AidSpace Blog

Cherry Blossoms at the National Air and Space Museum

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When the vernal equinox in Washington, DC, is accompanied by a cold, wet day, it’s hard to imagine that spring is actually here. But over the last few weeks the nation’s capital, has been celebrating one of its biggest annual events—the National Cherry Blossom Festival. But did you know the National Air and Space Museum has some cherry blossoms of its own?

US Army Air Forces photographer Sgt William E. "Bill" Jones, Fifth Air Force, poses with his camera standing beneath a flowering cherry tree somewhere in Japan, 1946.  NASM 9A04842

US Army Air Forces photographer Sgt William E. “Bill” Jones, Fifth Air Force, poses with his camera standing beneath a flowering cherry tree somewhere in Japan, 1946.  NASM 9A04842

If you’re not one for the crowds at the Tidal Basin, you may also enjoy a walk around the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. In April, the parking lot is lined with beautiful cherry blossoms. Explore the Wall of Honor or observe aircraft as they fly overhead on approach to Washington Dulles International Airport.

In April 2014, cherry blossoms lined the entrance to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  NASM 2014-01745

Then come inside and view the cherry blossom that immediately comes to my mind—the WWII-era Japanese aircraft Kugisho MXY7 Ohka 22, on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar. Ohka translates to “cherry blossom.” There is even a colorful bloom painted on her side (although Americans would have only seen this symbol up close as a target of a kamikaze attack).

Kugisho MXY7 Ohka (Cherry Blossom) 22 on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. NASM 9A02158

Whether or not you see the cherry blossoms in DC or your own town, enjoy your travels this spring!

Elizabeth Borja is an archivist in the Museum’s Archives Department and is always dreaming about travel.

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First Flight Around the World: An Adventure for a New Generation

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Several years ago I had the privilege of working on the core team that developed the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight gallery. The exhibition tells fascinating stories featuring some spectacular aviation icons of the 1920s and 1930s, including Amelia Earhart’s bright red Lockheed Vega and the Lindberghs’ Lockheed Sirius Tingmissartoq.  One that I wasn’t familiar with is the Douglas World Cruiser Chicago, the first airplane to fly around the world. As I worked with curator Jeremy Kinney on digging into the story and looking for new primary sources to incorporate into our presentation, I was drawn into the plane’s amazing adventure story. I asked many friends if they knew about the first flight around the world. No one did. How does such an incredible tale escape popular history? I decided that younger generations, especially, would enjoy reading about this dramatic saga.

My new book, First Flight Around the World, written for ages 10 to 14, tells the story of the eight Army Air Service men who set out in 1924 traveling west from Seattle in four Douglas World Cruisers, each named for a U.S. city–Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, and Boston. They were attempting to be the first to circumnavigate the globe. The rest of the world was not about to sit back and let the Americans claim the glory, so the quest became a race. Crews from five other countries organized world flights and the race was on.

First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race

So begins a story of teamwork and problem-solving, complex logistics, and challenges to overcome related to extreme weather, tricky navigation, unfamiliar cultures, fragile planes, and scarcity of airfields.

The flight had barely begun when the Seattle crashed into a mountain in an isolated location in Alaska. The crew, the commander of the flight and his mechanic, survived and miraculously found their way to civilization.

World Cruisers pulled up on an Alaska beach to secure them from high waves.

World Cruisers pulled up on an Alaskan beach to secure them from high waves. (SI-92-17107)

The three remaining planes skipped down the Aleutian Island chain and made the hop across the dangerous North Pacific becoming the first aviators to cross the Pacific Ocean and the first Americans to reach Japan by air.

The Chicago being hoisted by crane in Hong Kong

The Chicago being hoisted by crane in Hong Kong. (NASM – 9105605)

After the freezing cold, windy, isolation of America’s frontier, they now encountered rivers teeming with boat traffic and the hot sticky weather of tropical Southeast Asia. They saw sights they would remember forever, including sumo wrestlers and Geisha girls, elephants and crocodiles, and rice paddies clinging to steep hillsides. They also felt earthquakes.

And mechanical problems began to plague them. The Chicago’s engine suddenly overheated forcing the crew to land in a lonely lagoon in French Indochina (Vietnam). The two other crews immediately came up with a rescue plan which required travel through tiger-infested jungles and Yankee ingenuity.

