“Where was I when the Rockets came to life…”* (Become a Pilot Day 2011)

Around the time that Jules and I attended the Air Show at Andrews AFB, I saw a tweet to enter a contest sponsored by the Smithsonian to be a VIP attendee for a “Pilot Day” in late June. I entered all my information in the form and submitted my entry not thinking much of it. A couple weeks later, an email landed in my inbox and much to my surprise, I was chosen! I was one of 25 people selected to experience the event and add some social media flair to it.

What I didn’t realize was I was about to be in the company of some extraordinarily passionate and dedicated people who loved aircrafts, spaceflight/NASA, and the Smithsonian. Some of the fellow members of this group ranged from actual NASA employees, to government contractors, to a space enthusiast who flew in from California to attend this event! Some of the members of this elite group travel to Shuttle launches when NASA releases tickets via an online lottery-like giveaway. Todd, a group member, was mentioning how his friend knows people at Canon who bring special/unreleased items to these launches. Don’t get me wrong, the Air and Space museum was always my favorite museum as a child (and still is to this day) but I couldn’t rattle off statistics of the various aircraft or really speak to the (lack of) funding of the space program.

Roger Launius, Space Division Sr. Curator

The group headed to the photo

The real Pilot Day event was my inner 10-year old’s dream come true: a whole day of behind the scenes/ VIP access with meeting various speakers in person and sharing the event (via social media) with the entire world. (I couldn’t pass up the chance to cart a tripod around a museum!) For us it was a marathon event- I spent 12 hours there. From our start time of 5:30AM (we all needed to help with the Foreign Object Damage [FOD] check) to taking a break in the tower around 5:00 PM. We were constantly moving. The schedule was so packed with fun that innovative ways to keep our devices charged/connected to the internet were concocted. It wasn’t uncommon to find the group listening to a speaker with our iPads/iPhones charging in an outlet nearby.

FOD Walk

Check in around 5:30AM

Our day started off with the FOD walk on the runway, then we got to see various military and civilian planes taxi in from the Dulles airport and park outside the museum. This was my first time watching a real live military jet taxi less than 60 feet away from me. Needless to say, it was AWESOME to watch. Trying to capture the heat coming out of the jet engines from a distance on my Canon proved to be an interesting challenge for me.  We also had the treat of seeing the first female CAG (the head of an aircraft carrier) arrive via….F-18. Talk about an entrance!

iOS5?!

Once all the planes were parked (apparently it’s quite easy to parallel park a A-10 Warthog) we hustled inside to recharge, grab breakfast, and meet one of the heads of the museums before we went back outside for a group picture. The group picture was taken by a photographer (not me silly) on a lift with the Spirit aircraft in the background which was being donated that day to the Smithsonian. The photographer was using a Hassleblad camera to take our picture. This was the first time I’ve ever seen one used in person.  Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to see the Hassleblad close up or even ask him about it.

General John Dailey and Vicki Portway

Tom Fuhrman, SR-71 Pilot. He flew the Blackbird that is in the Museum! (His name is on the plane)

The first Female CAG looking at an iPad for flight information.

The rest of the day was a giant whirlwind of activity. From watching the official ceremony for the donation of the Spirit to the General John Dailey (the Director of the Air and Space), to listening to an astronaut Dr. Thomas Jones speak about his Shuttle experience, to catching up on email and decompressing during lunch- we always had something to do. This constant activity was a good thing as it’s very easy to lose the excitement during a daylong event and get tired. Both Vicki and Isabel, the creators/planners of the event, did a wonderful job herding us from place to place while allowing us to explore. Some of the group had never visited the museum before (I had visited once already back in September with Jules) so it was a treat for them to experience the whole museum in one day.

I am honored to be part of the first ever official Smithsonian tweetup and had a total blast attending. My camera was clicking away all day (took over 900 photos in a 12 hr span) and post processing/editing in the days afterwards brought some great memories back. I’ve posted all my photos to my Flickr account- you can also see the ones from everyone in the Air and Space Become a Pilot Day Flickr album. You can read more about the Become a Pilot Day here– it’s an annual event that is a ton of fun for kids and parents alike.  If you are interested in attending the event with the VIP’s- follow the @NASAtweetup account on twitter for chances to enter and win.

* This is actually a line in the new Owl City song “Alligator Sky”.

**EDIT** Here is the group shot of the photo. (I’m in the grey tshirt/green shorts near the center of the group)

Reproduced on my blog with permission from the Air and Space musuem. (Photo credit:Photo by Dane Penland, courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.)

Update 2:

When I was dumping photos off my phone, I discovered some cool panoramic pictures I took- check them out!

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