Led by object conservator and project leader Lauren Horelick, the National Air and Space Museum staff continues preparing the Horten IX V3 center section to move early in January (weather and roads permitting) to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where it will eventually be joined to the outer wing panels that are already displayed in the hangar. Conservation Fellows Anna Weiss and Peter McElhinnery recently joined Lauren and retired Museum treatment specialist Karl Heinzel, and the two fellows are already making significant contributions to the project. Here is a selection of photos taken in Building 10 at the Paul Garber Facility showing progress thus far.
Once Lauren’s team finishes their assessment, artisans will build a sturdy fixture to support the center section during the 40-mile trip from the Garber Facility to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
After the center section arrives at the hangar, work will continue to stabilize the artifact, treat any problem areas, and prepare to attach the outer wing panels to the center section and again make the aircraft whole, something like this:
Deciding just how much of the jet wing to treat or restore will be a group effort involving treatment specialists, conservators, and curators, but this critical step must wait until we can gather in one place the center section, outer wing panels, wheels and tires, control surfaces, and other components, and study them carefully to determine how the whole artifact should be finished. We expect to make progress on this phase of the project next year.
Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.
I’ve worked as a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for more than three decades. It has been an amazing ride. I’ve done things and met people I could never have in any other job. In that time I have had many reasons to be thankful. Thankful to have closely studied artifacts that have changed the world, like the Wright Flyer. Thankful to have met larger-than-life figures whose accomplishments are in the historical firmament for all time, such Neil Armstrong and John Glenn. Thankful to have worked with many world-class scholars and museum professionals. Thankful to have contributed to projects that have let me express my creativity. Thankful to have had many co-workers I also call friends. But most of all I am thankful I work in a place that affords me the opportunity to inspire others. The National Air and Space Museum is full of extraordinary machines, but every one of those machines represents people. People who built them, people who flew them, people who in some way contributed to those machines that have advanced humans as a species. These machines are rich with inspiring stories. My job is to bring those stories to our visitors. If in some modest way my work provides a window onto historical achievements that stir imagination and ambition in others, provides an entrée to a heretofore undiscovered career path, or simply causes someone to rethink their limitations, then I have done something that has made a difference. I will feel as if my life’s work has mattered. The Smithsonian has given me an incredible set of tools to do this job. I am thankful to have been so fortunate to have received this gift.
- Peter Jakab, chief curator, National Air and Space Museum
I’m thankful for having played a small part in the Museum’s efforts to make the history of aviation and aerospace a legitimate topic of scholarship. We now have prospective fellows in graduate programs in the U.S. and Europe who want to come here and work on their topics and publish work in the field. This wasn’t the case when I started to work here in the 1970s.
- Dominick A. Pisano, curator, National Air and Space Museum
I am grateful to work in an organization that is respected and beloved around the world. People have nothing but praise and affection for the Smithsonian, and especially for the National Air and Space Museum. So many people share fond memories of their first or frequent visits here; it is gratifying to hear them and to make one’s own modest contributions to meaningful visitor experiences. I am also grateful for the privilege of working with colleagues who are among the best, brightest, most creative, and most motivated professionals. Something I appreciate most about working here: no two days are the same! There is always a new challenge or opportunity to keep things lively.
-Valerie Neal, curator, National Air and Space Museum
From all of us at the National Air and Space Museum, we would like to express our gratitude to our fellow colleagues and to you, our visitors, for making this Museum such a wonderful place to work.
November means Movember, a month to celebrate moustaches around the world and promote awareness on men’s health issues, especially prostate and testicular cancer. The National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department has a superb collection of aeronautical ‘staches — here are just a few:
Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the Archives Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
As previously discussed in Spiral Threads of Corrosion Overtake an Antenna Drive, a one-year conservation triage project is underway to deal with artifacts that are actively deteriorating and require stabilizing treatments prior to being permanently relocated to the new storage facility at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. These artifacts include a wide range of issues to be dealt with by a team of three contract conservators, including active corrosion, mold contamination, pest management, hazardous materials, and physical insecurities.
Another notable object to pass through the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory this summer was a portion of painted WWI fuselage fabric with squadron insignias from the 1st Aero Squadron. The fabric had been previously identified as coming from one of the first American-built Liberty DH-4 aircraft to engage in combat during WWI with a handwritten note on the rear portion of one fragment; this note indicated that the fuselage fabric was taken from the same DH-4 in which Lt. Blair Thaw (serving as the commanding officer of the U.S. 135th Aero Observation Squadron) was killed in an accident. Further analysis post-treatment has found this to be otherwise (see below).
