The American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum is celebrating its 15 th anniversary in style, opening for 2008 with a fresh new look, expanded exhibits and a dramatic wall-size mural that can be seen from Highway 360 and even from the air by some passengers landing at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Since opening in July 1993, the C.R. Smith Museum, named for aviation pioneer and long-time American Airlines leader C.R. Smith, and located just south of DFW Airport at Highways 360 and 183, has welcomed more than 1.1 million visitors. But none has ever experienced quite the breadth and excitement of what the revitalized museum has to offer.
“What we’ve done is build on an already great museum to take this remarkable facility to a new level of excellence, ” said Jeffrey Johns, the C.R. Smith Museum’s Associate Director and Chief Curator. “With improvements to our theater, a new energy-efficient lighting system, and expanded exhibits with interactive displays, we’ve significantly enhanced the museum as an educational resource for everyone, but most especially children.”
To expand its educational experiences, the museum re-launched its popular Eagle Aviation Academy program in 2006 for fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, and will use the educational tools created by the expanded exhibits to establish expanded outreach programs to give young people throughout North Central Texas new insights into commercial air travel and careers in aviation.
“We see the C.R. Smith Museum as a living facility and an educational resource for the entire community, ” Johns said.
To help redevelop its core exhibit, the museum selected the Freeman Company, one of the world’s leading providers of integrated services for expositions, corporate events and exhibits. Drawing on proven expertise with interactive environments, Freeman, based in Dallas, delivered a full spectrum of services, from environmental and graphic design, content development and audio-visual production, to exhibit fabrication and installation. “Our Freeman team was a tremendous asset throughout all phases of the project, ” Johns said.
With over 35, 000 square feet of exhibit space, including a 10, 000-foot “hangar” facility that houses the Flagship Knoxville, a fully restored 1930s-era American Airlines DC-3 that began service in 1940, the C.R. Smith Museum’s main function is to preserve and interpret the history of American, American Eagle and the air transportation industry. But education and outreach have always been a big part of its mission. This accounts for the many school groups who have visited the facility over the years and a guest-lecturer program that has attracted such noted figures as astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who made the first moon walk with partner Neil Armstrong; actor and aviation enthusiast Cliff Robertson; Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev; renowned travel journalists Rick Steves and Peter Greenberg; pioneering test pilot Chuck Yeager; and the late Ret. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II.
“We want to build on this tradition of outreach and education as we strengthen the C.R. Smith Museum’s standing as one of the nation’s premier airline and aviation museums, ” Johns said.
A 1, 600-square-foot museum gift shop is located near the facility’s main entrance and central lobby area and offers a wide variety of historical aviation memorabilia and contemporary gift items. Enthusiasts can also shop for merchandise online at the gift shop’s Web site. Go to www.crsmithmuseum.org, then click on the link for the online gift catalog from the main page.
Main features of the C.R. Smith Museum Revitalization;
Theater Upgrade -A new large-format, HD digital projection system has been installed in the Museum’s 114-seat theater, a popular feature with visitors. The new system now allows the Museum to show any digital image. In conjunction with this upgrade, the Museum has completed a digital conversion of the 70mm IWERKS film “Spirit of American”, a soaring panorama of the people, aircraft and worldwide destinations of American Airlines.
New Historical Walkway- As visitors exit the Museum’s theater, they now move to the main exhibit area along a redesigned walkway that features an entirely new treatment of wall art. The display highlights American’s Flagship Service Program, including the complimentary limousine service from hotels that was launched in 1936 and ran through the 1940s. The artwork includes a giant vintage photo of a Flagship Limousine, a large photo of a DC-3 Flagship, an enormous recreation of a Flagship Service ad, and Flagship flags that were flown from American’s DC-3s and limousines. Together, the scenes help tell the Flagship Service story.
Renovated and Updated History Circle- A great deal of work has been devoted to completely redesigning the Museum’s main History Circle, which has been renamed “An American Journey.” The exhibit’s historical scope spans from American’s early history in the 1920s to the present, and covers the amazing histories of both American and American Eagle. The entire exhibit has a fresh, new look and employs interactive stations – positioned at a child’s average height – that make everything more interesting and educational for young people. As part of the redesign, 53 frontline employees and retirees share their stories through five oral history stations, adding more depth and meaning to the Museum experience. Called “An American Journey, ” the History Circle exhibit is presented in five broad historical eras, each with a panel above its displays featuring key historical events and people of the period.
Redesigned Inner Circle- After walking around the main exhibit, visitors are led to a completely redesigned Inner Circle that highlights the very essence of the company – its people. Displays in this area underscore the extraordinary diversity of the workforce, showing employees of American and American Eagle at work on the ground and in the air in places all over the globe. A new centerpiece of the redesigned space is a theater showing a dynamic, high-definition video entitled “An American Journey, ” sponsored by American Express Travel. The space along the Inner Circle’s walls is organized into four theme areas, each featuring a core strength of American and its people. The themes are entitled: “Ingenuity of American, ” “Voices of American, ” “Heart of American, ” and “Interdependence of American.” Three of the areas have a video display telling the story of that theme in graphics, photos, and videos.
Lighting System Changes – As part of its revitalization, the Museum has introduced a number of changes to the lighting system that will reduce its overall energy consumption by approximately 30 percent and give exhibits and artifacts added protection from damaging ultraviolet rays. The enhancements include the installation of several new layers of ultraviolet ray filtration throughout the Museum, a new led lighting system for display cases, and lower overall lighting levels. In addition to saving on energy, the effect of these changes will be to make the Museum more enjoyable for visitors and to better preserve its historical artifacts.
New Wall-Size External Mural- The entire east-facing glass wall of the Museum’s hangar building is now covered with a massive 17-foot-by-117- foot mural that features an American Airlines Boeing 777 banking through the clouds. The mural, specially designed for this purpose and installed as part of the revitalization, is clearly visible to motorists as they pass the Museum driving north or south on Highway 360, as well as to passengers from the air as their flights approach DFW Airport from the south for landing. The mural serves three purposes, calling attention to the C.R. Smith Museum, reducing damaging light levels within the Museum, and lessening the impact of solar radiation which saves on cooling costs. The mural’s design is such that visitors inside the hangar can see through it to the outside. This means they can still watch landing aircraft go by as they approach Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.