Alfred Hitchcock with a bird perched on his cigar

Kissed by Hitchcock

If you’ve already read my post on What It Feels Like To Fly, you may be surprised to learn that I was once TERRIFIED of flying!  My flying days started at six months old. After my dad got out of the Air Force, he and my mom decided to head back to the Great Plains and farm with the family.  He went on ahead, followed by my mother and me.  When my very first flight landed, and mom was packing up all the stuff it takes to travel with a baby, a kind gentleman standing nearby offered to help out by holding me, and even gave me a kiss on the forehead.  That kind gentleman was Alfred Hitchcock!  But that’s not why I became afraid to fly.

My dad landed a job with an airline when I was about six, and by the time I was twelve I had been over the ocean to Japan, Thailand, Fiji, and Australia.  No fear. Flying was just what my family did.

Cut to twenty years later, I become a Mom.  Suddenly, the ocean became shark-infested, turbulence became an angry God, and lightening became an entire B-Movie about planes ripping apart in the sky.  Hyperventilating. Migraines. Nausea. Fear of Death.

Not wanting to be a bad role model, I went to the source – Captain Dad.  He explained why planes aren’t likely to roll (they are built with all kinds of stabilizers controlled by both machine and pilot), why turbulence is just hot and cold air bouncing under the plane like large pieces of gravel on a country road, and how the actual skin of the airplane takes lightening and whisks it off the end of the tail. More or less.  This is how I boiled it down for my daughter, who has never had a shred of fear of flying her entire life.  We have a photo of her in her grandpa’s little airplane, hosting aviator sunglasses and holding the plane level on the horizon. My fear of flying is gone, and she is now my favorite traveling companion.  (Also, I’m pretty convinced she knows the location of every Starbucks in every airport in every state of the union.)

Yesterday, I hopped the Metro to the Smithsonian station, and visited the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). I had been wanting to fly in a simulator and realized while looking at cherry blossoms the other day that there might be one there.  To my delight, I was able to fly an F-18 simulator there!  I wasn’t interested in playing the game that lets you shoot down enemy aircraft.  I just wanted to see if I could fly the plane and not crash.  The simulator – for those of you who love thrill rides – allows you to control the speed and aspect of the plane, up to and including barrel rolls!  I highly recommend it.  It’s like a Disney ride that lets you control the speed and motion.  Then I went and saw this wonderful IMAX film called “To Fly“, that does it’s crazy huge IMAX thing, taking you in the air in a hot air balloon and in each consecutive iteration of flying machine up to and including rocket ship. Worth every penny!

Another captivating exhibit is the Wright Brothers Exhibit. In the photos below you’ll see the actual 1903 Wright Flyer, the first ever successful airplane!

Following are photographs of my trip through the NASM’s 1st floor exhibit How Things Fly.  It has a plethora of  hands-on activities to help you understand how the wind works on a wing, how air moves around an airplane, how flaps and rudders make the plane move.  I played them all. Not only was fun for me as an adult, but it was clearly fun for the plethora of delighted children watching balls held in the air by blasts of created wind, and waves form in different patterns depending on how fast you moved the “wing” through the water.

This is a great museum, and I didn’t even touch on the space part. I’m still working on moving through the atmosphere…

How Things Fly – An Exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

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