In the Museum: The Japanese Connection
- By Topper Sherwood
- Air & Space magazine, January 2001
(Page 2 of 3)
The Museum’s Seiran, the only survivor, sports some wartime doodlings, likely drawn by Aichi factory workers wielding pencils and etching tools on the aircraft’s skin. Aside from some anti-Allied graffiti, there is a carefully etched drawing of a geisha and a few nonsensical English letters and words, perhaps someone practicing his command of the language.
Watanabe’s group has been able to shed some light on the history of the Museum’s artifact. Evidence indicates that it was the last Seiran off the assembly line in Nagoya before the region was occupied by Allied troops at the end of the war. Shortly after, the aircraft was shipped by the U.S. Navy to the Alameda Naval Air Station in California, where it was stored for several years. The Seiran arrived at the Museum’s Garber facility in 1962.
“We’ve seen a lot of ongoing relationships because of this contact,” McLean observes. “Because we all share a fondness and fascination for historical aircraft, we have a lot in common with [the Japanese workers]—more, perhaps, than with many people in our own culture. We’ve been able to communicate on a level that is completely unexpected.”
The sentiment is echoed by Watanabe, who notes that the “airplane fan’s heart is same [anywhere] in the world.”
Squeezing Past History
Twenty-two years ago, the ungainly and fragile Gossamer Condor was installed in the National Air and Space Museum. I had created the aircraft for one purpose: winning the Kremer Prize for sustained-control human-powered flight as expeditiously as possible. I never considered that it would end up in the Museum, so the airplane was built in one piece. After my team won the prize, the Museum asked if we would donate the craft, and we agreed. Before it could go on display, however, the Gossamer Condor had to be cut into several portions, then trailered to the Museum and reconstructed in place. Last February, to accommodate an ongoing series of restorations to the Museum’s walls and ceilings, the aircraft had to be temporarily moved from its home in the Pioneers of Flight gallery to a display area in the Museum’s west wing. The Museum asked me to help with the move.
The delicate six-hour moving operation required four lifts, special tools, a number of wonderful Museum helpers, my son Tyler MacCready, who handled some test flying and building tasks when the GC won the Kremer Prize, and Taras Kiceniuk, who helped in the construction and testing of the GC. The craft was just barely able to squeeze by a number of aeronautical legends that stood in its way. The GC journeyed along, and jostled against, such famous vehicles as the North American X-15, Spirit of St. Louis, Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, Ford Trimotor, and Douglas DC-3. The GC also had to maneuver its way around the Einstein Planetarium’s ticket booth. After measurements, planning, and procuring appropriate tools and materials on February 8, the Gossamer Condor move was made the next day.
Tyler MacCready was the operations strategist and vehicle manipulator, working from the highest lift. Kiceniuk was co-strategist, often operating a smaller lift to support the aircraft from below. All three of us had participated in the winning of the second Kremer Prize, the 1979 crossing of the English Channel by the Condor’s offspring, the Gossamer Albatross. The pressure of that project had exhausted us almost as much as it had the pilot/pedaler Bryan Allen. After the six-hour ordeal of moving the Gossamer Condor into its temporary quarters, we all agreed that the stress level was comparable to that we’d experienced two decades earlier.