The pioneering designs of Orville and Wilbur Wright launched over a century of inspiring aeronautic innovation. Prepare to be awed with our general aviation exhibits that start with the earliest aircraft designs and wind you through history with samples of private, sport, and commercial aircraft. Our general aviation exhibits also include non-military helicopters and special aircraft.
The Wright brothers are only the beginning of aeronautic history. Their fragile designs led to countless early experiments in flight. Discover how these fledgling beginnings led to the solid aircraft we know today. Travel back in time as you marvel at the innovation and beauty of these early planes!
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Wright 1903 Flyer Replica The 1903 Flyer’s brief hops into the sky were the product of more than four years of study and careful calculations by Ohio bicycle mechanics Orville and Wilbur Wright. The brothers constructed a wind tunnel, and designed and flew many full-size gliders. On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first successful heavier-than-air craft. The twelve-second flight of 120 feet, into a 27-mile per hour headwind, went down in history as the world’s first powered, controlled and sustained airplane flight.
Blériot XI Racer Replica In the early years of aviation, pilots often vied for prizes offered for accomplishing great feats of airmanship. One of those prizes was offered by the London Daily Mail to the first to cross the English Channel. On the morning of July 25, 1909, French aviator Louis Blériot made aviation history by crossing the English Channel in an aircraft of his own design, the Blériot XI. Thirty-five minutes after leaving France, he completed the crossing and landed in Dover. The Blériot XI became one of the first mass-produced aircraft.
Curtiss JN-4 Jenny (Canuck) 1917 Replica Built as a trainer for World War I pilots, the letter and number designation “JN-4” looked enough like “Jenny” to earn it the nickname almost immediately. Ninety-five percent of World War I U.S. and Canadian pilots flew a JN-4 during their training. Century Aviation of Wenatchee, Washington, built this replica with many original Jenny (Canuck) pieces, including an original Curtiss OX-5 engine and many vintage metal parts.
Curtiss Model D Headless Pusher Replica One of the most successful competitors to the Wright Brothers was Glenn Curtiss. Like the Wrights, his designs were “pushers,” with the engine mounted behind the pilot. He utilized a more intuitive control system and small winglets called ailerons. A Navy Curtiss model D flown by Eugene Ely made the first takeoff from a ship in 1910 and the first landing the following year, giving rise to what would someday be the aircraft carrier.
It wasn’t long after the first manned aircraft got off the ground that pioneering entrepreneurs began selling tickets to fly. From pre-war, prop-driven commercial aircraft to the jetliners of today, you’ll walk through the history of commercial flight with this special exhibit.
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Beechcraft D-17A Traveler (Staggerwing) The Model 17, commonly called the Staggerwing, was the first aircraft produced by Walter Beech at the Beech Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas. Beginning in 1932, more than 780 Beech 17s were produced in eight different series over seventeen years. Most biplanes’ upper wing is located further forward than the lower. The reverse is true with this aircraft, earning it the nickname Staggerwing. This 1939 Beech D17A Staggerwing, is the last known surviving example of the model. It is also the first of the eight D17As built.
de Havilland DH-4M-1 The DH-4 was a British-designed World War I observation and bombing plane. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, it had no tested warplane designs of its own so it built nearly 5,000 de Havillands under license. The DH-4 was the only American-made airplane used in combat by the United States during World War I. Built in 1918, this aircraft was one of 180 DH-4s modernized by the Boeing Aircraft Company in 1923 for mail hauling service. This DH-4M still carries an Airworthiness Certificate!
Boeing 747-100 One of the most recognizable airliners in the world, the Boeing 747 revolutionized airline travel when it first entered service in 1970. Dubbed a “Jumbo Jet,” the 747 had its origins in a competition for a large military cargo aircraft. While the Boeing design did not win, it was re-introduced when Juan Trippe, the president of Pan American Airways, came to Boeing looking for an airliner twice the size of the airliners then in service.
Douglas DC-3A The DC-3 is unquestionably one of the greatest airplanes ever made. First flown in service in 1936, many DC-3s are still flying today. Originally built as the DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport), the DC-3 design instantly made every other aircraft in passenger service an antique. It was ultra-modern, big and fast. First delivered to United Air Lines on November 25, 1936, and is the second oldest surviving Douglas DC-3A. Named the Mainliner Reno, it was also the first to be fitted with Pratt & Whitney supercharged engines. The Reno pioneered many of United’s routes from coast to coast. She is still airworthy today.
There are as many kinds of planes as there are pilots. Whether you want to roll, race, or build your own aircraft at home, there’s a perfect design just for you. Explore these unique, specialized aircraft in this fascinating collection.
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Granville Brothers E Sportster Replica The small, flashy Granville Brothers (Gee Bee) E Sportster embodies the spirit of sport aviation in the 1930s. Five brothers, led by Zantford Granville, went from building simple biplanes to producing highly advanced racers that set speed records. They could be challenging to fly, and all four of the Model E Sportsters were destroyed in crashes. While the Great Depression ruined hopes for mass production, much of the design for the famous R and Z racers came from these earlier Sportsters.
