the year of LIVING UNOFFICIALLY

365 days of celebration

09
January

Aviation in America Day

Posted by Brittany

Today is Aviation in America Day.  On this date in 1793 the first manned balloon flight in the U.S. was made by Jean Pierre Blanchard and a little black dog.  The 46 minute ride took the pair a distance of 15 miles, from a Philadelphia prison yard to present day Deptford, NJ.  This historic event was witnessed by many notable statesman, including George Washington, and helped fuel the “balloonamania” already incited by similar accomplishments in Europe.

To celebrate Aviation in America Day Chris and I visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.  Though we have both explored the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. multiple times, this was our first time visiting the museum’s hangar-style sister site.  Besides its numerous airplanes, this museum boasts exhibits and information about space exploration, multiple flight simulators, an IMAX theater, and even the model of the alien spacecraft from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  But in honor of today’s “unofficial”, I was mainly concerned with the exhibit about the history of ballooning.  Chris and I were awed by the tiny balloon baskets on display, as well as the glum figures concerning mortality rates during failed attempts to set world records — not only in the 1700s, but in more recent modern history as well.  I was equally surprised by an exhibit showing one of the many “balloon bombs” Japan had sent across the Pacific Ocean during World War II — I don’t remember reading about those in any textbooks!  At one point we discussed the fact that, though just about anyone with a little extra money can hitch a ride in a hot air balloon today, the men who dared the first early rides were pioneers and can essentially be likened to the astronauts of our time.

After exploring the museum’s exhibits we took a turn in one of the flight simulators with Chris piloting while I acted as gunner.  We worked together to shoot down enemy planes while doing actual barrel-rolls!  The simulator was a lot of fun, but by the time we exited, our heads were pounding from being tossed around and the laughing that goes with it.  To recover we soothed our aching heads and tiring feet at the museum’s McDonalds, sipping sodas by a giant glass wall with a picture-perfect view of the incoming planes descending into Dulles International Airport.

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