Artifacts on the Road

A gallery of traveling air- and spacecraft loaned out by the Smithsonian.

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At any given time, thousands of Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum artifacts are on loan to museums and institutions all over the world. From historic aircraft like the Curtiss NC-4, the first airplane to fly over the Atlantic, to the first American socks to orbit the planet, the objects are so widely displayed that you may not have to travel far to see one.

Take this cutie, for example. The Stits SA-2A Sky Baby was Ray Stits project to build the world's smallest piloted airplane. The itty-bitty biplane has a wingspan of just over seven feet and runs not quite ten feet long. Stits -- who built the airplane on a dare from another pilot -- flew the Sky Baby at airshows during the spring and summer of 1952, when it reached a top speed of 185 mph. Though it has since been surpassed by even tinier airplanes, the Sky Baby, in its red and white livery, is quite a sight. These days you can find it in on display in Oshkosh, Wisconsin at the Experimental Aircraft Association.

See the gallery below for more artifacts on loan.

Fairchild FC-2W2

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In 1929, Admiral Richard Byrd made the first flight over the South Pole. Though he was flying a Ford Tri-Motor, he had quite the entourage to help him document the trip. Among them was the Stars and Stripes, a Fairchild FC-2W2, from which a crew documented the journey and the Antarctic terrain below. The expedition airplane is now at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.

Vought V-173 "Flying Pancake"

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This flapjack with propellers is the Vought V-173. The 1940s-era test plane is not as crazy as it looks. As we wrote in our May 2012 issue, "the -173 made nearly 200 flights that proved its superb low-speed handling, boosted by the huge three-blade propellers." Timing killed the "Flying Pancake" though, when turbojets were introduced shortly after. The airplane was recently restored by the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation and is now on loan to the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.

Mercury Capsule #10

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No, this one doesn't have a "7" designation, like Freedom 7 and Friendship 7. Only six Mercury capsules went into space between 1961 and 1963, but a total of 20 were built for the program. Mercury #10 was used for flight qualification tests in a vacuum chamber. You can see this stepping stone to our first trips to space at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

Langley Aerodrome Number 6

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Starting in 1891, aviation pioneer and third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Langley, built a series of unmanned flying machines he called "Aerodromes." They were powered by steam and gasoline engines and tested over the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Model Number 5 made the first successful flight, and Number 6, which had slightly rounder wings, followed soon after. This early aviation gem is on display in the University of Pittsburgh's Wesley Posvar Hall.

Berliner Helicopter

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Although it wasn't until the late 1930s and early 40s that the helicopter really took off, the decades before saw many experimentalists trying to get rotary flying machines off the ground. Emile and Henry Berliner, father and son, were the first Americans to make significant process towards this goal. Emile was already pursuing helicopter concepts while the Wright brothers were experimenting at Kitty Hawk, and in fact came up with the idea of counteracting the torque of the main rotor with a vertically mounted tail rotor. His son soon came to help, and suggested adding triplane wings so the aircraft could land if the rotor failed. The 1924 Berliner Helicopter was able to reach an altitude of 15 feet in a one-minute, 35 second flight. You can see it on display at the College Park Aviation Museum in Maryland.