National Air & Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
The National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. is a history, game, and modelling buff’s idea of a really, really good time. Iconic Space Race era rockets, landers, and astronaut’s suits rub shoulders with WWII vintage aircraft and rarities that look like they were brought in direct from Area 51. From the Wright Brothers planes to the Mars Rover and the nose section of a Boeing 747 to an eleven-foot long scale model of the USS Enterprise it’s an encompassing experience.
The museum impresses right off the bat!
Just inside the door is a lunar lander. Head upstairs and right and you run into a fantastic display of aircraft from all eras in flight. Head left and you run into Skylab and the rockets used to propel the Space Race.
You could spend a day in the space section or, really, in any of the main galleries. Artifacts, prototypes, and originals are logically sequenced and take you on a voyage of Discovery, Apollo, and Skylab. As an avid space enthusiast I was starstruck being within Earth gravity leaping distance of so many icons of the space age. I spent quite a long time staring, in awe of the people and machines that had travelled so far and taught us so much about ourselves and our place in our solar system and beyond.
The World War II section took up a big chunk of my time as well. Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa has a WWII collection to rival this one so I wasn’t quite as starstruck; however, there are some nice pieces in excellent shape on display. Standing next to these fighters gives you a sense of the guts it took to fly them. Minimal electronics, a snug cockpit, and your wits is all you got to help you make it back.
The aircraft carrier exhibit highlights the last hurrah of the big battleships as the fast aircraft carrier task force rose to dominance by the end of the WWII. The future of the aircraft carrier group is currently open for debate but the small sampling of carrier based aircraft on display here gives a nod to carrier based fire power since the start of WWII.
For me the most impressive piece on display was the 11 foot long USS Enterprise model representing the first nuclear powered carrier launched in 1961. It’s a full 11 feet long, done in 1/100th scale. I guarantee there’s not a visiting wargamer that hasn’t thought about the awesome game you could play on its surface or been dumbstruck by the time and effort needed to create it!
In 1982, the Museum acquired the 11-foot model of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. It was built and donated by Stephen Henninger, who spent about 1,000 hours a year for 12 years to construct the 1:100 scale ship.
The museum is the only place I want to see either of these unmanned craft up close, or at all for that matter! I somehow don’t think they’re designed to be seen or heard.
There are dozens more exhibits, each rivalling the last.
Not shown here are the Wright Brothers, WWI Great War in the Air, Time and Navigation, and several more space and history of flight exhibits. Like all the Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall it’s free to get in. I’m looking forward to another visit so I can spend more time to do the place justice.
If you’re inspired to recreate or game WWI or WWII dogfights here’s an easy to learn, difficult to master, miniatures game for the newbie or casual gamer looking to break into the hobby. Wings of Glory: It plays equally well with 2 to 10 players as long as you’ve got a plane for everyone. The newest release (as of July 2017) is a Battle of Britain set that comes with everything you need to get started. There’s a wide and growing variety of both WWI biplane and WWII fighters and bombers miniatures made for the game. Below is my (ever growing) collection.