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Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum -- Again

January 30, 2009

Written February 15

Dear Friends and Families,

Just south of the airport runways at Dulles International Airport is one of my favorite museums: the Udvar Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Not only is a great way to kill a couple hours before boarding the late afternoon flight back to Germany, it's a good place for an engineer to visit to further understand the evolutionary nature of technology but the revolutionary impact it has had over the last century.

This visit I found myself caught in some very specific parts of the giant museum. First, I focused on some of the earliest planes, almost all developed by the need for military "progress". It was World War I that saw airplanes move from slow and simple observation platforms to mass-produced military weapons. While they may not have fundamentally altered that war, which was one of trench warfare and attrition, they did develop the ground support and bombing roles that would become key in later wars.

The other corner that I concentrated on was filled with the engines and other hardware that made flying machines fly. The complexity of the hardware was remarkable as was the fact that production of these complex engines and pumps and gear went from zero to thousands-per-year in a matter of months.

Restored as they are at the Air and Space Museum, the hardware seems like giant Swiss watches, filled with thousands of intricate pieces. The engineering was truly remarkable, considering the state of the knowledge of flight and the limits of hand calculations. Young engineers might remember that when faced with novel tasks.

Just inside the dramatic entrance hall is a 1946 Pitts Special, the most successful sport plane ever. In the early 70's I took flying lessons in a Florida flight school owned by Mary T. Gaffney, a remarkable pilot who could make a Pitts do the impossible.

This SPAD's most famous pilot was Bill Mitchell, called by some the father of American Military Aviation. It was a French plane, handed down to the American volunteers, once better planes were available for the local French flyers.

The German Halberstadt CL.IV was a mainstay of the German war effort and helped develop the techniques for ground support.

Eventually, the Curtis airplanes were the backbone of the U.S. Army Air Corps, including this modification for landing on lakes and rivers.

The 1916 Caudron was the first multi-engine plane of WWI and was quite successful. It was easy to fly, relatively reliable, and developed a role as a bomber, as well as, the more usual role as an observation post. (Bombs were dropped, by hand, out a small trap door under the feet of the man in the front seat.) This particular plane had it's original covering, dulled by the years. The engine parts were also original, but shined from years of restoration.

The corner of the Hazy Center that includes engines and other airplane innards probably isn't the first place anyone stops. Nonetheless, it's interesting (for engineers?) because these were complex machines, particularly before the relative simplicity of jet engines.

This glass case holds the Pratt & Whitney R-4360, the largest reciprocating engine ever put in mass production. These cutaways were training aids.

At the other end of the time and size spectrum was this German Benz BZ 4S. There were 6,500 made in WWI.

Another German development was the Junkers Jumbo 004 B4, the first mass-produced turbojet. Six thousand of these were made in the last two years of WWII.
This Lycoming X12-7755-3 was the largest reciprocating engine ever built. Only two test engines were made. Turbojet engines took over before this monster was put into production.

The Wright engines were the mainstay of the WW II U.S. bomber fleet.
These two span the whole technology from Langley's unsuccessful flight just months before the Wright brothers' to the Air France Concord. The first was little more than an elaborate kite, illustrating how advanced the Wright Brothers technology was. The Concorde later demonstrated that successful technology would not be enough to make commercial success.

And, hours after these pictures, I boarded my Air France flight to Paris, with a connection to Nuremberg. In a little over 100 years, we have changed transportation more than ever before. And we get Frequent Flyers miles!


John and Marianne


Smithsonian: http://www.si.edu/

Hazy Air and Space Annex: http://www.nasm.si.edu/



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