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Date Posted: 20:05:37 05/08/15 Fri
vaguely inspired by the other thread, "Oldies but goodies" about medium-old airplanes.
Today being the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day for WW-II, a special exemption happened today: something like 56 WWII era trainers, fighters and bombers flew east across the Potomac River, over the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, and the World War II Memorial, before passing south of the Washington Monument, and over throngs of people filling the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Little fighters and trainers, like little bi-planes in slick formation, Mustangs, and up to gull-wing Corvairs, to somewhat exotics, like a twin-boom P-51 Lightning, or the big: B-17s, and even Fifi, the only (at the moment) airworthy B-29 Superfortress, not unlike the more well known Bock's Car or even more-so, Enola Gay.
Most of these airplanes were likely 65-80 years old - impressive for a car; astounding for something that flies! Heck; the last time I saw Fifi, back in the early 2000s, it traveled the air-show circuit and would take passengers up for short flights. The day I was there, negative: they couldn't get more than three engines running at a time.
But here they were; an impressive but mismatched fleet of historic aviation, flying through some of the most highly restrictive air-space in North America -- a fraction of a mile south of the White House, flying straight at the Capital, flying through the main approach path to Reagan/National DCA. And just a few weeks after a postman landed a gyrocopter on the Capital grounds. In fact, my first thought as I and countless other workers headed back into our respective buildings (and tourists, as well,) was: did the weight of the paperwork have to at least equal the weight of an airplane before it (the plane and pilot) were cleared for this little adventure?
Maybe it reflects poorly on something - me or our [paranoid-security-] culture - that even as someone who works in a history museum, my first thought was about the logistics of this incredible display. How many of these people, flying airplanes probably significantly older than them, had even flown in any sort of formation before?
Unlike Duane, who exists only in our minds, who fell into his dream job in the Grand Canyon National Park, I do have something of a dream job: for someone with an interest in museums, where I work has a reputation -- deserved or not -- on par with some of our grandest National Parks as wonders of our world. And all too often, it is easy to get lost into the details, and even forget that our job is not just "a job," but is to enable the millions of tourists and academics access to some remarkable things. Things that talk. Things-- like those next door to me, are often pretty much stuffed.
Even diagonally across the Mall, our little aviation museum, with its staff of restoration artists, tends to restore aircraft -- for being stuffed.
Four years ago, in my first visit to the Grand Canyon area, I was driving up Highway 64 toward the Park entrance, and saw a sign for the Planes of Fame Air Museum. Okay, being a museum worker, I guess I'm something of a museum junkie. I diverted off and decided to spend a few minutes checking the place out. I ended up having an amazing three hour visit with one of the two paid staff (airplane mechanic, restoration specialist, pilot, exhibit designer, exhibit maintainer, fund-raiser, conservator, and Museum Director) as well as the volunteer who ran the gift-shop and sold admission tickets.
There were no Imax movies, fancy interactive computers, or all of those crazy bells and whistles that modern museum-goers expect. Or, at least, things that many of us who work in museums seem to think that modern museum-goers expect to see. Instead, there were airplanes. Lots of them. Jumbled together. With some amazing diversity of aircraft. And there was something really amazing about most of these airplanes: not only were they being restored or fully restored, but most of them were in flying condition.
And were flown.
Maybe not regularly. Or even often. But that potential was there. Something that the Enola Gay will never do. But that Mitsubishi Zero out in Arizona? Maybe. Granted, it would never fly in a formation like that which flew over DC today -- being on the wrong side -- and in the Pacific Theatre, at that.
When I started writing this, I really didn't know where I was going with it. Nor did I have any idea it was going to be so long. I guess the only thing that came to mind was that this might be a good outlet for it. And looking back at what I've written, I wonder if maybe it's something of a lesson at least for museum professionals: to not get so caught up in stuffing artifacts, but to remember that they have a reason. A cause. A life or soul of their own. And that maybe our idealized museums aren't really the best. Just the biggest.
But anyway, if any of you have made it this far, and you're ever in the Flagstaff / Grand Canyon area, and have the slightest interest in aviation.. support a museum who is, in some ways, struggling as hard as Debbie Elkstalker-Evachevski and her fellow kataras, to preserve not just the "stuff" of flight, but also the soul of flight.
Note also: in this, there should be enough clues for someone to figure out where I work. This has no formal or official connection with that place or my job there. I just hope I'm not making a fool out of myself doing this.