Monday, August 16, 2010

National Air and Space Museum

Yesterday Sarah and Desh took her little brother Jim and me to the National Air and Space Museum at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles. Now, I need to tell you that in spite of my father swearing UP and DOWN that I loved the Museum of Flight in Seattle as a child; I remember hating that museum. (Except for the flying car, which you really ought to click on because: hilarious) Anyhow, suffice to say that because of my history with museums full of air planes- I was suspicious of the Air and Space Museum.

But! BUT! BUT!!! I was wrong. I was totally wrong. It was *awesome* and ridiculously fun.

We ended up taking a tour and were lucky enough/privileged enough to end up on a lengthy tour with an excellent tour guide and while he was totally upfront about the gaps in his helicopter knowledge was a darling and entertaining speaker. I was utterly riveted for the whole two hours plus. ("Plus" because I kept asking questions and he said that the tour was running over time, but he would be happy to answer those questions for me and whomever wanted to stay on after he was done if I would just please shut up and let him finish! Sheesh.) (That's not verbatim. He was much more polite than that.) (I wouldn't have kept asking questions if he hadn't kept hauling me up to the front when I muttered things under my breath.) (Hmmph.)

It's interesting being in a flight museum as an adult, or at least as someone with slightly more perspective than a five year old. The place was filled with scrambling, running kids (including a scrumptious toddler in an orange space suit from the gift shop and bunch of kids at that stage where their feet are huge but the rest of their body hasn't quite caught up yet). And everywhere around are weapons. Giant, flying, weapons. The Enola Gay is the second thing to catch your eye as you walk into the main hangar. (The first is The Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, which, granted, doesn't have any guns on it, but is still clearly an instrument of war.) We were walking around the museum talking about various evolutionary improvements versus leaping advancements (like swept wings) and how all these things allowed us, the US military, to be better at killing the bad guys.

Killing. The. Bad. Guys.

Okay. Yeah. The history of flight has two branches- commercial flight and military flight. And our wonderful, fabulous, can't compliment him enough tour guide spent 20 years in the Air Force so of course he is more interested in the military branch of things. I am well aware that my lack of military knowledge allows me to be all judgemental from a particularly safe and ignorant point of view. But I have to admit that I didn't expect the National Air and Space Museum to make me think that hard. Or be that emotional. Or that uncomfortable and conflicted. Or, you know, that involved.

(Side note: The tour guides get to talk about whatever they're interested in. There isn't a set tour that they have to follow. Which is great because it means they are fascinating tours, but also means that Sarah and Desh once went on a tour that spent the entire time looking at engines. Which probably, at this point, I should trust and believe would be great because the tour guides are so fabulous, but really? Engines? Two hours of engines? I fear that that would be like a wrench museum. (Boring, guys. I mean boring.) All of the title cards for the artefacts and what have you are very technical; they totally and completely fail to be compelling on their own. Which is why the tours are so great.) (Have I made that clear yet? If you go to the National Air and Space Museum take a tour.)

Oooh! You guys ready for my favourite part? The Langley Aerodrome was hanging above our heads near the end of the tour. It is beautiful- made of pale wood and yards and yards of creamy cloth stretched out on an architecturally stunning framework. But, you know, it is also flat. With a boat in the middle. And clearly couldn't fly if you paid it to. So what on earth was it? I wanted to know.
See how this is falling into the water? how it is totally not going to fly? Isn't this silly? It was catapulted off of that there house boat and kerplash! fell into the water. Many times. I love it. Oh, early flight. So many times you did not work.

What makes it even more fun is that when the Wright Brothers managed to fly, the U.S. Patent office granted them a patent on the idea of flight. Take that to the bank. So after people had got thoroughly fed up with paying royalties on the idea of flight someone came along, dug out the Langley Aerodrome from its storage place in the Smithsonian, heavily modified it, got it to fly, unmodified it, and sued the Wright Brothers. Ultimately the judge rolled his eyes at both groups and said something along the lines of "don't waste my time with your ridiculous flying contraption, but Wright brothers? You can't patent the idea of flight, anything related to it that you invented? Sure. Go ahead. Definitely. But not the idea of flight."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But - but ---

Wrenches are neat - and come in many, many varities! Let me tell you about the wrenches used to screw dental implants into bone -------------