On Friday, March 14, 2014, the Museum will put on display its latest restored aircraft, a Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. For those of you attending the Center’s Open House on Saturday, January 25, you will get a chance to tour the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar and see some of the work-in-progress firsthand (note that the fuselage will not be on view). In anticipation of those events, I would like to share with you some aspects of my work on our example of the famous American World War II dive bomber.
The U.S. Navy accepted the Museum’s Helldiver on May 19, 1945, at the Curtiss-Wright factory in Columbus, Ohio. All Helldivers leaving the factory of that time would be a glossy “Sea Blue” and covered in numerous stencils that facilitated easier operation and maintenance. The aircraft went to Naval Air Station (NAS) Port Columbus, located on the same airfield, three days later. It was prepared for transfer to Guam in the Pacific Theater in San Diego in June for assignment to a Carrier Air Service Unit, arriving there in July. This Helldiver never saw combat, but served with various other Navy units until 1948 and entered the Museum collection in 1960. The artifact went on loan to the National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM) in 1975 and returned to the Smithsonian in 2003.
The Museum’s Helldiver will be repainted as it appeared during the early phase of its assignment to Bombing Squadron (VB) 92, the “Battling Beasts,” on USS Lexington (CV-16) during September-December 1945. An interpretation of the photographs from the squadron yearbook and archival collections revealed that VB-92 aircraft markings changed while on Lexington. As they cruised toward Japan to take part in the occupation, VB-92 Helldivers featured the geometric symbol system used officially by Navy carrier groups during the earlier period of January to July 1945. Lexington’s symbol was a broad white diagonal bar on the vertical stabilizer and the wingtips. There is no explanation for the existence of the unauthorized geometric markings on VB-92 aircraft in September. The Lexington war diary held in the National Archives stated a general dissatisfaction with the authorized carrier letter identification system (“H” for Lexington) introduced in July 1945. Lexington’s officers and crew found it difficult to identify aircraft at distances beyond 400 yards during operations. That experience may have influenced the return to the geometric symbols when VB-92 embarked upon Lexington. Nevertheless, at some point, probably after the squadron had reached Tokyo Harbor and was under the scrutiny of official Navy directives, VB-92 changed its carrier identification markings to the authorized letter system. Due to the uniqueness of the earlier markings to VB-92, I chose the geometric symbol scheme for the Museum’s Helldiver.
Getting to the point where I knew how the Museum’s Helldiver looked during its initial squadron assignment would not have been possible without the input of VB-92 veterans and their families. A stack of documentary records provided by squadron members came with the Helldiver after its long stay at the NNAM. They included an amazing document that referenced VB-92’s aircraft by their official airframe (called the BuNo or Bureau of Aeronautics number) and aircraft, or side, numbers. Regardless of whether the Museum’s Helldiver featured white diagonal bars or “H”s on the wings and empennage, the correct side number for BuNo 83479 is “208.”
Reed Rollins, who served with VB-92 as an aircraft radioman and gunner and flew in this specific Helldiver, confirmed many of these details and shared with us important documentation, including the colors for the Battling Beast insignia.
Charles French was also a member of VB-92 in 1945 that also flew in the rear cockpit of “208.” When he visited the Helldiver in the Restoration Hangar last May with his family, he donated his logbook to the Museum’s Archives.
Michael Converse donated his father’s squadron yearbook, The Battling Beasts: Bombing Squadron Ninety-Two, December 1944-1945, to the Museum’s Archives. Lt. (jg) Knox Converse was the assigned pilot to “208” during Lexington’s cruise from Tokyo back to the United States in November 1945. Michael has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project and reveals how the children of the “Greatest Generation” are ensuring that their family connections to World War II will continue.
Making these discoveries and connections with the history, people, and technology of naval aviation during World War II through the Helldiver has been a great experience. I hope visitors will enjoy seeing the artifact on display this spring.
Jeremy Kinney is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
Today, January 22nd, is Museum Selfie Day. Museums everywhere are joining in on the selfie phenomenon, one that in 2013 earned “selfie” Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year and inspired an exhibition examining the cultural significance of digital self-expression. The National Air and Space Museum is a selfie canvas every day and we appreciate the many inspiring and often highly entertaining photos that visitors share of themselves in front of historic air and spacecraft. As we pause to celebrate the self-portrait of the digital age, Museum staff (and their kids!) decided to get in on the action and demonstrate some of the prime selfie vantage points at our two museum locations.
At our Museum in Washington, DC, one of the most popular self-portrait stops is in front of The Space Mural — A Cosmic View by Robert T. McCall. The artist painted the mural on the lobby wall before the Museum opened in 1976. It remains an iconic visual and a natural magnet for visitor photos to this day. The mural is also large enough and high enough to accommodate a variety of creative selfie angles.
