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Air Show

Air Show

An ace public historian shares some of her favorite aviation artifacts.

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The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Con­necticut, is aerospace heaven: vast hangars teeming with aircraft of every vintage, size, and configuration set off with an impressive array of eye-catching exhibits. UMass Amherst alumna Amanda Goodheart Parks ’10G, the museum’s director of education, glides happily through the wondrous clutter, trailed by groups of students ranging from preschoolers right on up to young adults who are fast-tracking into aerospace engineering programs.

Amanda Goodheart Parks

By training, Goodheart Parks is a public historian, dedicated to spur­ring the general public’s interest in history through exhibits and events in museums, archives, policy centers, historic-preserva­tion agencies, and com­munity organizations. History in general is her home turf, but she is also comfortable with its application to aerospace tech­nology: avionics, aerodynamics, the physics of flight, basic engineering.

Indeed, so poised and commanding does she seem in her work that it’s startling to hear that when she applied for the job three years ago, her knowledge of aviation history amounted to “the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, and Alan Shep­ard, with very minimal connecting threads” and that, thoroughbred humanist that she was, she knew nothing whatsoever about the history of aerospace technology.

Even so, she was hired thanks to one of her great strengths. “I love to teach,” she says. “I love engaging people and sharing my love of history with others.”

As an undergraduate at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, Goodheart Parks wanted to teach high school history and double-majored in history and education. She took a course in public history.

“It changed my life,” Goodheart Parks says. “I realized that I wanted to get all people engaged with the past, not just high school students.” Internships at nearby Mystic Seaport and the Preservation Society of Newport County redoubled her resolve and led her into UMass Amherst’s graduate program in public history. She calls that “a game-changer for me. The program is internationally recognized and taught by leaders in the field—rock stars. I was thrilled to study under them.” (Having gotten her master’s degree in 2010, she is pursuing her PhD with the program and will defend her dissertation this spring.)

Further internships, including one at Historic Deerfield, led to four years down the road working at the Springfield Museums in their education department. There Goodheart Parks gained new skills teaching, coordinating educational programs, and working with docents. When the New England Air Museum beckoned, she was excited but had to confront a steep learning curve.

“My first couple of months here were a crash course—pun intended—on the technical aspects of aerospace science,” she recalls. “Our amazing staff and volunteers, many of whom are retired pilots and engineers, were my mentors. They gave me a real appreciation of the history of aerospace engineering and science.

“Now,” she continues, “when I look at a jet engine, I understand the science behind its design, but I also see it as something more than a piece of machinery. I use my training as a public historian to put that engine into a historical context and, in doing so, make it meaningful and relevant to visitors.”

Below, Goodheart Parks highlights a few of the museum’s gems, large and small.



“Museum visitors are often surprised to learn the state of Connecticut has played an important role in the history of helicopter flight. Local aviation pioneer Charles Kaman is one noteworthy example of our region’s aerospace legacy. His company, Kaman Aircraft, patented several groundbreaking helicopter advancements, including the technology found in the Kaman SH-2F Seasprite. It’s a visitor favorite, especially during Open Cockpit Days, when it is open to the public. Its instrument panel includes over 100 individual gauges, dials, and controls.”



Goodyear ZPNK-28 blimp control car

“Before coming to the museum, I never thought about the aesthetics of aircraft design. Our Goodyear ZPNK-28 blimp control car changed that for me. With its graceful, curved engine cowlings, stark black pistons, and sleek, polished propellers, it proves that there can be beauty and grace in industrial design.”



Aviation Day Pin

“Everyone loves a hometown hero, and New Britain, Connecticut, had one in Charles K. Hamilton. He began his aviation career parachute-jumping from hot-air balloons at amusement parks and state fairs. In 1909, Hamilton took flying lessons from the aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss and quickly became a national celebrity. On July 2, 1910, he returned to New Britain to make the first publicly witnessed heavier-than-air flights in New England. A crowd of 50,000 people was on hand. Those who had paid admission fees wore Aviation Day pins like this one, a bit larger than a quarter. Ours came from the personal collection of a museum volunteer whose mother witnessed Hamilton’s flight in 1910.”



“When visitors see the Sikorsky VS-44A Excambian for the first time, they often experience an overwhelming sense of wonder. The aircraft certainly has a commanding presence. It’s nearly 30 feet tall, with a wingspan of just under 80 feet. With its impressively sculpted fuselage, four sets of propellers, and fully restored 1940s interior, the Excambian is the world’s sole-surviving, American-built, four-engine transatlantic passenger airliner. Built in Connecticut in 1942, it was the Sikorsky company’s answer to Boeing’s famous Clipper flying boats of the 1930s and early 1940s. After undergoing a painstaking, 10-year-long restoration during the 1980s, the Excambian was added to the museum’s permanent exhibits and has been the crown jewel of our collection ever since.”



“The Bunce-Curtiss pusher is my favorite aircraft in the collection. Although it looks nothing like a modern airplane—most visitors say it reminds them of a bicycle—it’s an incredible example of early-20th-century technology. Built in 1912, it’s little more than canvas and bamboo held together with tension wires, yet somehow it managed to fly—sort of. We don’t know if its builder ever achieved sustained, controllable flight in his pusher, but we do know that museum volunteers found the wreckage of this aircraft in a barn in the 1960s. Our restoration team restored it to its former glory and it has been on display at the museum ever since.”



Ejection Seat Spurs

“These ejection-seat spurs were worn by a Vietnam War pilot who flew jets. Worn over boots, the spurs were attached to cables in the aircraft’s cockpit. If the pilot was forced to eject, the cables would pull his feet backward to prevent his legs from shattering as he was rocketed out of the cockpit.”



Blanche Stuart Scott

“As a specialist in the history of women and gender, I’m always eager to tell visitors about pioneering female aviators. Blanche Stuart Scott is one among this elite group. Born in 1884, Blanche showed an early interest in automobiles, prompting her family to ship her off to finishing school in an attempt to make a proper lady out of her. Luckily for us, Blanche had other ideas, took to flying, and soon became known as ‘The Tomboy of the Air.’ This photograph, taken in 1912, is included in a scrapbook compiled by her family that among the treasures housed at the museum’s John W. Ramsay Research Center.”