Neil Armstrong Air Museum Tells Story of Man's Conquest of Space

American Cinematographer, February 1973 | Go to article overview

Neil Armstrong Air Museum Tells Story of Man's Conquest of Space


Honoring the first human being to set foot on the lunar surface, unique museum in his hometown traces air and space travel from their earliest beginnings up to the present era

The post office box number is 1978.

And everything else about the Neil A. Armstrong Air and Space Museum is equally futuristic. The new facility of Wapakoneta, Ohio, commemorates the home-town boy's historic walk on the moon.

From Interstate 75, approaching visitors see only a glittering white dome surrounded by verdant, rolling, landscaped earth. Inside the museum, an authentic balloon basket, airship, plane, and space-age hardware combine with multimedia effects to impart a capsulized visual history of the role Ohioans have played in getting mankind off the ground.

The most dramatic area by far is the Astro-Theater where viewers sit on carpeted risers beneath a 56-foot-wide dome to watch images float up, down, and sideways from two 16mm Kodak Analyst movie projectors and three Kodak Ektagraphic slide projectors.

Contributing to the illusion are stars projected on the dome's curve from a ball manufactured by Spitz Laboratories of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. There is no narration, only a musical sound track that heightens the ethereal impression that one is venturing into space from a serene hillside.

Operated for the state by the nonprofit Ohio Historical Society, the museum cost $1 million. Half was granted by the Ohio Legislature, and a matching sum was donated by more than 2,500 individuals, companies, and corporations.

The formal opening on July 20, 1972- the third anniversary of Armstrong's lunar landing- was attended by the astronaut, along with Tricia Nixon Cox, who brought a moon rock for temporary display.

The museum attracted an average of 1,700 visitors for the first 10 days it was open, even though there were no announcement signs along Interstate 75 or other nearby highways. The number dropped off sharply after Labor Day but Curator Kathy Minkin reports that attendance still averages 200 to 300 visitors a day.

The last is the figure envisioned by the architects, Freytag and Freytag of Sidney, Ohio, and Wapakoneta native Arthur Klipfel Jr. of Unihab, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Klipfel was the official exhibits' designer. The audiovisual software- 16mm motion picture film and 35mm slides-was produced by Ogilvie Films, Inc., of Cambridge, while the projectors and audio equipment were custom-adapted and installed by Ralke Company, Inc., of Los Angeles, California.

Admission to the museum is $1 for adults, 50 cents for unaccompanied children, and there are special group rates. Touring school classes are admitted free.

The flavor of the museum is established even before visitors enter. As they drive into the parking lot-formerly a 13-acre corn field-they see a Douglas F5D Skylancer, an experimental jet Navy Commander Armstrong flew for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the early 1960s. It is one of only two of the jets in existence.

Blue airport runway lights line the walkways inside the building. On the left, visitors enter the first of two main exhibit areas; to the right is the balloon basket used by Warren Rasor, a Daytonian who flew the device during the early 20th century. Exhibit cases near the balloon contain some of Rasor's instruments and a trophy from one of the several major races he won.

A feature of the main exhibit area is the Beech-crafted frame that Toledo native A. Roy Knabenshue rode in his motorcycle-engined airship, Toledo II. Kept aloft by a balloon, the ship was directed by a rudder, with its lift or descent controlled by his position on the open frame.

Primitive as it appears (not to mention dangerous), Toledo Il was the first powered flying machine to appear over New York City. Following the 1905 flight, inventor Knabenshue made similar appearances over Columbus and Cleveland.

After studying the exhibits, visitors can look overhead for more information about early aviation. …

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