To walk inside the Air & Space Museum is to enter a gigantic time capsule. All around you, whether suspended from the ceiling or parked at floor level, the visitor is surrounded by aircraft that each, in its own
unique fashion, represents a mile stone in the history of flight. It's an extraordinary feeling to find yourself in this cavernous room surrounded by so much ground-breaking aviation history.
You look up into the rafters of the building and there, suspended as in amber, is the recumbant figure of Wilbur Wright inside his "1903 Flyer", with which he accomplished the first sustained flight of a heavier-than-air vehicle. It looks fragile and skeletal and just barely air-worthy. Juxtaposed behind him and his craft is the golden, insect-like Pioneer 1 satellite that was the first man-made object to exit our solar system some 70 years later.
You move your head around some more and you see a DC-3, first produced in 1935, perhaps the world's most successful aircraft used for both passengers and freight -- and still flying in isolated places. Or you spot the
TriMotor and the Boeing 247-D, the first successful long-distance airliners, while down on the floor is a DC-6 fuselage that you can walk through. Inside you get a view of the lost elegance that was once
part of flying where windows had curtains, food was served on real china with sterling silver cutlery, and wood and leather were to be seen. No sterile plastic or Saran Wrap here, and no foil packages of salted peanuts, either...
I found myself flashing back to my first flight over the Rockies in a DC-6 when I was a pre-teen; I also remembered flying in a DC-3 and being buffeted by winds just barely above a blizzard over South Dakota when
I was about 9 years old -- and terrified, I might add.
When I noticed the replica of Russia's Sputnik I suspended from the ceiling, I also remembered the shock its launch provoked in the States. Then, when I viewed the charred Mercury capsule, so tiny and so vulnerable
looking -- and it's there, too -- I recalled the flickery black-and-white television images of its launch from what was then Cape Canaveral, and the joy that Astronaut John Glenn had returned safely as the first American to orbit the earth in the capsule he had named Friendship 7.
For me, the experience of the museum is one of walking back in time and into my own past. That so much of American aviation history has been preserved here is a tribute to all those who had the forethought and the drive to make certain that it was all preserved and housed in such beautiful -- and accessible -- surroundings.