Schweizer SGS 2-32 Nicknamed the Cadillac of gliders, the Schweizer SGS 2-32’s wingspan is 57 feet and, when empty it weighs only 831 pounds! The 2-32 was once classified as the world’s highest-performance production multi-seat glider, setting many world and national records during the 1960s and through the 1970s for speed over 100, 300 and 500-km courses. Commonly used today for the commercial ‘rider’ business, the glider has very effective spoilers and dive brakes. With the spoilers out, the glider will not exceed 85 miles per hour even in a steep dive. This 2-32 is on loan from the National Soaring Museum.
Aviat Christen Eagle II Introduced by Frank Christen in 1978, the Christen Eagle set a new standard for home-built aircraft due to high quality and completeness. Based on the famous Pitts Special, the Eagle is an aerobatic aircraft used in competition, advanced aerobatic training and sport cross-country flying. James A. Poier completed this Eagle in 1986, from a series of kits with very detailed construction manuals. Poier donated this unique aircraft to the Museum in 2002
Handley Raven Each year, millions of people attend air shows and watch with fascination as pilots perform seemingly impossible maneuvers with specially engineered aerobatic aircraft. Designed and built by Wayne Handley of Salinas, California, the spectacular Raven is a striking and exhilarating monoplane that dazzled air show crowds every time it took to the sky.
Lancair 360 Frustrated by his inability to find a kitplane he liked, Lance Neibaur decided to design his own. Neibauer started by asking homebuilders what features they were looking for in a homebuilt. The result was the Lancair; a high-performance aircraft that was among the first kitplanes to feature molded composite construction. Pilots can construct the entire plane themselves or purchase a “Fastbuild Kit,” which includes many manufactured components.
Oldfield Baby Great Lakes Designed in the mid-1950s as a scaled down version of the Great Lakes 2T-1, , the Baby is so small it takes only one step from the tarmac into the cockpit. Built by pilots and enthusiasts for aerobatics and Sunday cruising, the Baby Great Lakes has an unexpected high performance. The little speedster can be airborne in five seconds from a dead stop, and has a climb rate of 2,000 feet per minute. Earl Thorp built this Baby Great Lakes over a span of 27 years and flew it only once – on August 12, 1997. He donated it to the Museum in 1999.
Pitts S-2B Special Florida crop duster Curtis Pitts created the first Pitts Special biplane in 1944 because he wanted to fly something more exciting and dynamic than the old Stearman he flew over cotton fields every day. Pitts’ second Special became Little Stinker, flown by Betty Skelton, who won the U.S. Women’s Aerobatics Championships four years in a row, from 1948 to 1951. By the 1960s, aerobatics flyers and their Specials were winning titles worldwide. The planes became known as one of the best stunt aircraft ever built. This Pitts was a favorite of Captain Michael King Smith, who often flew the speedy little aircraft in air show performances.
Yakovlev YAK-50 (1983) The YAK-50 is a single-seat, low wing competition aerobatic airplane. It was used for flight training at Soviet state-sponsored aviation clubs. It also served as a trainer for several other nations’ military. First flown in 1975, the YAK-50 proved its aerobatic versatility and worth at the 1976 World Aerobatic Championships. YAK-50s took the first, second and fifth places in the Men’s competition and the top five places in the Women’s! Built in 1983, this YAK-50 served as a standby aircraft for the Soviet National Aero Team. Later, air show performer Bill Reesman used this aircraft in his aerobatic act “YAK ATTACK.” Reesman donated the airplane to the Museum in 1991.
Bede BD-5B The BD-5 Micro is a small, single seat, homebuilt designed in the late ‘60s by Jim Bede. The project became too complicated for Bede so he hired Burt Rutan in the 1970s to head the flight test department while Bede handled the business. Even though 5,000 kits were sold, only a few were completed before the company went out of business. It was available with a piston engine or a jet.
Fisher 404 Biplane The FP-404 is a single engine biplane kit for amateur builders, introduced in 1984. The design was intentionally reminiscent of 1930s aircraft, with the goal of giving pilots a “seat of the pants, minimal instruments and bare necessities” sort of flight experience. The FP-404 features a wooden geodetic construction which makes it light yet very strong and Fisher states it can be built in 500 hours with common household tools
Glasair SHA In 1980, Galsair, a company founded by three Boeing engineers, revolutionized the kit plane industry with the introduction of the world’s first pre-molded composite aircraft. With pre-molded skin made of a fiberglass and foam “sandwich” it was easy to build and proved to be very popular. Originally designed as a tail-dragger, the company later incorporated retractable landing gear and today, over 3000 Glasair kits have been produced.