This fuselage fabric had been identified as needing immediate conservation treatment due to a number of ongoing issues including: inaccessibility, active tearing and flaking, and surface distortions.
On arrival at the lab, it became apparent that is was impossible to fully determine the extent of damage to the fabric in its current state. A number of contributing factors had caused severe tears and fragmentation while the remaining sections were tightly rolled and folded with a memory in the material that causes it to resist uncurling. The material was gently unrolled using small weights in strategic spots to prevent tears from expanding and to allow the material to acclimate with the surrounding environment sufficiently to relax.
While we could examine and document the fuselage in this state, removal of the weights would cause the sections to immediately curl back on itself, stressing already brittle and loosely attached torn strips and fragments.
In order to return detached fragments to their original position and determine the extent of losses, we needed to find a way to relax the material.
Beyond general aging from a combination of use and physical/chemical deterioration of the cotton textile that served as the support fabric, surface distortions with shrinkage and curling were also partially related to an original surface treatment of the fabric with airplane dope. “Doping refers to the application of a tautening medium to the fabric stretched over the aircraft frame. This results in a tightly stretched surface with aerodynamic attributes” (Pierce, 2004)*. Early doping lacquers were based on cellulose nitrate, which had both benefits and detriments as a tautening agent; from a conservation standpoint, the biggest problem a nitrate-doped surface poses is continual shrinking (though at a significantly slower rate to the later butyrate-based dopes) and the stress this can place on the support fabric as well as the underlying frame.
Testing was performed with a number of different solvents and methods of application, resulting in the creation of a solvent vapor chamber. The chamber contained an atmosphere of organic solvent vapor which slowly migrated into the dope, causing it to swell and become pliable. By closely monitoring the effect, we could relax sections of the fuselage in a controlled manner; additionally, the position of weights could be adjusted during this process to further relax distortions and flatten creases. Despite the success we had with this method, we found both the cellulose nitrate coating and the cotton fabric retained some of the memory of their previous rolled and folded state. When the weights were removed and the solvent dissipated the fabric still wanted to return to its former state especially when exposed to any relative humidity fluctuations in the surrounding air.
Consultations within the conservation lab and with the curator, Alex Spencer, suggested that a larger intervention was needed. The immediate goal of this treatment was to stabilize the artifact and identify all of the separated pieces. The long-term goal was to allow the fabric to remain accessible for study and to be stored or exhibited in a safe manner. The ideal treatment solution appeared to be a lining procedure which would satisfy both long and short term objectives by providing long-term stability, reversibility and allow access for curatorial staff and researchers.
Lining, in relation to paintings conservation, is a structural treatment that introduces a new support to the back of a weakened canvas. It commonly involves the use of an adhesive in conjunction with heat, suction (negative pressure) and/or solvents. Concerns when considering a lining option “include questions of moisture content, tension and rigidity, and the difficulty of predicting the effect of providing a laminated structure to a complex layered and degraded structure as well as the ethical problem of deciding when it is appropriate to make the intervention” (Hillyer:1996)**.
For the lining adhesive, preference was given to the use of BEVA 371 (a synthetic wax and resin adhesive that remained relatively inert to moisture while also providing a non-impregnating, strong surface bond) as a lining adhesive that could be applied either in a gel form or as a pre-cast film to the rear face of the fabric. Since the adhesive is thermoplastic, an iron could be used to heat-set the bond between the fabric and the lining. Once the large sections of intact fabric were attached to the lining fabric, the smaller separated pieces could be positioned in their original locations.
As a lining material, an airplane fabric called Ceconite (a, woven Dacron polyester) was chosen because of its strength, long-term chemical stability and its ability to be “heat shrunk” over a support structure at a specific temperature. Unlike cotton or linen, it does not stretch and does not react to changes in humidity. The Ceconite liner was pulled and tacked onto a custom-built strainer prior to the heat activation of the adhesive. Final tautening was only performed on open areas where the fuselage fabric was not attached and then as a final step to tauten up and remove wrinkles from the surface.
An immediate result of the conservation treatment was that it made available updated and higher quality images of the fabric that spurred additional analysis by the collections department. Inconsistencies in terms of written language phrases, camouflage design, wear patterns, insignia design, and squadron information all indicated that the fabric had not come from an American-built DH-4 but from a Salmson 2.A.2 in which Lt. Thaw had a forced landing during his time with the 1st Aero Squadron, (probably on July 7, 1918). Likely confusion from a number of possible sources led to the misidentification in the note.
