The Shoofly - April 2016
This month our guest columnist is the director of exhibits at INFINITY Science Center, who discovers three elements of fascination - all of which make one of the new exhibits, "Wings Over INFINITY," a kid magnet.
- story by John Dumoulin
I think that “fascination” — at least the lifelong kind that sparks career choices — is about being surprised that something has been done, realizing that you can do it, too, and leaving the moment confident enough to go out and try. This new exhibit happens to do all three.
First, mostly thanks to the Koast Air Modeling Society of Jackson County, the exhibit features some of the most detailed scale model airplanes you'll see anywhere. They hang from the ceiling like a determined swarm of mosquitos! Each plane is so detailed that you can't help but put yourself inside the cockpit. I think that's the first secret of the exhibit's success and the reason scale models are so successful in any exhibit: if something can be built at a small scale, someone must be able to be build it full scale, right?! These planes MUST exist!
As it turns out they do, or did. There’s a B-25 Mitchell and a WWII British Spitfire. The 1:20 space shuttle model took a guy in Waco, TX, ten thousand hours to build under a NASA grant. All of these, including the shuttle, are radio controlled and at least taxied, if not flew.
The second and even more popular part of the exhibit is the Paper Airplane Challenge. It's where you get to design and build your own model airplanes using an unlimited number of pieces of paper. Then you get to test your creations by throwing them off of the museum's second floor balcony. There's a miniature runway to land on in the gallery below or hooped targets overhead. You can even make "pilots" out of wooden ice cream spoons and watch them bail out! The point: YOU can make these.
Then, with what you’ve learned about how an airplane behaves you can walk over to the General Aviation Cockpit simulator to try landing a Piper Cub. But as it turns out, that's not where you get the third element of fascination, the confidence part. The confidence to go out and try things on your own actually comes from conversations with the two or three volunteers we have stationed around the exhibit, all of them actual aviators and/or engineers. The stories they tell are what will get a young aspiring pilot hooked!
INFINITY hasn’t cornered the Fascination Market. There are just too many seconds in the day and as many ways to be fascinated as there are people. But as in any museum, here you can actually get those “a ha!” moments again and again ... and again. I see it repeated every day at INFINITY, but judging by the number of paper airplanes that now litter the first floor gallery each day, the new “Wings” exhibit seems to offer more “a ha” frequent flyer miles than any other.
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