FOR THE NEXT THREE MONTHS,
the National Air and Space Museum is hosting an exhibit unlike any that has appeared in the Museum before. Developed by Boeing and Evergreen Exhibitions, Above and Beyond features 20 interactive or dynamic displays that engage visitors in the many fields of aerospace, from designing aircraft to traveling to Mars (see In the Museum, p. 22). This is a gallery where there are not just things to see—although there are artifacts and many videos—but things to do. When you plan your visit, you’ll want to budget at least a couple of hours in order to take in all that is offered here.
Besides its interactivity, Above and Beyond is unusual in another way. At the same time it teaches our visitors about aerospace, we hope it will teach us about our visitors. As we begin to renovate our other galleries—work we are undertaking with a $30 million gift from Boeing—our curators and exhibit designers are using Above and Beyond as a test lab to learn about the kinds of activities that are most effective in holding visitors’ interest.
Even as we update and transform our exhibit space, one hallmark of the National Air and Space Museum that will not change is the protection and display of authentic artifacts that played a significant role in aerospace history. One of those artifacts, the subject of this issue’s cover story (p. 60), is the Vought F-8 Crusader, the first U.S. fighter to fly faster than 1,000 mph.
In 1966, I checked out in the F-8. There was no simulator, and there were no two-seaters. To get the feel of the airplane, on your first hop, you lined up on the runway, went into afterburner, and at 60 knots you came out of burner and tried to stop before the end of the runway.
Every F-8 pilot wanted to earn a thousand-mile-an-hour pin, but although the F-8 was an easy airplane to fly, it wasn’t easy to get it to 1,000 mph. In the F-4, you can get your Mach 2 pin just by adding power and sitting there. In the F-8, you had to really work, particularly in the older ones. You climbed to about 43,000 feet, then went into afterburner, which you could use for only five minutes. Then you started down, accelerating, and when you got to 37,000 feet, you eased it back up to about 40,000 feet again. When you came back down the next time, you had to make it, because by then you’d run out of burner time and probably out of airspace.
In this issue’s feature, you’ll see the patch the F-8 pilots made: “When you’re out of F-8s, you’re out of fighters.” A-4 Skyhawk pilots developed a different patch. It said, “When you’re out of F-8s, it’s no big deal.” I’m glad I don’t have to moderate that debate, but I’m also glad we have an F-8 Crusader in the National Air and Space Museum. You can learn a lot about fighter aircraft by studying that one.
J.R. DAILEY IS THE JOHN AND ADRIENNE
MARS DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL AIR AND
Washington, DC Chantilly, VA