Opened on July 1, 1976, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. is an incredible place where one can go to discover the magic of flight.
Being able to travel the world in jet setting airplanes can all be attributed to the Wright brothers. Two innovative Ohio natives who took their expertise to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and in 1903 successfully was able to get an airplane off the ground for nearly a minute.
While the brothers celebrated on the beach following four short flight hops, a brisk wind caught “The Flyer” and flipped it over four times breaking it into pieces. Carefully collecting each piece, the broken plane was placed in boxes in storage for many years. The pieces were then turned over to the museum and The Flyer was put back together and is on display.
To help encourage the development of flight, in 1911 William Randolph Hearst offered a $50,000 prize to the first plane that successfully crossed the country in 30 days. Calbraith Perry Rodgers convinced J. Ogden Armour of the meatpacker fame to sponsor him. Promoting Armour’s new grape drink “Vin Fiz” Rodgers took the Wright Brother’s pusher bi-plane past its limits and history was made once again.
With a plane that could hold only three hours of fuel aboard and a total of 75 stops and 16 crashes, Rodgers actually missed the prize deadline by 19 days. He ended up in the hospital due to injuries sustained from a crash shortly after the 4,000 mile journey.
The evolution of flight happened quickly and in short order aircrafts were able to go further without stopping. Perhaps the one aviator that made the most impact on aviation is Charles Lindbergh and “The Spirit of St. Louis.” Named after the residents of St. Louis, Lindbergh and Spirit left on the historic day of May 21, 1927 from New York and arrived in Paris safely 33 1/2 hours later. The journey is beautifully portrayed in the movie “The Spirit of St. Louis” starring Jimmy Stewart (1957.)
Close behind his heels, Lindbergh had a female aviator competitor. Found in Amelia Earhart, a brave and well connected pilot who successfully flew across the country solo, and then the Atlantic five years after Lindbergh’s crossing. Attempting a flight around the world, the mystery of her disappearance while crossing the Pacific Ocean in 1937 will always remain.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is free and offers daily tours where volunteer docents share their in-depth knowledge of aviation and the aircrafts in the museum. It certainly is a ‘must visit’ when in Washington D.C.
“After midnight, the moon set, and I was alone with the stars. I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, and I need no other flight to convince me that the reason flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the esthetic appeal of flying.” Amelia Earhart