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Smithsonian Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery

The “Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery” opens to the public Nov. 19 at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, replacing the original “Pioneers” gallery that opened in 1976. Updated with new research, it features a broader selection of artifacts and puts aviation and rocketry in the historical and cultural context of the vibrant era between World War I and World War II.

The gallery profiles the individuals who pushed the existing technological or social limits of flight, and every aircraft or object in it represents an unprecedented feat, a barrier overcome—a pioneering step.

“Pioneers of Flight” highlights the first half of the 20th century, a time when flight technology rapidly advanced and military and civilian aviation grew tremendously. Aircraft racing and record setting captured headlines and African Americans began to break through the social barriers of flight. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight and his journeys with his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, captivated public attention. Amelia Earhart set records and was a powerful example for women. C.G. Taylor and William Piper produced an airplane for the common man. Robert Goddard and others tested rockets—the key to space travel—and launched rocket engineering.

“In addition to some of the most iconic artifacts in the museum’s collection, the gallery features a number of objects never before put on display, as well as rare archival documents,” said Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey, director of the museum. “This comprehensive approach allows us to profile the pioneers themselves, and also shine a light on their historical achievements.”

“The Hilton Foundation is pleased to sponsor the ‘Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery’ and its educational programming for children,” said Steven M. Hilton, president and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. “Early-childhood education has long been a priority for our foundation. My father, Barron Hilton, was inspired by the excitement and adventure of flying when he was very young, and we hope this excellent new gallery will infuse future generations with the same passion to pursue their dreams.”

The exhibition is divided into four sections: Military Aviation, Civilian Aviation, Black Wings and Rocket Pioneers. Each contains an impressive, eclectic assortment of aircraft and personal objects—such as 1930s African American pilot Chauncey Spencer’s flight suit—that belonged to the men and women behind these achievements. A number of the museum’s iconic aircraft are on display, including the:

Fokker T-2 that made the first nonstop, coast-to-coast flight across the United States
Douglas World Cruiser “Chicago,” which completed the first around-the-world flight
Lockheed Sirius “Tingmissartoq” flown by Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Lockheed Vega flown by Amelia Earhart
Explorer II high-altitude balloon gondola
“Pioneers of Flight” features several displays and activities for children. One of the main highlights of the exhibition is “Don’s Air Service,” a hangar display with a touchable engine and wood propeller, airplane mechanics tools and an interactive gear wall where 3-to-8-year-old future airplane designers and engineers can have a hands-on learning experience. Gallery-based educational programs with a special emphasis on early childhood will be offered in this space, including story times, toys and dress-up stations and demonstrations, as well as live programming, a puppet theater and a monitor showing aviation-themed movie clips to stimulate children’s imaginations.

For older children, the exhibition offers digital interactive components that enable visitors to:

Fly a mission with the Tuskegee Airmen
Plan the first flight around the world and help the Lindberghs pack the “Tingmissartoq”
Design a racer to enter in air races
The renovation of the gallery and the ongoing live programming is made possible by the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

The National Air and Space Museum is on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free, but there is a $15 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

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