Viewport: Our Family Albums
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, January 2011
"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 December/January issue of Air & Space.
Two recently published books offer views of the National Air and Space Museum that even some of us who work here have never fully appreciated. The Legacy of Flight: Images from the Archives of the National Air and Space Museum is a real treasure. Our chief photo archivist, Melissa Keiser, selected 132 photos from the more than two million in our collection for a presentation to accompany the opening of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. Her presentation got such an enthusiastic response that many here thought it should be made available to a wider audience. This book is the result.
Although Melissa has characterized her selection as impressionistic, the book, with text by David Romanowski of the Museum’s Exhibits Design office, is a fine representation of the archival collection (see Reviews & Previews, Sept. 2010). It is also a concise overview of flight’s first century. One of the more famous images in the book is the grainy photograph of a B-25B Mitchell bomber that has just lifted off the deck of the USS Hornet on what was to become known as the Doolittle Raid, the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 1942 retaliatory strike against Tokyo, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. In the photo, a broad expanse of ocean stretches ahead of the bomber. Looking at it, you can imagine the country’s state of mind in the months after Pearl Harbor, when the series of defeats in the Pacific made us all worry about what lay ahead. You can see this photograph and others from the book on the magazine’s Web site: airspacemag.com/multimedia.
The other book that offers an unusual look inside the Museum—and a long view back at the history of this magnificent collection and of the buildings that house it—is Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: An Autobiography, a compilation of photographs with essays by Museum curators, published by the National Geographic Society. The excerpt from the book in this issue provides only a few highlights of the effort to build and care for the largest collection of historic air- and spacecraft in the world. And the work is ongoing. We are completing Phase Two of the Udvar-Hazy Center, featuring the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar and facilities to house the Museum’s archives and small-artifact collections. We are anxious to have people visit the new hangar, where they will learn about the restoration process by watching specialists repair and preserve artifacts.
But even as we are finishing the expansion of the Museum, progress continues in the fields of aviation and space exploration. And as vast as our new Center is, it will not hold everything in the current collection, so we continue to form partnerships with other institutions to care for and display significant artifacts. With this emphasis on sharing, we will collect and preserve objects that represent the achievements of flight’s new century.
J.R. Dailey is the Director of the National Air and Space Museum.