Frontiers of Flight

Tour the various exhibits at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, TX.

By Frontiers of Flight Museum

Boeing 737-300 Spirit of Kitty Hawk (1984/1984) by Frontiers of FlightFrontiers of Flight Museum

Wilbur and Orville Wright developed the first working airplane and are often described as the fathers of modern aviation.

The Wright Brothers Work Shed

Born 4 years apart in 1867 and 1871 respectively, the Wright Brothers grew up primarily in Dayton, Ohio. As young adults they published a weekly newspaper and pursued an interest in bicycles. 

An early interest in aeronautics coupled with mechanical and engineering abilities led to experiments with wing types and movable rudders. 

The workshop

The Wright brothers began their experiments at Kitty Hawk in 1900. They set up their shop in an existing wooden work shed. A corner of the shop has been reconstructed at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.

They headed to the coast at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where winds were more suitable for their experiments with gliders. They made their first successful flights in a powered airplane on December 17, 1903.

Bicycle sketch

The sketch of a bicycle above the workbench reflects Orville and Wilbur’s early interest in bicycles. Still in Dayton, they opened a bicycle shop in 1892, and by 1896 they were manufacturing and selling a bicycle they themselves designed.

Early Aviation Tools and Equipment (1903/1903) by Frontiers of Flight MuseumFrontiers of Flight Museum


The tools on view in the reconstructed workshop are basic woodworking tools. The 1903 Wright flyer was made primarily from wood with a fabric covering. Only the 4-cylinder engine was made of metal.

Notable Planes

The Frontiers of Flight Museum features over 30 historic aircraft, including the V-173 “Flying Pancake,” along with artifacts and archival materials related to the history of aviation, all part of its permanent collection. 

It also presents temporary exhibits, including loaned aircraft such as the Jenny, which belongs to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

V-173 “Flying Pancake”

The V-173 Flying Pancake was designed by Charles H. Zimmerman in 1939 for the Vaugh aerospace company. The moniker “Flying Pancake” derives from the aircraft’s unusual discoidal shape. 

Zimmerman experimented with this shape, which he hoped would allow for near-vertical take-offs and landings. Test flights of the Flying Pancake resulted in numerous reports of flying saucers.

Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny”

Curtiss JN-4D series, known as the “Jenny,” was originally produced as a training aircraft for the U.S. Army. In the decade following the war it continued to play an important role in civil life as a mail carrier. The“Jenny”also became the vehicle of choice in the barnstorming.

Barnstorming, or stunt flying, was a popular entertainment throughout the ‘20s. It brought attention to and spurred interest in developments in aviation. Charles Lindbergh started his career in aviation as a barnstormer.

Notable Engines

A powered aircraft needs an engine. The 4-cylinder, 12 horsepower engine in the plane that famously took off at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, was built by the Wright Brothers themselves.

Aeronautical engineers went on from that point to develop new engine types and new engines at an amazing pace—from V-type piston engines in the early 1900s to the first turbojet jet engines in the early 1940s. 

The development of new lighter, more powerful aircraft engines has been driven in large part by the broader evolution of military aircraft. In recent years, the need for greater fuel efficiency has driven developments in commercial aircraft engines.

Merlin”V-12 Aircraft Engine (1933/1951) by Rolls-RoyceFrontiers of Flight Museum

Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 Engine

The Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 engine was designed by Rolls-Royce engineers in the early 1930s at the prompting of Sir Henry Royce.

Royce, a company founder and an engineer himself, was looking for an engine that would combine the reliability and power of two of the company’s earlier engines. The Merlin was a hugely successful piece of engineering. 

During World War II, Merlins were used in over 40 different aircraft, including Mustang, Spitfire, and Hurricane fighter planes. 

Originally made at factories in Crewe and Derby in England and Glasgow in Scotland, as World War II progressed, the manufacture of Merlins was moved offshore to safeguard the plants.

Radial engine

Although we can’t put a name to this engine, it’s clearly identifiable by its shape as a radial engine. 

In this type of engine, the piston-bearing cylinders are arranged like the spokes of a bicycle wheel—they radiate out from a central point. Radial engines were developed in the early 1900s.

They were used in some of the earliest powered aircraft and were the most common type of engines in airplanes before the invention of the turbine engine. They are still commonly used on small airplanes. 

Radial engines are easier to maintain than inline engines, and they are generally cheaper to produce.

Combat Planes

As long as there have been flying machines, flying machines have had a role in military operations. Before airplanes, balloons and dirigibles were both used primarily for reconnaissance purposes. 

