How Things Fly

National Air and Space Museum
Independence Avenue and 6th Street, SW
Washington, DC

1st Floor, East Wing, How Things Fly, Gallery 109 Floor Plan

This interactive gallery explains the basic principles of air and space flight through hands-on activities. The gallery features a Cessna 150, a section of a Boeing 757 fuselage, a model of the International Space Station, and more than 50 interactives. The exhibition is divided into 7 sections:

  • The Basics: Gravity and Air demonstrates the properties of gravity and air with a barometer that slides from floor to ceiling and an 11-foot, radio-controlled blimp overhead.
  • Winging It uses a series of wind tunnels to demonstrate the forces of lift that lift an aircraft off the ground. "Explainers" are on hand to perform demonstrations.
  • Faster Than Sound: High-Speed Flight demonstrates how aircraft fly faster than the speed of sound through the use of a supersonic wind tunnel.
  • Getting Aloft: Thrust explores propellers, jets, and rockets that provide thrust, the forward motion needed to sustain lift and counter drag.
  • Gravity and No Air: Flight in Space uses computer interactives and a "gravity well" to demonstrate how a spacecraft in orbit is affected by gravity.
  • Staying Aloft: Stability and Control explains "attitude" (orientation) using a rotating platform, a model Cessna 150 in an airstream, and a real Cessna 150 with operable rudder, ailerons, and elevator.
  • The Makings of a Flying Machine: Structure and Materials explains how materials and structure shape the way air and space craft look and perform, explores the advantages and disadvantages of different materials used, and includes a cut-away Cessna 150.

An amphitheater-style area features "Explainers" performing demonstrations. "Forces of Flight" demonstrations, paper airplane contests, "Air and Space Touchables" demonstrations, and videos rotate throughout the day.

A Visitor Resource Center is filled with science activities, video programs, interactive computer programs, children's literature, and other reference materials related to flight sciences.