Cecil “Teddy” Kenyon (1905-1985), on the left, and her husband Theodore “Ted” Whitman Kenyon (1899-1978) were a flying family – when they weren’t trick-or-treating, as this 1940s photograph from their collection in the Museum’s Archives Division shows. Teddy learned to fly from Ted, a pilot with Colonial Airlines and inventor, in 1929. She was a charter member of the Ninety-Nines, the preeminent women’s pilot organization, and won the National Sportswomen Flying Championship in 1933. She later flew with the Civil Air Patrol, and was a test pilot for Grumman Aircraft during World War II – flying, among other planes, the F6F Hellcat – which makes the Kenyons’ choice of Halloween costumes fairly appropriate. In 1960, Teddy earned her helicopter pilot’s license and was still flying well into her 70s.
At this time of year when apparitions and fanciful creatures stroll sidewalks in search of treats, it’s a good time to remember that not all aircraft are what they seem.
In World War One, observation balloons were the bane of the battlefield. Under their prying eyes, it was hard to surprise someone on the other side of the trenches with your plans when they saw your troops massing before an attack. So balloons were a prime target for fighter aircraft. But balloons were heavily guarded by anti-aircraft defenses. In some cases the balloons themselves were a trap, the basket where observers would stand were filled instead with explosives and dummies, and wired to explode with such intensity that the attacking aircraft would be brought down, or at least to think twice before pressing home an attack on another balloon.
During World War Two, dummy aircraft were created to mislead the enemy. For the Flying Tigers in China, their small numbers stretched thin by the distances they needed to cover, deceiving the Japanese as to their strength and operating locations was an important consideration. Crews working at an airfield using the materials they found handy, built dummy wood-framed Curtiss P-40s. These faux fighters could not move, much less fly, but in size and shape, covered in fabric and painted the right colors, would appear to be more of the shark-mouthed marauders parked about an airstrip waiting to respond to a Japanese attack.
The airfields of Europe also resorted to military mimicry; German operated forward airstrips used dummy Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Junkers Ju 87 Stukas to inflate their apparent numbers during the build up to the Battle of Britain. But if any scouts, spies or reconnaissance aircraft happened to catch sight of the fakes while under construction, the false flyers were revealed as phonies. An apocryphal story is told of an airfield of wooden Messerschmitts being bombed by the Royal Air Force, using wooden bombs. But then such a mission would still be dangerous in the face of anti-aircraft fire, and it would also tip the hand that the ruse had been spoilt.
Dummies today are more difficult to pull off, many sensors are no longer just optical, but can detect heat from engines, or dissimilar materials and paints. So the fakes must incorporate more, to the point that in some cases it is no longer economically viable to do such a ruse.
Brian Nicklas is a museum specialist, aeronautics in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Division.
The afternoon of October 15, 2009 was one of those rare moments when Americans from coast-to-coast were riveted to their television sets by a news story unfolding in real time. Six year old Falcon Heene was reported to be trapped aboard a helium balloon floating across the Colorado landscape at 7000 feet. The image on the screen was surreal, a strange craft looking like a cross between a Mylar grocery store balloon and a flying saucer, with a small circular structure on the bottom that appeared to be just large enough to house a small child. When the balloon came naturally to earth after a fifty mile flight, however, the boy was not aboard. Had he fallen to his death somewhere along the way? What appeared to be a tragedy in the making came to a happy ending when young Falcon was found hiding in a box where he had hidden to avoid the consequences of having accidently released his father’s experimental balloon. Ultimately, however, matters grew even more complex when local authorities launched an investigation to determine if the entire thing had been a hoax staged by the family.
I was one of very few television viewers who knew that runaway balloons, even runaway balloons with children on board, were big news a century and a half ago. Balloonist Timothy Winchester disappeared in 1855 during an attempt to fly across Lake Erie. Ira Thurston met his end over the same body of water on the afternoon of August 16, 1858 when he was accidently carried aloft by a balloon he was trying to deflate. Even the most experienced aeronauts occasionally fell victim to runaway balloons. Washington Donaldson vanished while attempting to fly across Lake Michigan in 1875. Four years later, seventy-one year old John Wise, who had completed 463 ascents since he first took to the air in 1835, disappeared while attempting the same feat.
Few of those tragedies captured public interest like the accidental aerial voyage of eight year old Martha Ann Harvey and her three year old brother David. The story begins with balloonist Samuel Wilson, who ascended from Centralia, Illinois on the morning of October 23, 1858 and flew twenty miles to a landing in the top of a tree owned by farmer Benjamin Harvey. The farmer and his neighbors assisted Wilson in extricating his balloon, after which Harvey climbed into the basket, hoping to make a tethered ascent. When he proved too heavy, he placed his three children in the car. The father instructed his oldest daughter to climb out when the balloon still refused to rise, leaving the two youngest children in the basket alone.
