National Air and Space Museum staff are hard at work renovating the Pioneers of Flight gallery, scheduled to open later this year. It will be filled with the fascinating stories of the colorful personalities of early aviation, including Jimmy Doolittle, Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, and Charles and Anne Lindbergh, plus Robert Goddard and other rocket pioneers. One of the featured artifacts is the newly cleaned Lockheed Sirius Tingmissartoq, the dual cockpit plane that carried Charles and Anne Lindbergh on their exploratory trips across several continents in 1931 and 1933. The trips made headlines and were the basis for two popular books written by Anne, North to the Orient and Listen, the Wind!
Cognizant of their place in history, the Lindberghs carefully saved the majority of items they packed for the trips. Now after several decades in storage, many will be on display for the first time. Museum visitors will be amazed at the collection and will recognize Lindbergh’s impressive planning insight. Because most people pack for travel at some point, visitors of all backgrounds will connect to the challenges of what to take on such lengthy trips. From malted milk tablets (the granola bars of the day), to an almost 11 ft. long wooden sled, snowshoes and ice crampons (in case of emergency landing on Greenland’s ice cap) to a rubber boat with mast and sail (in case of emergency landing at sea), the plane was carefully packed with items to anticipate every possible emergency scenario. More amusing objects include insect repellent and cans of food rations like beef tongue.
Each time I work on an exhibition, I become intrigued with several specific artifacts. With this gallery, one is the armbrust cup. This strange object worn over the face, converts condensation from breath into drinking water – for use in emergency landings at sea. Since weight restrictions were an ever-present challenge, the Lindberghs could take only a limited supply of water. Lindbergh had read about this new invention before his solo flight across the Atlantic and took one along. He also took them along on the trips in the Sirius. There is no record that he or Anne used them, thanks to smooth flights, but perhaps they helped provide peace of mind. Obviously he considered them worth their added weight.
One question we had was the correct name of the artifact. We encountered several spellings and were not sure which was correct. In Anne’s books, it is listed as an “armburst” cup. Finally, our curator did some excellent sleuthing and found the original patent, given to Charles W. Armbrust. Who out there has heard of an Armbrust cup? Have you read Anne Lindbergh’s books listed above? What did you think? Let us know.
Tim Grove is Acting Chief of Education at the National Air and Space Museum, National Mall Building.