This project is Phase I of a multi-phase plan and is supported by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
Steven Pickman is a contract conservator in the Collections Department of the National Air and Space Museum. Special thanks to Malcolm Collum for his assistance in the development and implementation of this treatment project.
* Pierce: 2004, Pierce, Andrew. Avoiding that shrinking feeling: adopting a chemically unstable material for conservation; published in BigStuff: Care of Large Technology Objects, Editor: Alison Wain, Venue: Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Australia, Date: 29.09.2004 – 01.11.2004, ISBN: 09751904 3 1;
** Hillyer: 1996, [paraphrasing of Jonathan Ashley-Smith lecture in Review: Lining and Backing - The Support of Paintings, Paper and Textiles, UKIC Conference, London, 1995];
This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the sole launch of the Soviet space shuttle Buran. The idea of a reusable space plane has existed for decades among space enthusiasts and predated the idea of a rocket carrying humans into Earth orbit. The space race era manager of the Soviet Space program Sergei Korolev studied a possible configuration for one during his student days in the 1930s. World War II and the German’s successful design of the V-2 distracted both Soviet and American engineers from the space plane concept for a while.
Official Soviet interest in a reusable space plane revived in the 1950s. For 30 years several programs overlapped. Designers and managers believed that such a craft ultimately would provide more reliable and efficient access to space than single-use rockets. Their first effort, known as the Burya, was developed by engineers in at the Mikoyan Gurevich aircraft design plant. Also known as the MiG-105, the craft employed a ramjet engine that required an assisted launch to gain orbit. After the dawn of the space age, Soviet rocket designers and cosmonauts continued work on a space plane then called Spiral, during the 1960s. Among test pilots was the second man in to orbit the Earth, German Titov, who left his career as a cosmonaut to become a test pilot for the program.
At the time of the early US space shuttle launches, the soviet Ministry of Defense took a renewed interest in the project and began testing an unpiloted scale model of the Buran, called the Bor. This was a series of 1:3 and 1:2 scale models of the planned spacecraft. Although the program had been secret, Australian fishermen caught sight of a Soviet ship pulling a small scale model form the ocean. These reports began speculation that the Soviet Union was trying to build a shuttle to match the U.S. one. Amid much international speculation and after many delays, the Soviet Union launched the Buran (Snowstorm), its first full-scale reusable space shuttle, on November 15, 1988. Although they tested the Buran extensively in the Earth’s atmosphere with trained pilots, the maiden, and only, orbital launch was made without a crew. The Buran launched strapped onto the Energia launch vehicle, the largest among Soviet launch vehicles. It resembled the American shuttle quite closely — not by coincidence. Through espionage, the Soviets obtained the design specifications of the US shuttle.
Buran’s launch occurred during a critical time in Soviet history. The country was struggling to recover from the grim legacy of two decades of the Brezhnev regime, which placed international prestige and military expenditures ahead of the comfort of its citizens. Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika called for a tighter accounting of state expenditures. His policy of glasnost, or openness, allowed for public debate of policies. This allowed for more open and vocal objections in the public arena. The response to the Buran program from within the Soviet aerospace community was immediately and resoundingly negative. Engineers, such as Konstantin Feoktistov, who had designed the Vostok spacecraft, wrote Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a 19-page critique of the program. In his letter, he pointed out that the expense for the reusable shuttle would sap the budget for existing programs. Planetary scientist, Roald Sagdeev, who had led the Soviet’s vigorous exploration of Venus, too, expressed his disapproval of the program as one that would undercut Soviet expenditures in the space sciences. No flight occurred after Buran’s maiden voyage.
After several incomplete design projects during the 1970s, the Soviets revived the effort in the 1980s to build the Buran. Only two more flight-ready spacecraft began manufacture, though none were complete. The Soviets began construction of two others but they never completed construction of the airframe. The government officially canceled the program after the dissolution of the USSR.
Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin, the first democratically elected president of Russia, presented models of the Soviet Buran spacecraft and Energia launch vehicle to the Smithsonian Institution in June 1992 during a summit in Washington DC with American President George H. W. Bush. These models commemorate the first launches of the Energia launch vehicle in May 1987 and the Buran shuttle in November 1988.
In May 2002, the Soviet Buran came back into the news. The hangar that housed the last remaining full-scale test model of the Buran at the Russian Cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazahstan collapsed. The building had originally been constructed as the vehicle assembly building for both the Buran and the Soviet heavy lift launch vehicle, Energia. Eight people lost their lives in the building collapse.
Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.