The heat of the tropics gave way to the oven-like heat of the Middle East. The British RAF personnel took pity on them and gave them short pants and pith helmets. The Americans ended up with sunburned knees, but stayed cooler. In Calcutta, an Associated Press reporter who had been following their journey convinced them to allow him to ride along. He wedged himself into the Boston and tagged along, though against Army regulation. They continued on through the land of camels, and after almost two months traveling through Asia, they reached Constantinople (Istanbul) at the edge of Europe.

The airmen picked up their pace and arrived in Paris on Bastille Day, greeted by a large crowd. The Olympics were in progress and they pinched themselves as the President of France, Gaston Doumergue,  invited them to join him in reviewing a procession of athletes. They also dined with esteemed American General John J. Pershing.

Crowds greet the World Cruisers at the Paris airport. (SI-79-9004)


Crowds greeting the American airmen at Croydon, England. (NASM-9A06841)

Eager to work on their planes, they politely declined an invitation to Buckingham Palace in London but did meet the Prince of Wales, who made a friendly wager with them that he would beat them to New York. He was traveling via ocean liner.

Heading north to Scotland and the Orkney Islands, the Boston encountered mechanical problems while over the North Sea. The crew landed the plane on the open ocean and while waiting for help, the seas got rough. Help arrived, but the increasingly harsh weather forced the fliers to make a very hard decision. They abandoned the Boston and watched from the deck of a destroyer as it disappeared beneath the waves. Two planes were left.

With other world flights still in progress, the fliers knew that they must keep moving. Their old foe fog arrived again, keeping them stuck in Iceland and then Greenland for days. Finally they managed to fly to Canada and reached Boston. Marching bands and huge crowds welcomed them to the United States.

They reached their starting point, Seattle, and crossed the finish line after traveling 42,398.2 kilometers (26,345 miles) over 175 days. They had won the race, brought glory to America, and made headlines around the world.

Today the Chicago sits on display in the Pioneers of Flight gallery. The book is based on the Leslie Arnold journal and includes 100+ photos of the flight, most from the National Air and Space Museum Archives. Hopefully this grand adventure story will inspire new generations.

Try out our web activity about the flight.

Tim Grove is chief of Museum Learning at the National Air and Space Museum.

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On Base in Malir

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It’s that time of year again!  The crack of the bat, the smack of the glove, the roar of the crowd—baseball has returned to our nation’s capital!!!

Wherever they have served, American soldiers and aviators have taken the nation’s pastime with them.  During World War II, Joseph J. Pace served as the chief of the photographic section of an Army Air Forces Flexible Gunnery Unit stationed at Malir, India (just a few miles outside of what is now Karachi, Pakistan).  Pace salvaged photographs and negatives detailing activities at the post, which make up the India-Burma Headquarters Photograph Collection [Pace] in the National Air and Space Museum Archives.  One set of images chronicles a baseball game played at the Special Service KAB (Karachi Air Base) Baseball Field, APO #882.

Officers and enlisted men fill the stands to watch a baseball game at the Special Service KAB Baseball Field, APO #882, Malir, India, circa 1944-1945.  NASM 89-15499

The base at Malir originally had been built by the British as a last line of defense between eastward German armies and westward Japanese armies.  General Bernard Montgomery had trained his Eighth Army there.  Later on, the Americans took over the base.

Play’s at first!  The first baseman stretches to make a play as the base runner crosses the base at the Special Service KAB Baseball Field, APO #882, Malir, India, circa 1944-1945.  NASM 89-15500

In his book Into the Teeth of the Tiger, future National Air and Space Museum Deputy Director Donald S. Lopez described Landhi Field at Malir as “comprised a group of widely separated, low, flat buildings on a sunbaked expanse of sand. The airfield with a control tower and alert shack was about half a mile away.  A baseball backstop and a volleyball court marked it as an American base even without the flag in front of the headquarters.”

And the runner scores!  The catcher can only stand by, watching the play out in the ball field, at the Special Service KAB Baseball Field, APO #882, Malir, India, circa 1944-1945.  NASM 89-15501

Aviators would pass through Landhi Field as part of their training. Pace’s job with the photo department was to install gun cameras on every .50 caliber machine gun position on the B-24 and B-25 bombers as they passed through. On a training mission, the bombers would rendezvous with a P-40 aircraft, which would simulate an attack. The gunners would then “fire” a synchronized gun camera, in place of live ammunition. The photo department would then process the film and project it on a target screen to determine whether or not the gunners successfully hit their targets.  After training, most aviators were assigned to Gen. Claire L. Chennault’s Fourteenth Air Force.

