Viewport: All in the Family
From the desk of the Director of the National Air & Space Museum, J.R. Dailey.
- By J. R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, May 2008
"Viewport," by National Air and Space Museum director J.R. Dailey, opens each issue of Air & Space magazine. The column highlights the Museum's ongoing efforts to preserve the history of aviation and spaceflight. This article appeared in the April/May 2008 issue of Air & Space.
To the many great gifts the National Air and Space Museum received from Don and Mary Engen, their son Travis and his wife Anne have recently added another: a $15 million donation that will make it possible for us to begin work on a new wing of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Vice Admiral Donald Engen (ret.) was the Museum director from 1996 to 1999, when he died in a motorized-glider accident. His leadership inspired the Museum staff, won us many friends, and created a momentum that helped carry the Center through to its 2003 opening. The Center's observation tower is named for him.
While he was the Museum director, his wife Mary was an energetic advocate, and after his death, she joined our Board of Directors. Mary Engen died in 2006. In making the donation, Travis Engen said the passion his parents felt for aviation and their dedication to the Museum prompted the gift.
The addition that this money will help build will be dedicated to the restoration, preservation, and treatment of artifacts of all sizes, as well as a center for archival research. The largest component will be a restoration facility, named the Mary Baker Engen Hangar, in recognition of Travis and Anne Engen's gift. The hangar will be large enough to accommodate up to six aircraft. Visitors will be able to watch from a mezzanine level as restorers work on the artifacts. When we move the restoration work to this new hangar from its present location at the Paul E. Garber facility in suburban Maryland, we believe the interest the public has shown in restorations completed there over the years will accompany the artifacts to the new home.
A few months before Travis made the decision to help the Museum build the new hangar, he called me to check on the progress of one of those restorations. Among the aircraft waiting their turn to be restored and exhibited at the Udvar-Hazy Center is a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, similar to the one his dad had flown during the World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf. Now, "Helldiver" is one of the more polite names I've heard used for this dive bomber; some of the early models were known to experience severe buffeting during dives and were famously hard to handle. Nevertheless, the Helldiver, many would argue, was essential to U.S. victory in the Pacific.
Pilots, I've noticed, often feel toward the aircraft they've flown an affection similar to family loyalty: They can deride an airplane all they want, but Lord help anybody else who points out its faults, and they often see fine qualities that elude the rest of the world. I think Admiral Engen passed his affection for the Helldiver on to his son, and all of us who love airplanes can understand why Travis is eager to see that airplane restored. The staff at the National Air and Space Museum are grateful that he was inspired to help move that restoration along. And every time I see the restored Helldiver, I know I'll think about family loyalty—and of one exceptional family in particular.