Legend, Memory, and the Great War in the Air: The World War I aviation exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
By Alyssa Carter
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum currently has an exhibit on display on World War I-era aviation. The exhibit houses planes from America, France, and Germany, and shows medals and other artifacts from both sides of the war.
The theme of the exhibit is the difference between the myth and the reality of fighting in the air during World War I. Most people at the time believed that this entailed fighting high above the trenches and that the combat was full of glory. People thought that when death came to the pilots, it was quick, but the exhibit shows that that was not the case.
Several planes are displayed hanging from the ceiling, and information about each plane is shown on stands. The French SPAD XIII fighter, the most common plane that was flown during World War One, is a centerpiece of the exhibit. The plane has cloth coverings over the wings, and, further in the exhibit, one can see how coverings like those were made. Other panels also show the differences between planes flown by American troops and their allies and planes flown by German troops. Details about different air battles and offenses can be seen in the first half of the exhibit.
World War I aviation is interesting not only because it facilitated the first battles of its kind, but also because of the timing. The First World War began just eleven years after flight in a plane was first achieved by the Wright brothers. This particular exhibit does a great job of communicating the theme of technological advancement as well as the unfortunate reality of battle.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is open daily from 10:00am to 5:30pm.
For more on this exhibition, visit: https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/legend-memory-and-great-war-air
Alyssa Carter is a 2017 Summer Intern at the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission