The National Air and Space Museum contains some of the largest artifacts in the world, which presents many unique challenges for handling and displaying. It is up to a small group of individuals, comprised of Collections and Restoration staff, to ensure artifacts are cared for and not damaged. Carrying out these duties are neither easy or for the faint of heart as we frequently utilize heavy equipment, such as forklifts, basket and scissor lifts, cranes, etc., within inches of the artifact. Working with less than an inch is typical as well.
Additionally, as the National Air and Space Museum has so many oversized artifacts in its collection, we operate our own tractor trailer to support the museum’s 3 locations. Those who voluntarily operate the museum’s rig take on additional risks and liabilities as many more things can go wrong while loading and transporting an artifact. This is especially the case when a load is oversized. Despite being nerve racking at times, moving artifacts is usually an exhilarating experience.
One challenging move happened this past December. Collections had to transport a Beechcraft D18S (a twin engine airplane) to the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. Due to its size, being 18 feet wide with the wings removed, meant it would have to travel at night with special hauling permits. To make the move happen a lot of people and agencies were involved and coordinated with. Besides numerous departments within the Museum, agencies such as Maryland’s State Highway Administration, Maryland State Police, Virginia Dept. of Transportation, Virginia State Police, and the Virginia Dept. of Motor Vehicles also need to be contacted. Needless to say, any deviation from our original mission plan would be time consuming to change.
The day before the move date we loaded the airplane onto the trailer and made sure it was thoroughly secured and well marked/visible.
Despite being 18 feet wide, well marked, having escort vehicles complete with flashing lights, and taking up two full lanes, it is amazing with how many drivers did not keep a safe distance. Thankfully the transport went well and we arrived at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center safe, albeit tired. We pulled the tractor/trailer/plane inside to unload, which was nice as it was cold outside.
After unloading the Beech we rolled it into a staging area. Over the next few days the wings were reattached and the aircraft was raised into the air, where it now resides.
Douglas Erickson is a museum specialist in the Collections Processing Unit of the National Air and Space Museum.