I’m not the biggest fan of flying.
It’s not so much fear as it is annoyance: hurling through the air in a sardine can full of strangers (and their smells), bad food, and crying babies is not exactly my idea of a good time. And that’s when everything goes right—don’t even get me started on delays, turbulence, and the passenger in 8A who insists on fitting her steamer trunk of tacky souvenirs into the overhead compartment.
Which is why, when I attended the opening of The Leonardo Museum’s Flight exhibit, I did so with an abundance of eye rolls. “The wonder of flight,” my ass.
Inspired by the museum’s namesake, Leonardo da Vinci, Flight looks at the science, art, and technology of flying through the air. According to the opening panels of the exhibit, da Vinci was obsessed with the prospect of soaring through the air. Using bats, kites, and birds as inspiration, da Vinci came up with several prototypes of flying machines, none of which panned out.
He wasn’t the only one obsessed with aviation. As the exhibit weaves through the history and development of flight, visitors learn of the successes—and many, many failures—of our history in the air. Viewers learn about different types of flight: buoyant (think balloons and airships), aerodynamic (birds, ducks, and airplanes), and ballistic (arrows, fireworks, and space shuttles). Plenty of examples are on hand, including drones, a jet suit prototype and a fully-assembled C-131 aircraft to climb in and around.
Using The Leonardo’s trademark hands-on approach, visitors experience the critical elements of getting (and staying) up in the air. A pneumatic golf-ball launcher provides a physics lesson even young children can understand; constructing paper airplanes detail how shape and size affect aerodynamics; flight simulators indulge your “I could totally land the plane” fantasy. (Note: You probably can’t land the plane.)
Tucked away in a corner of the exhibit is a cluster of airplane seats facing a screen, where black-and-white frames flicker on the screen in a veritable blooper reel of our early attempts at flight: giant paper wings, pedal-powered propellers, explosions, and crashes—lots and lots of crashes. Watching the film, one can’t help but be hit with a sense of awe. After all, it really wasn’t that long ago we were flapping our paper wings like idiots. That we can now hurl through the air in a sardine can suddenly seems kind of…well, wondrous.
If only I could say the same about the passenger in 8A.
Flight is open to the general public. The exhibit is free with general admission ($12.95 for adults, $9.95 seniors and students and $8.95 ages 3-12. Children 3 and under are free). For more information, visit The Leonardo Museum website.