Quickie Q2 The Quickie was designed in 1977 by Burt Rutan. Its unique design looks like a biplane or a canard at first, but the plane is actually a dual-wing. Designed to echo an X-wing fighter from the movie Star Wars, it was intended to be an exciting project for a first-time home builder. The design of the Quickie was optimized for a minimal number of fiberglass components.
Beginning in the 1920s, airplanes became more than curiosities as people began to use them for personal transportation to get from point A to B, and in the process they changed how we travel. See how these planes evolved from simple two-place biplanes to luxury jets that travel near the speed of sound.
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Curtiss Robin B The Curtiss Robin was the most successful general aviation aircraft of its time. It featured simple, strong, steel tube and wood frame construction, and room for three. It easily outsold its competition and made some highly publicized flights including Douglas “Wrong-Way” Corrigan’s journey from New York to Ireland in 1938. Corrigan declared his intention to fly to California, but instead crossed the Atlantic.
Curtiss-Wright (CW-A-22) Falcon Curtiss-Wright wanted their Model 22 to be a popular private plane and a successful military trainer and attack aircraft. Created with a mixture of traits from the CW-19 civil airplane and the gun-toting CW-21 light interceptor, the first CW-22 appeared in 1940 as a sleek, silver general aviation machine. As the first and only civilian Falcon built, this aircraft received a United States experimental license number and was designated the A-22 under Civil Aeronautics Authority Memo Approval 2-549.
Beechcraft Bonanza 35 Beech set a new standard for private planes with its new Model 35 Bonanza. Developed just after World War II, the Bonanza was loaded with modern design features and equipment. The aircraft had retractable tricycle landing gear, a controllable pitch propeller and instruments for foul weather and night flying. Its most recognizable feature is the unique “V” tail where the control surfaces work as rudders and elevators, lowering drag and making the aircraft faster and more fuel-efficient.
Republic RC-3 Seabee Designed as an all-purpose sports aircraft, the Republic RC-3 Seabee was one of the most unique general aviation airplanes developed following World War II. Having land and water capabilities, it gave sportsmen entry to fishing and hunting areas previously inaccessible.
Beech Starship 2000A The Beechcraft Starship 2000 was created as a new generation business aircraft. Designer Burt Rutan was hired to help design the aircraft, which features a pusher layout, a variable sweep canard and tipsails in place of standard rudders for superior aerodynamic efficiency. Production of its advanced composite components proved difficult and the high purchase price, proved to be disastrous, and only 53 Starships were made. Beech/Raytheon maintained ownership of most, and in 2003, announced a decision to reclaim and destroy the Starships. Only 12 aircraft were spared.
Learjet 24 Learjet’s origins are found in the design of a Swiss fighter plane from the 1950s, which failed to reach production. American inventor William Lear, creator of the car radio and 8-track tapes, purchased the tooling from the Swiss. Setting up a company in Wichita, Kansas, Lear created the world’s first “business jet” Throughout the years, the design has been stretched to accommodate more passengers, more fuel and more efficient engines, and is still in production today.
The dream of taking off and landing vertically has been around for centuries, as seen in the toys of China and Renaissance Europe. But it was not until Igor Sikorsky developed the first practical helicopter in 1939 that the dream was in the grasp of humanity. Pushed by the needs of battle, the helicopter transformed the way wars were fought. Today, the helicopter has become indispensable as an air ambulance, a search and rescue tool, a transport to inaccessible places and even the ultimate “chairlift” for skiers. Like fixed wing airplanes, the helicopter has become a part of everyday life for people around the globe.
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Hiller UH-12E3 Raven Helicopters have big advantages over traditional fixed wing aircraft. They need no runways for takeoffs and landings, can lift heavy items, and fit in tight spaces. Hiller UH-12Es are industrial workhorses. These superior vehicles work in agriculture, construction, forestry and petroleum exploration. They cost-effectively distribute seeds, fertilizers and pesticides and lift building materials. They are also used for fire fighting, law enforcement, and as “Angels of Mercy” in disaster relief and search and rescue missions. This Hiller UH-12E is one of two Hillers with which Delford Smith started Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. in the early 1960s.
Hughes Model 269A Osage In the mid-1950s, helicopter technology had improved to the point that some people believed there might soon be a “chopper” in every garage. While many others failed, Hughes’ Model 269 and its derivatives captured a large share of the market. It was Hughes’ first commercial helicopter venture. The advanced, lightweight, low cost 269A entered production in 1957. TV and radio stations, utility and oil companies, construction and engineering firms, farmers and ranchers, and charter and air taxi services used the little helicopters.
Hughes 500D The Hughes 500 helicopter was originally created to meet a 1963 U.S. Army requirement for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), and was successfully employed in Vietnam and beyond as the OH-6 Cayuse. This fast, light helicopter was used as an aeroscout, working ahead of an assault group to probe for the enemy; a job that was dangerous and had a high casualty rate.