Maj. Gen. B.F. Starr, commander of the 76th Airlift Division of the Air Force, dressed in his perfectly neat gray-blue uniform, got up from his seat at the end of the preview of a television special on the history of flight, smiled a bit and declared, "That's exactly the way it was."

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum hosted the preview last night of Channel 26's "A Place of Dreams," which focuses on flight pioneers and the Air and Space Museum that now houses many of the planes and rockets they used.

Starr recalled that he, like some of the pilots mentioned in the program, had been one of those barnstormers, who flew daredevil-style, in a surplus war plane. He even took his wife Ginny up once and scared her half to death. At his side last nigh, she laughed about it.

Inspired by the television preview, the work of filmmaker Peter S. Vogt, the guests at the reception afterward traded airplane stories.

"The first time I flew was when my father ecrossed the English Channel," Mrs. Hugh D. Auchincloss told Robert Clark, the president of Hoffmann and LaRoche, the pharmaceuticals company which provided $200,000 to make the program.

"It was during the early days, maybe just after World War I," she said. "A French pilot had just crashed. We ourselves had to make a forced landing, on the way from Paris to London, just south of London. It was very exciting then -- when you're 16 or 17."

Publisher Austin Kiplinger peered up at the "Gossamer Condor," plane that looked like a glider, made of aluminum tubes and mylar plastic. He walked over to a wall to read the blurb about it. "I thought the show was beautiful," he said, "but flight sends me into ecstasy. I'm an old pilot -- in the Navy in World War II. I piloted Naval Torpedo Planes -- the Grumman NTP's."

"It was the largest single-engine plane of its time," said Gogo Kiplinger, his wife, who obviously had been told the story of these planes in some detail.

"I was interested in air and space 10 years ago," said Ward Chamberlain, the president of WETA, "but I just couldn't find anyone as crazy about the stuff as I was."

Clark still seemed a bit awed after the preview of the show, to be telecast tomorrow night at 8. He pointed across the balcony where Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" hung in one corner and the rocket-propelled North American X-15 hung in the opposite corner. "You know you take certain risks in testing pharmaceuticals, but getting into one of those..."