The exhibition introduces some of the colorful aviation personalities from the 1920s and 1930s.
- Help Charles and Anne Lindbergh pack for a trip across several continents in their airplane the Tingmissartoq. The plane can only carry 6,105 pounds, so you must choose supplies carefully. You need to anticipate possible emergency scenarios like landing on the icecap of Greenland or landing in the middle of the ocean. You will be going from cold, icy climates to tropical climates and will be visiting remote Eskimo villages and fancy diplomatic receptions. You can compare your decisions with what the Lindberghs really packed.
- Plan a flight around the world for the U.S. Army – it’s 1924 and no one has flown around the world before. First, you must figure out the logistics – which countries will welcome you and where will you be able to refuel? Your planes can only fly so many miles before needing to refuel. Next you must adapt the airplane for the trip. Your Douglas DT-2 torpedo bomber needs to meet the demands of your journey. Finally, while you may have tried to plan for the unexpected, you encounter the unexpected anyway. Face six crises that the real World Cruiser crews encountered – will you make the same decisions they made?
- Design an air racer. You are entering the air races and want to win! Design a racer that will be the fastest sea plane and will help you win the prestigious Schneider trophy. Or, design a land plane and win the Pulitzer trophy. Will you make risky decisions and try some of the latest technology or will you play it safe?
- Fly a bomber escort mission as flight leader of the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy. World War II is raging and the Tuskegee Airmen are gaining a reputation as top-notch aviators. As an all African-American group, they must constantly prove their skills. The American military is segregated and the group’s reputation lies on the decisions of each of its members. Wrong decisions could cost lives and equipment, and damage the reputation. Will you make the right decisions and prove that you have the skills required to fly with the best?
A lot of effort and careful research went into each one of these activities. We first generated a list of possible ideas. We narrowed the list by asking which ideas make the best use of the technology to teach specific content. We hired a Web developer to help us. The interactives need to be thoughtfully integrated into the surrounding exhibition content. After we decided on the scenarios, we did some additional research. We had to track down photos of the World Cruiser flight and film footage of the Lindberghs. Our photographer took photos of objects in the collections – we wanted to display some of the interesting items that the Lindberghs packed on their trip. These objects had not been on display before. In some cases we also consulted with outside experts, including some of the Tuskegee Airmen themselves! What were the main decisions made by flight leaders on escort missions? What happened when things didn’t go well?
Once our designer had a prototype activity, we took it onto the floor and asked our visitors to test it. Some of the interactives, the Lindbergh one for example, went through major design changes. We wanted to ensure that people find them engaging and easy to complete. Do they take the right amount of time or are they too complicated? Will they attract the right age groups? We also tested the activities with some of our toughest critics, our National Air and Space Museum colleagues. They all had an opportunity to weigh in on the activities. When we completed usability testing and made sure visitors were getting the messages we wanted to convey, we went into final production.
So give them a try and let us know what you think. Which did you like the best? Did you learn anything new? And, if you have a chance to visit the Museum, please be sure to view the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery.
Tim Grove is Chief of Education at the National Air and Space Museum’s Mall building.