Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Climb Into the Cockpit

Courtesy National Air and Space Museum
The newly renovated “Pioneers of Flight” exhibit displays the snowshoes and supplies that pilot Charles Lindbergh and his wife used.

Bob Dempster, the executive director of an aviation historical society called the Seattle World Cruiser Association, was in D.C. to view the gallery, and he is one of the individuals behind the renovation. Dempster chose to undertake the quixotic task of building an exact replica of the “Chicago” aircraft, which he has nearly finished at his home in Seattle, and in 2008, he asked for and received permission from the Smithsonian to look into the plane’s cockpit. He said he found the cockpit musty and covered in dust, both signs that the artifacts in the gallery could become damaged over time. “Pioneers of Flight” was closed soon after.

For Dempster, the Douglas World Cruiser is more than a historical passion. In the coming months, Dempster and his wife will fly around the world on the reproduction of the Douglas World Cruiser, just as the original cruisers did; he brought a flag to the museum, which children there signed, and he plans to donate that flag to the gallery after he completes his journey.

Flying around the world “was the second aviation milestone after the Wright brothers,” Dempster said. “It was akin to flying to the moon back then.”

While “Pioneers of Flight” was renovated, the museum hardly lacked interesting exhibits — it is home to the Wright brothers’ original airplane and a diverse collection of helicopters, space shuttle pieces and flight simulators. But the gallery’s temporary closing left a giant hole, both figuratively and literally.

The era profiled in “Pioneers of Flight” was one of tremendous innovation in the field of air travel, and the museum feels more complete with those years now represented. In physical terms, the exhibit is located directly at the museum’s center, in the middle of the second floor, next to the Wright Flyer. With the gallery reopened, the National Air and Space Museum again captures the entire history of aviation — with an added touch of humanity.

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