As World War II came to an end, Malir served as a processing area for men returning to America from the China-Burma-India theater and I’m sure there were plenty more baseball games.  Currently, the Malir area is home to a Pakistan air force base, where the field game of choice is most likely cricket.

Enjoy the 2015 baseball season!!

Elizabeth Borja is an archivist in the Museum’s Archives Department.  She loves baseball and is always ready for opening day.  Also a hockey fan, she hopes one day to find enough archival material for a hockey post.  

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Fans of the National Air and Space Museum

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Eighteenth century ladies fans are not something visitors normally expect to encounter in the National Air and Space Museum. Nevertheless, we have them! The Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection, acquired in 2014 thanks to the generosity of the Norfolk Charitable Trust, includes over 1,000 works of art, prints, posters, objects, manuscripts, and books documenting the history of flight from the first balloon ascensions in 1783 through the early years of the twentieth century. Evelyn Way Kendall, one of the great American collectors of the last century, began purchasing Aeronautica in the early 1920s and was still at it in the 1960s. What could have inspired that level of collecting zeal? Over the holidays in 1920-1921, her father, a superintendent with the Canadian National Railways, was involved in the rescue of three U.S. Navy balloonists who had been caught in a storm and carried deep into the wilderness around Hudson’s Bay. One can imagine his daughter walking past a Paris antique shop while on vacation just a year or so later, spying an eighteenth-century snuff box or needle case decorated with a balloon in the window, and, remembering her father’s role in a balloon adventure, succumbing to temptation.

Evelyn Way Kendall (1892-1979)

Evelyn Way Kendall (1892-1979)

Once begun, Mrs. Kendall would have realized that she had chanced on a rich collecting field. As the first balloons lifted above the Parisian skyline in 1783-1784, they generated a great wave of public enthusiasm. Enormous crowds gathered to watch the first human beings take to the sky. The manufacturers of needle cases, snuff boxes, match safes, card cases, jewelry, clocks, wallpaper, furnishings, ceramic items, song sheets — and ladies fans — discovered that adding a balloon motif to their products would boost sales. With the air age well underway in the 1920s, a number of air-minded collectors like Mrs. Kendall began acquiring these early aeronautical treasures.

When the Kendall Collection arrived at the Museum for processing, it included six complete ladies fans, which, to the inexperienced eye of the senior curator of Aeronautics, appeared to date to the eighteenth century.  While I am most certainly not an authority on such objects, I was aware that, for a woman attending an eighteenth century ball or salon, no accessory was more important than her fan. By manipulating this delicately painted object in patterns prescribed by “the language of the fan,” she could communicate subtle messages to men and women alike.  Supported by delicately fashioned “sticks” of ivory, bone, mother of pearl, or wood, the addition of a beautifully painted balloon to the silk “leaf” communicated the owner’s interest in the latest technological wonder, as well.

During the weeks after the arrival of the collection, Vanessa Nagengast, who is processing the Kendall materials, and Greta Glaser, in charge of conserving the items, noticed some key bits of new information regarding the fans. For example, one of them below (T20140072073) was packed in a twentieth century box stamped with the name of the Duvelleroy Company,  121 New Bond Street, London, SW 1. Another fan (T20140072054) had Duvelleroy written in ink on one of its ivory sticks. An internet search revealed that the company was founded in Paris in 1827 to manufacture and sell fans, and that the London shop was not opened until the 1850s. How then, could our fans date the eighteenth century?

An email to Elöise Giles, of the Duvelleroy company, led to a contact with M. Serge Davoudian, an antique dealer specializing in fans. He identified the fan in the box as dating to 1900. The fan with the Duvelleroy name on the stick, however, dated to the 1780s. The name had apparently been inked on the stick in the nineteenth century when the antique fan was repaired by the company for resale. To our delight, he assured us that the other four fans were authentic eighteenth century creations, as well. Even the early twentieth century fan carried an important meaning, suggesting that, for the citizens of fin de siècle France, the romance of the balloon symbolized their vision of the years immediately preceding the French Revolution. One of the nicest things about working in a museum is that you are always learning something!

