Viewport: Ask the Archivists
- By J. R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, March 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 February/March 2008 issue of Air & Space.
If you are planning to restore a P-51 mustang, are researching the history of the jet engine, need the specifications for the dive brakes on a Douglas Dauntless, or have question about an aircraft your father flew in Korea, I encourage you to contact the national Air and Space Museum Archives: www.nasm.si.edu/research/arch/services.cfm.
Archivists respond to more than 3,000 requests for information each year from other museums, visiting scholars, restorers, writers, film producers, modelers, government agencies, students, and others curious about aviation history. Inquiries range from the film producer needing historical film footage for a documentary to such questions as "How many golf balls are on the moon?"
The Archives has two million technical drawings, 1,600 cubic feet of technical manuals, 1.7 million photographs, and 700,000 feet of motion picture film, chronicling the history of aviation and spaceflight; it also has the personal papers of such notables as aircraft designer Giuseppe M. Bellanca, aviator Louise Thaden, and General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., commander of the Tuskegee Airmen.
In addition, the Archives has a collection of scrapbooks that record historic events, such as the National Air Races, and experiences of individual soldiers and airmen during the two world wars. Our sound recordings capture the voices of Charles and Anne Lindbergh reading from their respective memoirs, The Spirit of St. Louis and Listen! the Wind; an interview with Jack Northrop about his flying wing designs; and reflections of Apollo astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee on space exploration recorded just one week prior to the launch pad fire that took their lives.
The Archives staff provides information to the Museum's curators and restoration, exhibition, and education departments. For example, during the restoration of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the staff supplied thousands of pages of technical information and drawings. During the project, restorers discovered that the B-29's thousands of specialized nuts and bolts had been restored for years with little or no identification. Archivists and restoration staff spent weeks using the technical manuals to identify each piece and it's placement, which enable the restorers to assemble the Enola Gay in time for the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center's 2003 dedication. Recently, the team producing the Museum's newest exhibit, "America By Air," made extensive use of the Archives' vast photography and airline ephemera collections.
The Archives staff ensures that valuable historical materials are stored properly and creates finding aids that allow researchers to use the collections effectively. By the way, in case you were wondering, there are two golf balls on the moon.