NASM Promotes Stories on African-American Aviation Experience

A renewed focus led by the Smithsonian provides context to aerospace history.

Loving flying his WR-3 near Springfield, Ohio, his second roadable aircraft design, now at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Compare 1969, and the launch of Apollo 11 to 2020, and the successful docking of the crewed Dragon Endeavor with the International Space Station. Both milestones in the push that the United States made into space happened against similar backdrops of racial protest. The Smithsonian Institution has called upon its various member museums to delve more deeply into these connections, to provide context to the history. The National Air and Space Museum has joined this effort through several recent stories and blogs.

In doing so, the NASM invites a greater exploration into the diverse perspectives offered by those who approached aviation with passion and persistence—and against the backdrop of challenges driven solely by the color of their skin. These stories serve as lessons in perseverance and genius worth studying in their own right.

For just one example: Dive into the story behind aircraft designer and pilot Neal V. Loving, who also launched the first all-black Civil Air Patrol squadron, before building his first airplane, a tiny race plane called the WR-1. This special airplane would become Loving’s Love, famous to members of the Experimental Aircraft Association, as it hangs in the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Loving’s illustrious resumé puts him alongside Curtis Pitts and Frank Christensen—by way of Wayne State University and the Flight Dynamics Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

While the main National Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington, DC, and the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles, Virginia, remain temporarily closed to in-person visits, a virtual visit through such stories can have its own rewards.