and her Allies conducted engineering and flight tests of many different types of captured or surrendered Axis aircraft, primarily from Germany and Japan. Many of these aircraft were acquired by Allied and US technical intelligence collection teams. It was ordered that at least one of each type of enemy aircraft be captured and evaluated by these teams, and that each aircraft type be maintained in flyable condition for a minimum of one year. To make this possible all technical data and support materiel available (such as tool kits, parts, etc.) had to also be captured to meet this requirement.
Next year, the National Air and Space Museum will begin restoring and preserving aircraft in the brand-new Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, part of the Phase Two complex now under construction at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. To treat the aircraft, the Museum applies a philosophy and range of techniques that have steadily evolved through the years.
The Archives Division at the National Air and Space Museum has lots of really neat items. Most things come to us in good condition and need very little preservation before being made available to the public.
One of the things that makes being an educator here great is our teaching collection. I’m lucky, I work with a curatorial and collections staff that considers our needs as educators and provides the public with deaccessioned items they can touch and examine up close. Our teaching collection currently contains real space food, shuttle tiles, bits of airplanes, meteorites, uniforms and other assorted items. However, not all the items are real; our most popular replica is the shuttle era space suit. The suit has been part of the Discovery Station Program for over ten years. It was purchased with a grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee and is part of the Living and Working in Space Discovery Station, our most popular station, largely because of the suit. The station gets an average of 40,000 visitors yearly, but that’s only a portion of the crowds the suit sees. It has also become a key object used for family days, story times and school tours.
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.
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.
The high-priority project these days is the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight gallery update, and several of the aircraft planned for the gallery are at the Garber Facility for cleaning, repairs, and preparation for hanging. Let’s take a quick look.
One of the best things about working at the National Air and Space Museum is going to the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility every now and then. The museum keeps aircraft that is being restored and artifacts that need special storage conditions–like spacesuits!—out there.