America By Air
I finally had a chance last weekend to visit the new “America By Air” exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum, just opened Nov. 17th. The exhibit chronicles the history and culture of commercial air travel, collecting in one place all manner of aircraft and artifacts from the dawn of civil aviation right up to the Airbus A380. The old walk through the nose section of American Airlines DC-7 “Flagship Vermont” is back, with a polished hull and a restored cabin. The display on the history of air mail is graced by a Curtiss JN-4D (popularly known as “Jenny”), in pristine condition for its age, and fully intact. Braniff gets special mention in a number of places for their designer planes and stewardesses in hot pants and dome helmets.
The most visible addition to the museum is the big honking forward section of a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747-151 sticking out of the wall. A walkway lets you enter the upper deck of the plane from the second floor so you can check out the cockpit and a display case, but sadly there are no first class seats to try out, and the spiral staircase down to the lower deck is blocked off, so the cockpit is all you get to see, and even that is behind plexiglass. Pity the whole plane couldn’t be included.
Airbus gets some airtime too, with an A320 cockpit simulator that visitors can huddle around to watch a takeoff from National Airport. The “Safety Wherever You Fly” display on air traffic control is also interesting, cycling between various visualizations of air traffic over the USA on a given day.
For civil aviation planefans like myself and casual museum-browsers alike, “America By Air” is a fun, immersive gallery, and a worthy addition and update to the Air and Space Museum. Visit it anytime the museum’s open — just look for the big 747 nose. See my full photoset of “America By Air” here.