Ten Great Moments in Aerospace History

And you can learn about all of them in one trip to the National Air and Space Museum.

The Piper Cub (Dane Penland)
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Forty years ago, on the nation’s bicentennial, President Gerald Ford declared the newly opened National Air and Space Museum a “perfect birthday present from the American people to themselves.” Although the Smithsonian Institution’s aerospace collection had been established much earlier, it wasn’t until the building on the National Mall opened that hundreds of artifacts could be displayed in one exhibition space.

Four decades later, thanks to a $30 million donation from the Boeing Company, the Museum has renovated its entrance hall and begun work on other galleries and educational activities. In recognition of Boeing’s generous gift, the new entrance gallery has been renamed the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

One of the first changes visitors will notice is an interactive wall that introduces them to objects on display within the Museum. By downloading the accompanying Go Flight app onto a smartphone or tablet, visitors can read stories about the artifacts, watch videos of their history, and learn about connections between the world’s most significant air- and spacecraft.

Because the app (available for Android and iOS) can track your location, when you’re in the Museum, it offers you a map to help direct your visit, hour-long guided tours, and a schedule of daily events. If you open the app at home, you’ll get a list of topics that can be tailored to your interests. Each time you open the app, you’ll get a different set of stories.

To celebrate the Museum’s 40th birthday, we’re highlighting 10 iconic objects of the hundreds on display. Through the Go Flight app, any one of these could lead you on a journey through a dozen historic artifacts, showing how one led to the next.

Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde

Supersonic passenger travel was conceived in the 1950s, developed in the 1960s, and realized in the mid-1970s. And for 27 years, the graceful Anglo-French Concorde carried travelers across the Atlantic Ocean in great comfort at twice the speed of sound.

In Europe, enterprising designers in the United Kingdom and France were independently outlining their plans for a supersonic transport, and in November 1962, the two nations agreed to pool their resources and share the risks of developing and building the SST. Despite initial enthusiasm, the airlines declined their purchase options once they calculated the Concorde’s operating costs. Only Air France and British Airways—the national airlines of their countries at the time—flew the 16 production aircraft, and only after acquiring them from their governments at virtually no cost.

Soon, economic realities forced Air France and British Airways to cut back their already limited service, leaving only the transatlantic service to New York. Even on most of these flights, the Concorde was only half full, with many of the passengers flying as guests of the airlines. The average round-trip ticket cost more than $12,000;  few could afford to fly.

In April 2003, with maintenance costs spiraling upward and new parts becoming prohibitively expensive, the aircraft were grounded permanently.  

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