The Stewardess Requirements display in the America by Air exhibition is a convenient mirror selfie option. Visitors learn about the strict standards that stewardesses had to meet in the 1950s. Would you qualify? Check yourself in the mirror and snap a selfie.
The model of a full Space Shuttle stack in Moving Beyond Earth is also a popular selfie backdrop. Not to scale, of course.
The expansive Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA offers an abundance of selfie options.
The overlook that greets visitors upon entering the Udvar-Hazy Center provides a closeup view of the shark teeth on the nose of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, braved here by Archives museum specialist Allan Janus.
Or, you can go long to capture the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and Space Shuttle Discovery in the background.
A selfie with Space Shuttle Discovery is a must. At the nose and back are very popular selfie spots, but from the top of the south staircase you can get the entire spacecraft behind you. Or, take a photo from the balcony to get your face cozied up next to the “Discovery” name on the orbiter’s starboard side.
Not Your Typical Selfie
Here is a rare selfie. In 2007, staff volunteered to model for plaster casts needed in our new America by Air exhibition. Exhibits designer Jennifer Carlton snapped a photo of educator Tim Grove as he took a selfie with the plaster cast of himself. So meta.
If you want to go beyond the common selfie, or you happen to be a shy selfie taker, a shiny airplane or astronaut suit visor might be just the trick. We have plenty of reflective surfaces that enable a covert selfie.
Join in! Snap a photo of yourself in our museum or dig up any selfies you’ve taken here in the past and share them via social media using #MuseumSelfie. We’ll be watching for yours and sharing more of our own.
When Did The Aerospace Selfie Take Off?
If you thought the aerospace selfie was relatively new, take a look at these high flying selfies that beg the question, when was the first aerospace selfie taken?
One of the most famous images of the Apollo program is also a selfie of Neil Armstrong reflected in Buzz Aldrin’s visor.
Few may be able to top this F-16 pilot selfie, snapped while deploying flares and rolling the aircraft. Source: @DuffelBlog
What about spacecraft? Selfies are actually common practice for landers as a means to verify that they landed safely. Surveyor 1 was the first U.S. spacecraft to make a soft landing on another world in June of 1966. The first photos it returned to Earth were partial selfies of its footpad on the Moon.
Do you have a favorite historic aerospace selfie? Share it with us!
Victoria Portway is the Chair of the Web and New Media Department at the National Air and Space Museum.
For the last ten years while participating in the missions of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, I have watched in amazement as the beauty of Mars was revealed via images associated with discoveries made by the rovers. From stark alien landscapes, to others looking vaguely familiar, to gorgeous Martian sunsets, these images have often appeared to me to be both scientifically important and artistic.
Following that theme, I had the idea of displaying images from the rovers in an art gallery so as to highlight both their beauty and results from the mission. Over the past couple of years, and with the help of numerous members of the rover science team, an exhibition, called Spirit & Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars, was conceived and assembled in the Museum’s art gallery.
The exhibit consists of around 50 images selected from the thousands taken by the rovers and follows them in approximate chronological order as they trundled across the surface of the Red Planet. There is also a full scale model of the rovers surrounded by panoramas that give the impression of standing on the surface of Mars. Finally, there are several hardware artifacts that include engineering models of the rover “guts,” a wheel, and calibration target for the cameras that includes a sundial.
The rovers were tasked with interpreting the role of water in shaping both landing sites, and a number of major discoveries were made by both rovers. In Gusev crater, Spirit documented craters and volcanic plains before reaching the nearby Columbia Hills and discovering ancient fumarole, or hot spring, deposits around a feature dubbed “Home Plate.” These deposits were initially discovered when a dragging, failed wheel on Spirit uncovered them from beneath a dusty surface cover. At Meridiani Planum, Opportunity discovered hematite concretions formed in ground water and dubbed “blueberries” by the science team, and ancient water-lain ripple marks that document past water at both the surface and in the ground. While locales explored by both rovers achieved the mission goal of understanding the role of water in shaping the landing sites, the water associated with ripples at the Meridiani landing site was relatively acidic as compared to fresh water in most lakes and rivers on the Earth. Nevertheless, had life been present, it may have been able to survive. Unlike Spirit, Opportunity landed very near to rocks that confirmed many of these discoveries, and the rover spent the ensuing years fleshing out the story of water in Meridiani that began in Eagle crater where the rover landed. These discoveries detail a long history of wind and water across the Meridiani plains.
The exhibit includes images related to these and other discoveries and gives the visitor the sense of what it would be like to participate in field work on Mars. However, instead of donning boots and tools and leaving behind footprints, the visitor can see where the rover imaged and ground into rocks, leaving behind tracks that tell a story of exploration and discovery.
For more information about Spirit and Opportunity, watch this video of the Jan 7 panel discussion with Museum and NASA experts.