Produced by the Duvelleroy Company in about 1900, this fan shows ascents by J.B. Blanchard (right) and J.A.C. Charles, with fashionable ladies and gentlemen watching a passing balloon through a mica window. The sticks are gilded ivory. A tiny opera glass is mounted where the sticks connect. (T20140072054)

This late eighteenth century fan shows three images of the first hydrogen balloon, flown by J.A.C. Charles and M.N Robert. The sticks are carved Mother of Pearl. (T20140072073)

This fan shows the ascent of J.A.C. Charles’ first hydrogen balloon from the Tuileries Palace on December 1, 1783, and the landing at the village of Nesles-la-Vallée, outside Paris. The sticks may be mahogany with bone inlay. (T20140072051)

Another depiction of the landing of the first hydrogen balloon. The sticks are carved and gilded ivory. (T20140072053)

To the right and left a lady and gentleman watch one of J.P. Blanchard’s balloons in flight. The ivory sticks are intricately carved and gilded images of people, cherubs, birds, and flowers. (T20140072052)

The balloon in the center is another illustration of J.A.C. Charles’ first hydrogen balloon. The balloons to the right and left represent the Montgolfier hot air balloon that carried the first living creatures-a sheep (named Montauciel – Climb to the sky), a duck, and a rooster-into the air from Versailles, on September 19, 1783. (T20140072047 )

Tom Crouch is senior curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.

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Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet Now on Display

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“Oh Lordy, I don’t know if we can loan that object or not, it is exceptionally rare! High maintenance, too.” — Dan Hagedorn, curator and director of collections of The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.

That was my first exchange with my friend Dan Hagedorn when I approached him about borrowing Wonder Woman’s invisible plane from The Museum of Flight. The Museum of Flight had acquired the plane with help from Lieutenant Diana Prince in April 2013. Since then, our curator Bob van der Linden wanted very much to display the plane at the Museum in Washington, DC.

“There’s nothing that would make my daughter happier than to bring Wonder Woman’s invisible plane back to Washington, DC, if only for a very short time,” he said.

Bob has worked very hard to secure a space for the jet by moving not only the Spirit of St. Louis but also SpaceShipOne to make room in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Our next step was to work with Ted Huetter, public relations and promotions manager at The Museum of Flight. Ted helped us secure the loan by referring us to the paperwork The Museum of Flight had used when they last loaned the plane to Science City at Union Station, Kansas City. With his help, and the help of many at the National Air and Space Museum, we were able to arrange to bring this artifact back to the Washington, DC area.

Museum staff work to hang the invisible plane and transform it into its jet configuration.

Museum staff hang the invisible plane and transform it into its jet formation. Photo courtesy: Marty Kelsey

The trick for the National Air and Space Museum was to display the plane in its jet formation. The plane has only been displayed publically in the propeller configuration. The new design was made possible by the plane’s shape shifting properties. Although The Museum of Flight staff was concerned about this formation change, they worked with our conservation staff so that the shift was safe and temporary. Once the shift took place the jet underwent a total review by our conservation department and appears to be in remarkable shape.

The plane was originally housed in an undisclosed location near Washington, DC from about 1941 to the early 1970s. In 1975, the plane was moved to another location in Southern California where it stayed until 1979. After 1979, the jet went missing. It was through the careful work of The Museum of Flight staff and former Army nurse Lieutenant Diana Prince that the plane was finally discovered on a quiet estate in Potomac, Maryland in 2012. After the discovery, The Museum of Flight moved the plane to Seattle where it went on display in April of 2013.

The jet is well ahead of its time. It used stealth technologies in the 1950s long before the Lockheed YF-12A and the SR-71 Blackbird were introduced. The engines on this plane allowed Wonder Woman to travel through space. Keep in mind that NASA’s North American X-15 took the United States to the edge of space in the 1960s, but it was Amazonian technology that had Wonder Woman traveling into deep space in the 1950s.

Wonder Woman's invisible aircraft on display next to the Bell X-1 in its jet formation at the National Air and Space Museum. On loan from The Museum of Flight.

Wonder Woman’s invisible aircraft on display, next to the Bell X-1, in its jet formation at the National Air and Space Museum. On loan from The Museum of Flight. Photo courtesy: Marty Kelsey

Other features on this jet include shape shifting, telepathic abilities, and multi-dimensional transport. Although the jet was invisible the passengers were not, and they often appeared to float on the clouds. It should be mentioned that even though Wonder Woman can fly under her own powers, the plane has come in handy when needed to transport Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls as well as Steve Trevor and others.

The National Air and Space Museum is proud to be able to present Wonder Woman’s Invisible Plane for the first time publicly in the Washington DC area. Many thanks to the staff at The Museum of Flight and The Friends of the Princess Diana of Themyscira Society for making this once-in-a-lifetime loan possible.

Beth Wilson is a museum specialist in the Education Division of the National Air and Space Museum.

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