“Become a Pilot” without all that tedious flight school

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum presents the 2011 “Become a Pilot” family day and aviation display Saturday, June 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. For the seventh annual “Become a Pilot” day, 50 vintage, recreational, military and home-built aircraft will fly in and be displayed outdoors. Appearing with their aircraft parked outside the center’s Boeing Aviation Hangar, pilots will discuss life in the cockpit and, in some cases, let visitors climb behind the controls.

Inside the museum, visitors can take part in educational, hands-on activities for all ages and learn about aviation-related topics. There will also be several book signings and Flights of Fancy story times for the young pilots in training. In celebration of the centennial of naval aviation, Rear Adm. Ted N. Branch, Commander of the Naval Air Force Atlantic, will speak and several aircraft from the Navy are scheduled to participate—the F-18 “Super Hornet” fighter jet, the E2C “Hawkeye” surveillance plane, the MH-60S “Knighthawk” helicopter and the MH-60 “SeaHawk” helicopter. The internationally recognized Navy Ceremonial Drill Team and the Navy’s premier jazz ensemble, the Commodores, will perform.

Become a Pilot Day 2010 at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photo by Dane Penland)

Become a Pilot Day 2010 at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photo by Dane Penland)

The museum will select 25 lucky “tweeps”—people who use the social-messaging medium Twitter—to participate in the first “Become a Pilot Tweetup.” Participants will get the behind-the-scenes experience of early morning aircraft arrival before the event opens to the general public. They will meet pilots and museum experts, have a guided tour and much more. Click here for more information about the tweetup and registration.

This year’s event will also include the donation of the Fleet Model 2 “Plane/Jane,” the only surviving Roosevelt Field Fleet trainer and one of only six surviving Fleet 2s of the approximately 350 Fleet aircraft manufactured and used at flight schools all over the country from 1929 to 1942. The acceptance ceremony will take place at 11:30 a.m.; the donors Gene Breiner and his daughter Joyce Breiner will attend.

Designed by Maj. Reuben Fleet as a smaller version of the military PT-3 trainer, the compact and relatively inexpensive Fleet filled the gap between the grass-roots Piper Cub and more expensive, heavier biplanes or the sophisticated military trainers of the 1930s. The Fleet was also a popular sport aircraft; veteran pilot Paul Mantz set a record of 46 outside loops in another Fleet. Completed at the Fleet Aircraft Co. (solely owned by Major Fleet) in Buffalo, N.Y., May 14, 1929, the Fleet is a two-seat, dual-control, open-cockpit biplane with a steel-tube frame, spruce-wing spars, aluminum ribs and fabric covering. The restored “Plane/Jane” coming to the museum’s collection is an 18-time medal winner at fly-ins around the East Coast.

Become a Pilot Day 2010. (Photo by Dane Penland)

Become a Pilot Day 2010. (Photo by Dane Penland)

The participation of visiting aircraft in this event is weather contingent. Should inclement weather prevent those aircraft from taking part, family-day activities inside the center will still occur. A list of participating aircraft is available here.

The event is free and open to the public; parking is $15.

Posted: 19 May 2011
About the Author:

Isabel Lara does media outreach for the Communications Office at the National Air and Space Museum. She enjoys dealing with the diverse requests the museum receives every day—from inquiries about ice on Mars and impact basins on Mercury, to satellites, spacesuits, airmail, famous aviators and even Hollywood movies.