John Grant is a geologist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum. He is a member of the Science Team for the Mars Exploration Rovers since 2002 and is one of six Science Operations Working Group Chairs responsible for leading day-to-day science planning of the rovers.
December 17, 2013, marked the 110th anniversary of the first powered, controlled flight of an airplane. Wilbur Wright had made the first attempt three days before, when the brothers laid their 60 foot launch rail down the lower slope of the Kill Devil Hill. That attempt ended with a hard landing only 105 feet from take-off, with minor damage to the machine. It was Orville’s turn to make the first attempt on December 17. He had set up a camera that morning, pointed at the spot where he thought the airplane would be in the air. When John T. Daniels walked up the beach with three other surf men from the nearby Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station, Orville asked him to squeeze the bulb operating the shutter if anything interesting happened. The result was what has arguably become the most famous photograph ever taken.
Recently, however, some skeptics have suggested that the image does not depict a real flight at all. The over the ground distance of Orville’s first attempt, they note, was only 120 feet — only fifteen feet farther than Wilbur’s abortive first attempt on December 14. Neither of the trials achieved a distance of 300 feet, which, the Wrights later suggested, was the point after which an aviator has achieved sustained flight, and “…has really done something.”
But look a little closer. On December 14, Wilbur covered 105 feet in only 3.5 seconds, while Orville was in the air for twelve seconds. Why was the flight of December 17 so much slower? On December 14, Wilbur took off into a wind of just four to eight miles per hour. The combination of a very light wind and the launch rail laid on a downhill slope resulted in the airplane rushing into the air so fast that Orville could not keep up with it by running along on the ground. Because of the low wind speed, the distance travelled through the air (ground speed plus the velocity of the wind into which the machine is moving) was only 224 feet.
On December 17, on the other hand, Orville took off from the sand flats near their camp and flew into a headwind gusting from 24 to 27 miles per hour. The speed of the machine over the ground was perhaps eight miles per hour, so low that Wilbur, as seen in the famous photograph, had no trouble keeping up. This time, while the distance over the ground was only 120 feet, the true distance flown through the air into that headwind was calculated at 540 feet, well beyond the 300 feet the brothers had decided would constitute a sustained flight. Each of the four flights that the brothers made that morning was longer than the one before, culminating in Wilbur’s final effort just before noon, in which he flew 852 feet over the sand in 59 seconds. Proof that the Wrights were thinking in terms of speed and distance flown through the air, as well as over the ground, is to be found in the telegram that they sent to their father, in which they reported an average speed of over thirty miles per hour, almost three times their actual ground speed.
Other critics of the first flight photo point to the extreme positive angle of the canard elevator, arguing that the surface is stalled, which has caused the wings to stall, insuring that the flight is about to end. In fact, the photo simply captured a moment in time when the elevator was at the extreme point. The hinge point was near the center of the surface, which, as Orville noted, “…gave it a tendency to turn itself when started, so that it turned too far to one side and then too far to the other.” Evidence that Orville was able to recover and continue flying is to be found in the photograph itself.
The airplane took off by running down a monorail track made up of four fifteen foot lengths of two by four, set on edge with a cap strip on top. The brothers tell us that the airplane took off that morning after a run of forty feet. The photo shows the craft directly over the end of the track. So, when the photo was snapped, the airplane had traveled only twenty feet or so over the ground and had been in the air no more than two or three seconds, moving slowly forward into the teeth of the strong headwind. Far from being stalled, the airplane is in full flight and still has one hundred feet to travel over the ground — and almost 500 additional feet through the air — in the next nine to ten seconds. Given the distance flown through the air, and the evidence provided in the photo of Orville’s being in control of the craft under what can only be regarded as very difficult circumstances, the photo is just what it seems to be, an astounding image of the world’s first airplane at the outset of its first flight.
I am not alone in that view. Dr. Paul Dees, a Boeing aerodynamicist and an authority on the aerodynamics of pioneering aircraft, remarks: “Was the December 17, 1903, famous first airplane flight shown on that famous photograph really a flight? You bet it was!” NASA engineer Norm Crabill, who was involved in wind tunnel testing a full-scale reproduction of the 1903 Wright airplane concurs: “…the physics substantiate the picture — the airplane is flying.” Is all of this important? I certainly think so! The first flight photo is familiar to millions around the word as a symbol of the Wright achievement. That is worth understanding, explaining, and defending.
Tom Crouch is senior curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
The fearless WASP are at it again and if you know who I mean you will not be surprised at their latest mission – “flying” a float in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day 2014 in Pasadena, California. These intrepid women, the Women Airforce Service Pilots aka WASP, easily illustrate the theme of this year’s Rose Parade, Dreams Come True, as that is what happened for each woman selected to be a WASP. And although their dreams of flying for their country were realized for only a short but critical time during World War II, their dreams came true in the form of today’s female military pilots. Now, the WASP will be a part of a great American tradition thanks to their determination and to the continuing generosity of their supporters, the Wingtip to Wingtip Association.
