The Magic of Flight

The Magic of Flight
December 12-June 1, Rangos Omnimax Theater
Carnegie Science Center

The Magic of Flight was produced by MacGillivray Freeman Films for the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida. It is made possible through the sponsorship of McDonnell Douglas and F/A-18 Industry Partners: Northrop Grumman Corp, Hughes Aircraft Company and GE Aircraft Company and GE Aircraft Engines.

For millions of years, no one has had a better feel for flight than birds. Only within the past century have humans discovered the means to soar through the air with our avian friends. The Magic of Flight, a new film at Carnegie Science Center’s Omnimax Theater, brings the thrill of flight and jet aircraft technology to the big screen, balancing the excitement of a Blue Angel air show with the science and history of flight. So buckle your seatbelts and join us for the ride of a lifetime in The Magic of Flight.

The Epitome of Modern Flight

Talk about hair-raising experiences: You’re traveling upside down at 700 miles an hour, in the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet—one of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration jets. You’re moving so fast that G-forces, or gravitational forces, are in effect. Thank goodness you’re wearing a G-suit, which renders the deadly forces harmless. Finally, after what seems an endless trip through the clouds, you’re back on solid ground—and glad to be there. Suddenly you have a new respect for the daredevils who pilot the famous Blue Angels planes.

The sight of the sleek Blue Angels team soaring through the air in their well-known delta formation is awesome, so much so that more than 27 million spectators are turning out to see Blue Angels shows every year. This elite group celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 and currently flies more than 60 air shows in an eight-month season.

Piloting one of these demonstration jets is not a job for the timid, and the complex maneuvers displayed in a performance show the discipline and skill it takes to be a Blue Angel. These pilots are active duty members of the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps. To qualify, they must have flown at least 1,500 tactical jet hours, earned career qualifications and demonstrated superior abilities as naval officers and aviators. Each Blue Angel serves a two-year tour, then returns to an operational unit at sea.

Early Attempts at Flight

It all started at the beginning of the 19th century. George Caley, England’s "father of aeronautics," was credited with the first major breakthrough in heavier-than-air flight: understanding wing shape and lift. By 1808, Caley had created a variety of fixed-wing model gliders, and not long afterward, full-scale gliders. Legend has it that in 1853, Caley’s coachman became the first human to glide in the air successfully. But the harrowing experience was too much for the man, and he abruptly gave notice, saying that he was hired to drive—not to fly!

Some 40 years later, a German civil engineer named Otto Lilienthal came up with 18 successful glider designs after studying bird flight and aerodynamic theory for two decades. Lilienthal’s gliders were of common materials such as willow rods and waxed cotton, and he launched them into the wind from atop a hill. A late–19th-century publication described the unforgettable sight: "the spectacle of a man supported on huge white wings, moving high above you at racehorse speeds."

Meanwhile, in May of 1896, Samuel P. Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, launched the first scale prototype, heavier-than-air, powered model of his original "Aerodrome," which flew a distance of 4,200 feet. Unfortunately, the later, full-scale models proved successful only in depositing the pilot into the Potomac River.

During the last decades of the 19th century, two brothers exercised their creativity in projects ranging from initiating a school newspaper, to manufacturing chewing gum from sugar and tar, to building and repairing bicycles. With their natural mechanical abilities and restless minds, these brothers—Orville and Wilbur Wright—eventually took on flight as a new and challenging project. After studying the previous 40 years of flying experiments and corresponding with experts in the field, the Wrights began applying their knowledge to the construction of a series of gliders. Their triumph was overcoming Lilienthal’s problem of inadequate "weight shifting" by "wing warping," twisting the tips of an aircraft’s wings in a manner similar to that of a bird.

Initial tests of the Wrights’ gliders in 1900 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, were disappointing. Through painstaking research and experimentation over the next two years, however, they solved the stability and control problems that plagued their earliest efforts. They invented the first operational aircraft propeller and, with the help of their mechanic, Charles Taylor, they built their own 12-horsepower engine. By 1903 their craft was ready for powered flight.

On December 17, 1903, Orville wired a Western Union telegraph message to his father. It read:

Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas.
But the plane was wrecked by a sudden gust of wind shortly after the fourth trial; there would be no more flights that year, and in fact the Wright 1903 Flyer never flew again.

Blue Angels Trivia

Planes  The U.S. Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron has 11 jets and one turbo-prop transport. Some jets are built for speed and maneuverability, and some for special landings and take-offs. The F/A-18 Hornet has a computer system that actually reconfigures the plane’s wings in flight, like birds do instinctively. The JumpJet lifts off vertically, like a helicopter, and moves forward as the wings create lift of their own.

Speed  F/A-18 Hornets can reach speeds of almost Mach 2 (1,400 mph), but pilots usually keep the speed below the sound barrier for an air show. The fastest they will travel is 700 mph (just under Mach 1), and the slowest is about 150 mph.

G-Forces  Blue Angels anticipate G-forces by contracting muscles in the face, neck and stomach to stimulate circulation to the brain and thus avoid blacking out.

Smoke  The smoke emitted by the jets is created from a paraffin-based oil that is squirted directly into the left engine’s exhaust nozzle. When the oil hits the hot air coming from that engine, it is instantly vaporized and turns into smoke. The smoke, which poses no threat to the environment, provides a traceable path for spectators to follow, and it enhances the safety of the solo pilots who must pinpoint each other’s positions.

Fuel  On average, an F/A-18 uses about 8,000 pounds of fuel (1,300 gallons) during an hour of flight time. The fuel is a special jet aircraft mixture called "JP-5."

Photographs courtesy of MacGillivray Freeman Films