Flying Soon to a Museum Near You

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 12, 2006 – How many aviation museums are there in the United States? It might be hard to believe, but the answer is nearly 1,000. Some are too small to house even one aircraft. The world’s largest – the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. –hosted an international gathering of air and space museum officials in March, and invited two Microsoft engineers to touch down with some exhibition expertise from Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Hal Bryan and Mike Lambert, both Microsoft software test engineers, demonstrated ways in which museums can use Flight Simulator to create customized interactive exhibits. Flight Simulator allows users to realistically recreate the experience of flying a myriad of different aircraft.

“We weren’t there to sell copies of Flight Simulator,” explains Bryan,” but rather to help museums better reach their customers.”

The four-day gathering, which drew some 200 museum officials from around the world to the nation’s capital, focused on the mutual concerns of air and space museums of all sizes.

In addition to the roughly two dozen types of aircraft Microsoft includes in Flight Simulator, there is an active community of third-party developers who have created thousands of additional aircraft for Flight Simulator, Bryan explains. So an aviation museum may be able to offer its patrons simulated rides in even relatively obscure types of aircraft, tailored to aircraft in the facility’s own collection.

Flight Simulator 2004 screenshot shows Mike Lambert and Hal Bryan, digital models for the pilots of this Cessna 172.

Demand for the Microsoft session was high, Bryan says, noting that many participants changed travel plans to attend after hearing of the topic.

“Your presentation to conference attendees was outstanding, and based upon the standing-room-only session, I’m sure you would agree that the aviation museum field values Microsoft Flight Simulator as an outstanding educational application,” wrote one participant, Steve Prall, deputy director of the Strategic Air and Space Museum at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

As a result of their networking and presentation, Bryan says, officials of a number of museums expressed plans to build Flight Simulator kiosks to bring a more interactive element to their displays.

Among those, he says, are the Smithsonian’s own Air & Space museum, the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio; the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.; and the Royal Air Force Museum in London.

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