KIDS CAN soar through aviation history without leaving the ground, thanks to America's Aviation Adventure. Launched last summer, the ongoing program spotlights 15 aviation museums and space centers in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington. Participating in the program seems especially appropriate this year, the centennial of the Wright Brothers' famous first flight. Families might celebrate by visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the site where it happened, or by peeking at the original flying contraption at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
The program is the brainchild of Mike Boehme, director of the Virginia Aviation Museum in Richmond, one of the sites participating in the celebration. Through it, Boehme hopes to draw attention to the wealth of aviation lore along the East Coast. Kids (and adults) can join by calling 888-824-7463 and requesting a program brochure or by registering at www.americasaviationadventure.com. Youngsters can then visit and collect stamps from at least eight of the sites and redeem them for the program's winged pin.
On the way to acquiring their pin, kids become better acquainted with the sky pioneers and amazing machines of those early aviation years. The world scoffed at the bicycle repairmen -- Orville and Wilbur Wright -- who built and flew the world's first plane on Dec. 17, 1903. After all, the secret of flight had eluded the best scientists for years. But Orville's 12 airborne seconds in a piloted machine would open new territory for humankind.
No longer was the sky off limits. In less than a century, humans would create jets fast enough to break the sound barrier and rockets headed for the moon.
"America's Aviation Adventure highlights museums, military and commercial sites and research centers so visitors can get a sense of the past, present and future of flight," Boehme says. Youngsters can learn about the principles of flight and design their own paper airplanes at Richmond's Science Museum of Virginia. At the Virginia Aviation Museum, kids can see replicas of the Wright Brothers' experimental gliders as well as vintage aircraft from the golden age of aviation, the years of tremendous change from World War I through World War II.
The National Air and Space Museum will mark the centennial with a big aviation treat. Home to the world's largest collection of aviation artifacts, the museum can exhibit only about 10 percent of its holdings. That will change in December, when the museum opens the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport. The $312 million center will include an aviation hangar, observation tower, IMAX theater and lots of exhibit space for historic planes and spacecraft.
The Wright Brothers would be proud.
AMERICA'S AVIATION ADVENTURE -- 888-824-7463. www.americasaviationadventure.com. Call to request the program brochure that features information on the aviation sites listed below, or register on the Web site. Call before visiting any of the military sites, as tours may be canceled and entry severely restricted for security reasons. Web sites for each museum include information on special programs and family events.
NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM -- Independence Avenue at Sixth Street SW. 202-357-2700. www.nasm.edu. Open daily 10 to 5:30.
BWI AIRPORT OBSERVATION GALLERY -- Terminal Building, BWI Airport. 800-435-9294. www.bwiairport.com. Open daily. Educational exhibits, the cockpit of a real Boeing 737 and a chance to observe aircraft departing and arriving.
COLLEGE PARK AVIATION MUSEUM -- 1985 Corporal Frank Scott Dr., College Park. 301-864-6029. www.avialantic.com/collpark. Open daily 10 to 5. Closed major holidays. $4, seniors $3, children $2. Early aviation artifacts and exhibits.
GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER VISITOR CENTER -- Soil Conservation Rd., Greenbelt. 301-286-8981. www.gsfc.nasa.gov/vc/vc.htm. Open daily 9 to 4. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Call 301-286-9041 in advance to schedule programs for children and adults that show how spacecraft are tested.
GLENN L. MARTIN AVIATION MUSEUM -- 701 Wilson Point Rd., Suite 531, Middle River. 410-682-6122. www.martinstateairport.com/museum. Open Monday-Friday 10 to 2, Saturdays 1 to 5. Closed holidays. Highlights the contributions of Martin Aircraft to aviation history, especially in Maryland.
AIR POWER PARK -- 413 West Mercury Blvd., Hampton. 757-727-1163. Open daily 9 to 4:30. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Outdoor and indoor displays of aircraft and missiles.
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE -- 159 Sweeney Blvd., Suite 100, Langley AFB. 757-764-2018. www.langley.af.mil. Restricted entry. Tours, handled by the Virginia Air and Space Center, have been suspended for security reasons. Established in 1916, Langley is the oldest continuously operating Air Force base in the United States.
MARINE CORPS AIR-GROUND MUSEUM -- Quantico Marine Corps Base. 703-784-5919. www.marineheritage.org/museum. Closed temporarily. Check Web site for reopening date and hours. Displays highlight Marine Corps history, with a focus on World War II and the Korean War.
NASA LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER -- 100 NASA Rd., Hampton. 757-864-1000. www.larc.nasa.gov. First national civil aeronautics laboratory opened in 1917. Tours, which must be booked through the Virginia Air and Space Center, have been suspended for security reasons.
NAVAL AIR STATION OCEANA -- 1750 Tomcat Blvd., Building 230, Virginia Beach. 757-433-3131. www.nasoceana.navy.mil. Base tours available to the public from May to September; call in advance to schedule. Aviation historical park, two observation parks to watch aircraft takeoffs and landings and an opportunity to view the military aircraft that serve the Navy's carrier fleets.
SCIENCE MUSEUM OF VIRGINIA -- 2500 West Broad St., Richmond. 804-864-1400 or 800-659-1727. www.smv.org. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:30 to 5, Sundays 11:30 to 5. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, open until 7 on Fridays and Saturdays. $6.50, seniors $6, children $5.50. Additional cost for IMAX films. Hundreds of hands-on exhibits in the Aerospace Gallery.
STEVEN F. UDVAR-HAZY CENTER -- Washington Dulles International Airport, Chantilly. www.nasm.si.edu/nasm/ext. Opening in December, the center will include an aviation hangar, observation tower, IMAX theater, classroom and food court. Part of the National Air and Space Museum, its exhibits will highlight historic aircraft and spacecraft. Check the Web site for details on the opening and hours of operation.
U.S. ARMY TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM -- 300 Washington Blvd., Besson Hall, Fort Eustis. 757-878-1115. www.eustis.army.mil/dptmsec/museum.htm. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9 to 4:30. Closed federal holidays and Easter Sunday.
VIRGINIA AVIATION MUSEUM -- 5701 Huntsman Rd., Richmond International Airport, Richmond. 804-236-3622. vam.smv.org. Open Monday-Saturday 9:30 to 5, Sundays noon to 5. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. $5.50, seniors $4.50, children $3. Twenty-eight historic aircraft on view, including replicas of the Wright gliders.
VIRGINIA AIR & SPACE CENTER -- 600 Settlers Landing, Hampton. 757-727-0900 or 800-296-0800. www.vasc.org. Open daily 10 to 5. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, open until 7 Thursday-Sunday. $7, seniors $6, children $5. Additional cost for IMAX films. There are more than 100 interactive exhibits at this site, which is the official visitors center for the NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base.
WRIGHT BROTHERS NATIONAL MEMORIAL -- 800 Colington Rd., Kill Devil Hills. 252-441-7430.
www.nps.gov/wrbr. Open daily 9 to 5, Memorial Day to Labor Day 9 to 6.
Closed Christmas Day. $2 per person or $4 per car. Site of the Wright brothers' first manned flight and testing ground for their numerous experiments with gliders.