Startled to find the balloon rising at last, the inexperienced ground crew lost their grip on the tether line. A dangling grappling hook tore through a rail fence as the craft climbed out of the farmyard. The distraught parents stood helplessly by as Martha’s cries of “Pull me down father!” grew ever fainter. Horsemen immediately set out to alert the countryside, while a party of men and boys tried unsuccessfully to follow the drifting balloon.
The news created a sensation in Centralia. The aeronaut assured everyone who would listen that the balloon would return to earth of its own accord within an hour or two, probably within thirty miles of the take off point. His words were of little comfort, however, as night fell with the children still somewhere aloft.
At 3 o’clock the following morning, Mr. Ignatio Atchison stepped out on his porch to observe Donati’s Comet. Instead, he saw “an immense spectre rising from the top of a tree twenty yards away.” Approaching closer, he heard a faint voice: “Come here and let us down. We are almost frozen.” The lost had been found.
News of the rescue was announced in area churches that Sunday to “ecstasies of joy.” The children returned home the next day to be greeted by the discharge of cannon “and a general jubilee.” William Matthews, the local daguerreotype artist, captured an image of the young hero and heroine in their Sunday best. An engraved copy of the photo appeared in the illustrated newspapers of the era, spreading the story of the balloon adventure of the Harvey children across the nation. As in the case of Falcon Heene, all’s well that ends well.
Tom Crouch is Senior Curator for Aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum.
As mentioned in Dom Pisano’s recent post “From Collecting to Curating,” six interns, including myself, and two volunteers (with our supervisor, enough for a baseball team!) photographed, scanned and catalogued much of the museum’s collection of over 1,300 posters at the Paul E. Garber Facility‘s collections processing unit this summer. It sounds like a lot of posters, but you may not have seen any of them, unless you have a great memory of advertisements you glimpsed in airports over the years while running to catch your plane. Selections from the posters have been published, but the collection is now receiving the “full treatment” by museum staff, interns, and volunteers.
This marks the first time the poster collection, which includes graphic art published from as early as 1827 up to the twenty-first century, has been accessible to the public as an archive, since the majority of it has remained in storage in Suitland, Maryland. The collection provides a wealth of information related to balloons, early flight, military and commercial aviation, and space flight, documenting aerospace history and technology while providing a window into popular culture. As a student of art history, I found the collection visually engaging and historically significant. As a young museum professional, I gained experience physically working with the objects, recording and organizing information, photographing, identifying methods used to print the posters, and even had a lot of fun!
Now that the collection is online, scholars will be able to contribute to knowledge, study and discussion of this valuable resource. Working hands-on within a collection that was not accessible to many people, the group working on the project developed the feeling that this was “our” collection in a sense, and it is a thrill to now be able to share it. It is a diverse collection, wide-ranging in terms of subject, country of origin and time period, and thus it will make an excellent educational tool. Photographing and documenting the posters was part of a larger, ongoing effort to provide images and relevant information about the National Air and Space Museum’s art collection to the public, all while preparing the collections to move to the new Phase Two Collection Storage Facility at the Steve F. Udvar-Hazy Center. So, take a look at the collection and tell us what you think!
Amelia Brakeman Kile is an intern in the Collections Processing Unit at the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility.
When you visit the Udvar-Hazy Center and see the Air France Concorde on display, it’s hard to believe such a beautiful “bird” is no longer in service. I remember the day it flew into Dulles Airport on its final flight in June 2003, and how modern and elegant it looked as it landed. Once on the ground, it was parked for a while next to the Boeing Stratoliner and the Boeing Dash-80, two of its predecessors from the 1930s and 1950s respectively. The contrast among the three airliners was striking.
So why did the supersonic Concorde have to retire? It all boiled down to money.
In January 1976, the Concorde began flying to the United States. The Concorde would cruise at twice the speed of sound between 55,000 and 60,000 feet — so high that passengers could actually see the curvature of the Earth. Transatlantic flight time was half that of conventional jet aircraft, with the average flight taking less than four hours.
Eventually, however, the Concorde became too expensive to operate. For instance, it was only capable of carrying 60 passengers from Paris to Washington, D.C. – 40 shy of its maximum capacity of 100. Furthermore, many of these flights operated at half full, making matters worse. By 2003, Concorde ticket costs averaged around $12,000, and needless to say not many people could afford that!
With an average of one ton of fuel consumed per seat, the already small market for the Concorde gradually grew smaller. Routes were cut back, leaving London to New York and Paris to New York as the only routes. The unfortunate Concorde accident in 2000 added to the aircraft’s problems.
Air France Concorde service ended on May 31, 2003, and British Airways ceased operations on October 24, 2003.
Isn’t it frustrating to think that the technology exists to whisk us across the pond in less than four hours, but no such service is available!
Kathy Hanser is a Writer-Editor in the Office of Communications at the National Air and Space Museum.