Friday, August 25, 2006

Air and Space

Yesterday I visited the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center outside of Washington, DC.

We got to see the Concorde:


And the Joint Strike Fighter (that my brother-in law has been working on):


And the Enola Gay:


And probably less important to everybody else, but cool to me, a WWII Corsair:

The Corsair is a Navy plane; the wings fold up so that it can be easily stored on an aircraft carrier. My grandfather was on the USS Shangri-la in the Pacific, and tells stories about these planes and the men who flew them, learning to land on the aircraft carrier deck. See the hook at the back? When the planes landed they had to catch one of 4 tripwires at the end of the deck to stay on the ship; the runway wasn't long enough for a normal landing. As you can probably guess, if they missed the wires it wasn't pretty -- if they could pull up and circle around, they could try for another landing, but if not, they would just smack into the ocean and that would be the end of it.

The center itself is very interesting. It was intended to be a storage facility for planes and spacecraft, but it's been opened up into a quasi-museum. I say quasi because they aren't allowed to put up much in the way of interpretation. It's a cross between an ordinary hangar and somebody's model collection, with all kinds of stuff hanging from the ceiling. We were lucky to get a tour with one of the curators, who told us all about the challenges of balancing being a storage facility with being a museum, and changes previous curators had made to the planes, such as repainting them to represent an era they may never have flew in.

What was disappointing was how the center has to play to its constituency. There is very little mention of how planes (and there are a lot of military planes on display) have been used to bomb people. For example, the Enola Gay has only the same amount of interpretation as every other plane in the exhibit, with no special mention of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is a display of onboard cameras, some of which were specifically manufactured to fit into spots made for machine guns, but the display only listed uses such as geological surveying and agriculture, not finding strategic bomb targets. Kind of strange.

By the way, this is how long it takes to drive to Washington, DC, and get stuck in traffic on the way home:

Yes, that's the second sock of the pair, and I cast on in the car in the morning. I'm so glad I had this, or I probably would have gone crazy when we sat in a standstill on the beltway for almost three hours.

Bloglines notes
1. The only way I know to figure out how many subscribers I have is to subscribe to my own blog and then click on its name. There is probably an easier or smarter way, but I'm lazy and haven't figured it out yet.
2. To get a bloglines button, you have to first open an account (free) and then on the page with "My Feeds" it's listed under the "Extras" at the bottom.
3. I can see some of who subscribes to my page, but not everybody. You can choose to be a public or private subscriber.

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