Longest-serving Air and Space director to retire in January

After 18 years piloting the National Air and Space Museum, Jack Dailey is looking forward to a new assignment: Grandpa.


Dailey poses in front of biplane

General John R. Dailey, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. (NASM photo)

Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, will retire in January 2018. With 18 years as head of the museum, he is its longest-serving director. Dailey, a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general and pilot, assumed the duties of director in January 2000. As head of the museum, Dailey has led efforts to expand its size and scope, maintaining its status among the most visited museums in the world.

“With his record of innovation, expansion, educational and public programming, digital outreach and distance learning, and exhibition development, Jack significantly advanced the museum’s mission to ‘commemorate, educate, and inspire’ people about the importance of flight to humanity,” said Secretary David Skorton.

Dailey in flight suit demonstrates controls for child in cockpit

Director of the National Air and Space Museum Gen. John R. “Jack” Dailey shows a youngster the inner workings of a jet fighter at the Annual Become a Pilot and Aviation Display Family Day. (Photo by Carolyn Russo)

Before becoming director, Dailey served 36 years in the Marine Corps, a career which began in 1956 as a Naval Aviator and ended in 1992 as a four-star general serving as Assistant Commandant. In the 1990s, he was Deputy Administrator of NASA.

Among his major accomplishments at the Air and Space Museum was the opening of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in 2003. Phase Two of the Udvar-Hazy Center, which includes collections and archival facilities, opened in 2010. Eight major exhibit installations took place during Jack’s tenure, as well as numerous small temporary, and traveling exhibitions and his vision is guiding the upcoming transformation of all the exhibitions in the Mall museum. Under Dailey’s oversight, the museum continued to conduct high-quality research in earth and planetary science, and the history of aviation and spaceflight. In 2009, a Public Observatory opened at the museum’s Washington location. And in 2012, he navigated the Space Shuttle “Discovery” into the National Collections.

Dailey and Glenn pose with model

John Revell “Jack” Dailey (left) and John Herschel Glenn, Jr. pose with a model of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, 2000. They are standing on the second floor of the National Air and Space Museum’s National Mall building, overlooking the “Air Transportation” gallery. Glenn was the honorary Chairman of the Fundraising Committee. (NASM photo)

One of Dailey’s major priorities has been expansion of the museum’s educational and public program efforts. Activities for students now include live broadcasts into classrooms, web-based activities, numerous age-specific, gallery-based programs, a “How Things Fly Gallery” at the flagship building, and an education lab at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Pre-kindergarten programming takes place at both locations and the museum offers several teacher training opportunities. A number of popular family day events are offered annually.

The Smithsonian has formed a committee to search for the museum’s next director. Under Secretary for Museums and Research/Provost John Davis will oversee the process.

Crowd with backs to camera watch plane descend

John R. “Jack” Dailey (right) greets Space shuttle Discovery, mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), as it makes a low pass over crowds at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. (NASM photo)

Posted: 21 September 2017
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Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.