In September 1942 two programs were established at the request of U.S. Army Air Forces Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold for utilizing women pilots for the domestic war effort: the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS) headed by Nancy Love and the Women’s Ferrying Training Detachment (WFTD) led by Jacqueline Cochran. On August 5, 1943, the two organizations merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) with Cochran as director.
The increasing deployment of military pilots to the Atlantic and Pacific theaters resulted in the need for more pilots to ferry the increasing number of military aircraft from U.S. manufacturing facilities to bases and points of embarkation and women wanted to be a part of the effort. Cochran and Love had very different strategies but the same goal – to create a women’s air corps, a pool of qualified female pilots to deliver military aircraft to wherever they needed to go, and free up male pilots for combat duty.
As head of the WAFS, Love initially recruited 27 highly experienced women pilots between the ages of 21 and 35 with high school diplomas, a commercial license, and minimum of 500 hours of flight time. After their flight checks, the WAFS immediately began repositioning military aircraft. Meanwhile Cochran’s Women’s Ferrying Training Detachment (WFTD) recruited female pilots with as little as 35 hours and gave them a 23-week flight training program, the same as male cadets and with military instructors, in a segregated group at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas (after a brief stint in Houston) where they followed strict military procedures including drilling and taking an oath of allegiance. The women wore ill-fitting male mechanics suits, known as Zoot suits, or pants and A-2 leather jackets until Cochran oversaw the design of official WASP uniforms, the color known as Santiago Blue, on which they could pin their silver WASP wings. The important difference was that the women were civilians; militarizing them was too controversial. Still, more than 25,000 women applied and 1,830 were selected for the program. The first WFTD class graduated in December 1942.
Ultimately 1,102 women flew 60 million miles for the paramilitary WASP and the U.S. Army Air Forces. They delivered 12,650 aircraft representing 78 different types. They flew every aircraft in USAAF inventory including high-performance pursuit aircraft, such as the P-51 Mustang, and large four-engine B-17 and B-29 bombers. In addition, they towed targets for cadet fighter training, transported military personnel and cargo, and flew engineering tests flights, including one in the second model of America’s first jet, the YP-59. WASP also flew radio-controlled target planes (early drones), flight tested repaired aircraft or became flight instructors in aircraft or Link trainers/simulators. In essence, they did or flew whatever was asked of them.
Throughout the program, the accident and fatality rates for women and men were the same. Thirty-eight women gave their lives in the course of duty to their country but because they were civilians, their families, and in some cases their fellow WASP, had to pay the funeral expenses.
The WASP program ended abruptly in December 1944 after a bitter fight over the possible incorporation of the program into the military. With the end of the war in sight, perceptions were that women were no longer needed or even wanted—military pilots (men) would return to reclaim flying jobs. In addition, a headstrong Cochran, determined to remain in charge of any women’s air corps, complicated efforts to merge the WASP with other existing female military units, such as the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), in which they would have served as experienced military pilots. The dreams of WASP were over.
The WASP went home, most married and raised families; many continued to fly but only a few established real aviation careers. But the legacy of the WASP remained as they had soundly proven that women could fly military aircraft. Still, it took more than 30 years of social, cultural, and legal changes to allow American women to train as military pilots, beginning in 1977, albeit for limited aircraft and flight duties, i.e. no combat. In fact, women have only recently been widely accepted as fully-vested military pilots.
The first installment of the nation’s debt to the WASP was paid in 1977 with a bill authorizing retroactive partial veteran status. Since then, with continuing World War II anniversary celebrations, the WASP have received acknowledgment and gratitude for their service. Then, in 2009, President Obama signed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to these extraordinary women who served their country as first-rate stateside pilots during World War II.
The National Air and Space Museum is honored to display the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the WASP in March 2010 at the U.S. Capitol (each WASP or her family received a bronze medal). Sitting on a shelf in the Military Women’s Case at the Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, it is surrounded by uniforms and memorabilia of women of the WASP, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS), the Air Force (USAF) and the Navy (USN). WASP uniforms and flight materiel are also displayed in the flagship Museum’s World War II gallery.
Riding the float in the Rose Parade will be a walk in the rose garden for the surviving WASP but more importantly it will be their largest public recognition ceremony ever — the estimated worldwide viewing audience is 74 million people! Be one of them on New Year’s Day!
For further information on the WASP and their Rose Parade Float project please contact http://fifinella.com/index.htm or Kate Landdeck. Texas Woman’s University Libraries serves as the official repository for WASP archives, oral histories and collections.
Dorothy Cochrane is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.