Aviators and astronauts earn deserved recognition for expanding the envelope.
Recently, I was privileged to attend the annual aviation awards ceremony sponsored by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), recognizing individuals who set or broke aviation and space records during the past year. (The NAA is both the national aero club of the United States and the country’s representative to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which is the world’s arbiter of records set above terra firma.) I watched tomorrow’s history being recorded and recognized.
The honors ran the gamut from a west-to-east transcontinental “dash” in a Boeing Stearman (remember the PT-17 WWII trainer?) that took nearly 35 hours and resulted in a speed record of 60.02 mph, to a somewhat swifter 626 mph recorded during a commercial flight in a Fed Ex MD-11F between Tokyo and Anchorage. The size of aircraft involved ranged from a one-man homebuilt balloon that set a 27 hour 25 minute duration record to an “assembled mass” record of 548,232 pounds when the Mir space station and the U.S. space shuttle docked.
The “envelope” continues to be stretched, and aviation history continues to be made.
New Face in NASM’s Left Seat
Taking up the reins as director of the National Air and Space Museum to succeed Donald D. Engen, who died in a sailplane accident last year, is General John R. Dailey, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.). I met General Dailey for the first time at the awards ceremony mentioned above.
As one would expect from a former Marine, Dailey exudes an aura of steely-eyed, no-nonsense, let’s-get-the-job-done focus–balanced by a confident, pleasant smile and an easy approachability. Dailey is a decorated 6,000-hour airplane and helicopter pilot who flew 450 combat missions during two tours in Vietnam and rose to the rank of assistant commandant of the Marines. After he retired, Dailey moved to NASA to serve as that organization’s most senior adviser.
Dailey appears to have, as they say, the right stuff. He’ll need it. The NASM still has a long way to go to get back on its assigned track after wandering off course several years ago, as well as to scrape up the money that will be needed to build the new annex at Dulles International Airport, expected to open on the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight–December 17, 2003. The fund-raising effort got a big shot in the arm last fall when aviation executive Steven F. Udvar-Hazy rode in like a white knight and dropped a gift of $60 million into the museum fund. Appropriately, the new facility has been named the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and a visitor observation tower to be built adjacent to the main building will be named the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower.
So far, Dailey sounds like he’s on the right track. Quoted in the NAA’s newsletter, National Aeronautics, he stated that the mission of the NASM is to tell the story of human achievement and American leadership in the history of aviation and space flight and “to preserve and restore the priceless artifacts that embody this young, exhilarating science and to educate and inspire new generations.” He added, “Our goal is to inspire generations of young people to enter professions in the aviation and space industry, a worthwhile effort that will keep us in the forefront of global technology development.” Right on.
We wish Dailey well as he takes broom in one hand, tin cup in the other and becomes the new steward of the aviation corner in our nation’s attic–otherwise known as the Smithsonian Institution.
A Tip of the Hat to a Modern Pioneer
I had to pore through local news sections of The Washington Post and listen to nearby radio stations to get any news of a modern-day aviation pioneer when he flew an open-cockpit biplane to the North Pole earlier this year. Gaithersburg, Md., aviator Gustavas A. McLeod flew his 1939 Boeing Stearman, a one-time military trainer and later crop-duster airplane, from Maryland to the top of the world last April. He endured some pretty frosty aviating, mechanical problems and an unscheduled landing on the way back–but he got there, and back, in one piece.
Congratulations to McLeod for performing a feat that all of us aviators admire to the fullest.
Arthur H. Sanfelici, Editor, Aviation History