I spent a pleasant hour or so Tuesday at the unfortunately-named Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the warehouse annex to the National Air and Space Museum that opened in 2003 in Chantilly, Virginia.
Had I spent that time aboard the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird prominently displayed, I could have flown from Washington to Los Angeles; this plane did the reverse route on March 6, 1990 in just over an hour--64 minutes, clocking in at 2,144 miles per hour.
Having been to the aviation museum on the mall a number of times, with its delicate wood and cloth Wright Brothers Flyer and steel gray Spirit of St. Louis, it was refreshing to go to a new space and see different aircraft, though this is not a sterling example of the museum curator's art: planes and plaques and that's it, with cases of Flash Gordon rayguns and a numbing array of missiles and rockets. The space itself, a pair of soaring, curved hangars, was dramatic, though.
I half hoped my favorite plane, the stumpy Granville Gee Bee, would be there, but it wasn't, no doubt because all of them crashed, killing their pilots, and were destroyed. Future World War II Jimmy Doolittle once said that flying the Gee Bee was like trying to balance a pencil by its point on your fingertip, and flying it in the 1930 Thompson Race inspired him to quit air racing while still alive. The Gee Bee had such a powerful engine crammed into a tiny barrel of a body that the plane wanted more than anything else to flip over.
There was another charmingly squat plane I had never heard of before, the Stits Sky Baby, for half a century the smallest plane to carry a pilot. Looking like a refuge from a Disney movie, with a top speed of 80 miles an hour, it was sort of the opposite of the SR-71, though cool in its own right. Considering the vast difference in cost, I'd much rather lope across the country in the Sky Baby in ... 30 hours ... and pocket the hundreds of millions difference in the plane's cost than tear along with expensive speed in the SR-71.
|Stit Sky Baby|