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October 21, 2017

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New exhibit shows history from the cockpit

Smithsonian exhibit features interiors of famous planes, including Enola Gay

At the contols

The entrance of the Atomic Testing Museum's latest exhibit, Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

When most of us think of the history of flight we consider aeronautics, examining the changes over time of various parts of an aircraft's exterior, such as the fuselage, the wings or the tail.

But Las Vegas' Atomic Testing Museum is taking a different perspective on how planes evolved — from the inside looking out.

The museum is hosting “At the controls: The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Looks at Cockpits,” an examination of how early planes looked to the aircraft pioneers who flew them.

The exhibit, which is a series of full color posters joined with the museum’s own artifacts in the Harry Reid Exhibit Hall, came together because the museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian making it eligible to host traveling exhibits like “At the controls.”

“We brought this one in thinking it would go well with our science-themed museum,” marketing director Dawn Ham said. “It features all of these different cockpits, so it looks at developments in aviation through evolution in cockpit design.”

Two tourists from Sacramento, who just walked into the museum, were a little disappointed the flight simulator did not work at the time, but were impressed with the posters.

“Kind of a reminder of the utilitarian complexity and how complicated they were for the time,” Fred Sugar said.

The posters are actually photographs of famous airplane replicas. One was of the Spirit of Saint Louis, which Charles Lindbergh flew solo in 1927 from New York to Paris, and which the Smithsonian has in its museum.

Another was the cockpit of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare in 1945 over Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. The Enola Gay cockpit is featured at the very front of the exhibit.

“I think this theme attracts lots of people, but obviously we showcased (the Enola Gay) because it keeps with the theme of the museum,” director of education Ellen Leigh said.

Leigh said the exhibit reaches out to a broad audience, a theory that was recently tested at the Atomic Testing Museum’s first Family Flight School day. The 383 visitors were invited to enjoy the exhibit as well as take a hands-on approach at the dress-up stations, which are still on display, where kids could dress up as astronauts and pilots and have their picture taken in front of a desert background.

“We think it’s a draw for everybody … and as the Family Flight School showed on Saturday, it was also a huge draw for children,” Leigh said.

Leigh said the new exhibit is an attempt to get the very important information of atomic testing out to people who may not be interested right away.

“The museum has a very specific mission, so if you’re aren’t particularly interested in (atomic testing) you might be very interested in aviation or you might be interested in Lindbergh or Paul Tibbets or something like that.”

The exhibit is available until March 22. The next exhibit will be on Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, titled “Darker Shades of Red.” Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for seniors, military, youth ages 7-17, students and Nevada residents while children ages 6 and under are free.

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