traveling and meeting other cultures: ideas, destinations, reviews and tips
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, National Mall Building
National Air and Space Museum, the National Mall building, entrance from Independence Ave.
Welcome center - Visitor information
Voyager - the airplane committed the first-ever, non-stop, unrefueled flight around the world.
One of the murals in Welcome Center - a favorite place for may visitors to take pictures
On the second floor
Spirit of St. Louis
SpaceShipOne and Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis
Jennys - the first aircraft in regular service used by U.S. Post Office
Part of Boeing 747
Boeing 747 cockpit interior
One of "American Flagships" (American Airlines, Douglas DC-7)
Douglas DC-7 cockpit controls
Douglas DC-7 passenger seats
Douglas DC-7 toilet compartment
Let me first tell you that the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum is one of the best - if not the best museum of its kind - in the world. The reason is very simple: it maintains the largest collection of air and space artifacts in the world. Perhaps not a surprise since the United States not only pioneered a sustained, controlled and powered heavier-than-air flights, but also demonstrated consistent technological leadership and advancements throughout the history of aviation and space exploration. So, if you traveling in the U.S. and visiting Washington D.C., National Air and Space Museum collections and displays may open for you an interesting part of American history and culture even if you are not very much into rockets and airplanes.
On the other hand, if aircrafts and space technology interest you, this museum can be a valuable resource as a center for research into the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight, as well as planetary science. One important thing about National Air and Space Museum to stress is its multifaceted nature. Combined with huge collections of various artifacts and displays, this makes it equally appealing for people interested in science, or history, or commercial and business aspects of aviation.
In fact, the museum has two display facilities. One is the National Mall building in Washington, D.C. In addition to hundreds of aircrafts and space artifacts, it has vast thematic collections displaying documents, working prototypes, items of historical significance as well as diagrams and models illustrating laws of physics as they are applied and used in aviation. In this building you will find the original Wright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, Boeing 747 nose and cockpit, the Apollo 11 command module and a lunar rock sample that visitors can touch.
The second facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center located near Washington Dulles Airport is focusing more on displaying many air- and spacecrafts. Among artifacts are Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay and even Space Shuttle Enterprise.
In a series of two articles we want to present you both facilities - not an easy task taking into account the immense size of collections in both buildings. Hopefully, we'll be able to give you at least a flavor these facilities so that you can decide if they are worth your visit. This article deals with the National Mall building, the second article about the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is coming soon.
The part of the National Air and Space Museum located in the National Mall building (see museum entrance from Independence Ave.) is more of a traditional museum with its focus not only on exhibiting aircrafts but also on displaying a vast variety of objects, models, diagrams, and documents that relate to aviation.
A good example illustrating this point may a number of artifacts that illustrate passenger accommodations and their evolution throughout the history of commercial aviation. Look at the bench (or, actually take a seat to understand better this evolution) that shows changes in the width of passenger seats in different aircrafts. Not less interesting is the interior of older passenger aircrafts (Pan American World Airways, a model of one of its 'flying boats' (Boeing 314) and early days passenger seats). And how about this vintage decor and conveniences in one of "American Flagships" (Douglas DC-7, airliner passenger and toilet compartments).
And how about airline trip insurance coin machine? Have you ever heard about anything like this - 25¢ each $7,500 for up to $300,000 of insurance while traveling in an airplane? A lot of things has changed since times when machines like this were used. Flight insurance is not offered anymore which clearly points to changes in our perception of aviation in general and in particular aviation safety.
Museum collections are so vast that it may take more than one day/visit to explore all of them. If you want to be thorough, plan this exploration by museum thematic sections; currently, there are 22 of them located on two floors. I think two sections are a must see: "Milestones by Flight" and "America by Air."
"Milestones by Flight" is the first thematic collection you see when entering the museum. After passing security and Welcome center (do not miss murals in Welcome Center - a favorite place for may visitors to take pictures) you enter a huge space filled with artifacts. All of them mark important milestones in transforming the human dream of flying into reality. You will see Spirit of St. Louis (the aircraft Charles Lindbergh used to complete the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight) and Voyager - the airplane committed the first-ever, nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world. Indeed, both represent two important milestones reflecting technological developments in aviation - and quite a contrast between the two.
There is always the first time: SpaceShipOne and Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis hanging from the ceiling next to each other - the first privately build piloted vehicle to reach space and the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound. By the way, sometimes it's difficult to see some of the airplanes standing on the first floor; the museum has a long and wide walk on the second floor that allows for better viewing of many flying machines.
"America by Air" mentioned above is located almost at the very end of the West Gallery. It is located on the same side of the building as "Milestones by Flight." While moving to "America by Air", you will pass the Museum Store - with its 12,000 sq. feet of retail space, the largest within Smithsonian museums. The main level sells products catering to aviation and space collectors and enthusiasts, as well as postcards, souvenirs and guidebooks. The upper level offers an expansive book department and a multimedia section. If you are with kids, do not forget to visit the store's lower level to find family oriented products including interesting toys.
The "America by Air" gallery describes the history of America's airline industry. It is dominated by the nose section of Boeing 747. Use the airplane entrance accessible from the second floor to Boeing 747 cockpit interior.
A number of complete aircrafts from the early days of airline industry are on the display in "America by Air." They include Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor, front part of Douglas DC-7 (you can also enter it to see its interiors including DC-7 cockpit), Jennys - the first aircraft in regular service used by U.S. Post Office, Douglas DC-3, Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing and others.
"America by Air" is the gallery where you can start appreciating the scope and depth of museum displays. In addition to actual aircrafts (and their models), museum provides an excellent opportunity to learn about airline industry and its history, political, social and cultural changes and issues relating to the industry, airline security and safety, airline technology, air traffic control, flying experience - you name it.
For example, there is a very interesting displays regarding the air traffic controllers strike. Most likely, you will spend at least 10 - 15 minutes watching Airbus A320 flight simulator performing aircraft landing and taking off from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Both, kids and adults love to play with models showing concepts and actual implementation of flight control systems from early to modern times. It is your personal experience in trying to use them to overcome various forces of resistance that make you understand and appreciate technological developments that propel aviation to new heights.
To be continued...
"Evolution" of airliner passenger seats
Pan American World Airways, a model of one of its 'flying boats' (Boeing 314)
Early days passenger seats
Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor
1927 Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing
Airline Trip Insurance coin machine
Airbus A320 Flight Simulator
Flight control systems from early to modern times
Air traffic controllers strike
Second floor, West Gallery view
Model of an aircraft carrier
Inside the simulated aircraft carrier USS Smithsonian
Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air
Entrance to the "Early Flight" section