Orville and Wilbur Wright imagined that reconnaissance would be the main military use of powered aircraft as well. The U.S. Government was certainly not slow to see the possibilities. The Wright Brother’s first successful powered flight took place in 1903.

Just 6 years later in 1909, they delivered, on contract, the first airplane for military use to the government. The greatest spur to the development of aeronautical technology has been the demand of governments around the globe for aircraft for every sort of military purpose.

SSM-N-9 “Regulus II” Cruise Missile (1956/1956) by Chance VoughtFrontiers of Flight Museum

SSM-N-9 “Regulus II” Cruise Missile

In America following World War II, the competition to develop newer better weapons took to a new playing field. Now it wasn’t a race with the Germans, but a race between branches of the U.S. military. 

The U.S. Airforce developed the first surface-to-surface cruise missile, and the Navy wanted one, too.

Designed for the Navy by Chance Vought Aircraft, the Regulus could be launched from either ship or submarine. 

It came into service in 1955, but was soon replaced with the SSM-N-9 Regulus II, a supersonic version that could deliver a 2 megaton warhead to a target 1,800km away. Vought built 20 missiles before the Regulus program was cancelled in 1958.

RF-8G “Crusader” Aircraft

The RF-8G “Crusader” Aircraft was the first supersonic Navy fighter plane. The RF-8G was a refurbished version of an earlier Crusader model. Throughout the 1960’s, the period of the Vietnam War, Crusaders commonly flew off of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. 

RF-8G “Crusader” Aircraft (1965/1965) by Chance VoughtFrontiers of Flight Museum

The Navy wanted to improve their capabilities and contracted Vought Aircraft to modernize some models with, among other things, faster engines and new navigation technologies. These planes were still flying in the late 1970s. 

RF-8G “Crusader” Aircraft

The RF-8G “Crusader” Aircraft was the first supersonic Navy fighter plane. The RF-8G was a refurbished version of an earlier Crusader model. Throughout the 1960’s, the period of the Vietnam War, Crusaders commonly flew off of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. 

Space Flight

The first manned space flight took place on April 12, 1961, when the Soviet spacecraft Vostok 1 carried Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin out beyond Earth’s atmosphere to orbit the planet for 108 minutes. 

The United States followed the Soviets into space less than a month later with the flight of the Mercury Program. There were 5 more Mercury flights over the next 2 years. 

NASA’s Apollo program, which operated from 1961 to 1972, had several goals: to developed of aeronautical technology; to reach and explore the moon; to develop the ability of humans to live and work in space; and to establish the US as the unquestioned leader in the “space race.”

Donn Eisele's A7 Pressure Suit (1968) by NASAFrontiers of Flight Museum

Space Suit and Gear

The 1-piece spacesuits with clear plastic helmets used for Apollo missions were custom-made for each astronaut. In fact, each astronaut had 3 suits: a training suit, a back-up suit, and a flight suit. 

Worn over a water-cooled undergarment, the suit included pressurized layers of various synthetic fabrics developed for heat protection and protection against scrapes. The suit’s oxygen system was supplied by the ship or by a portable life-support backpack during moonwalks.

For those excursions onto the moon’s surface, astronauts also wore protective gloves and boots, and filters in their helmets could be deployed to protect against harsh sunlight.

Apollo 7 Command Module

The spacecrafts used in the 12 Apollo missions had three main parts: the command module (CM), where the crew lived and from which the rocket was controlled; the service module (SM), with propulsion and support systems;

and the lunar module (LM), in which crew members travelled back and forth to the moon’s surface from the CM in orbit above.

Apollo 7 Command Module (1968/1968) by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)Frontiers of Flight Museum

The Apollo 7 mission, the first manned flight of the Apollo program, was a test flight aimed at demonstrating command module, service module, and crew performance. 

The flight, commanded by Walter Schirra with crew members R. Walter Cunningham and Donn F. Eisele, launched on Oct. 11, 1968 from the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station in Florida and touched down in the Atlantic Ocean 10 days, 20 hours, and 163 Earth orbits later.

Braniff International Airways

Braniff International Airways, founded by brothers Thomas and Paul Braniff, operated from 1930 to 1982 with domestic American flights and flights to and from Panama, South America, Europe, and Asia.

The company is remembered for its innovative marketing approach and colorful airplanes and for the Concorde supersonic jet service from Washington, D.C. to London and Paris they offered briefly in 1979.

Gemini 4 Braniff Flight Hostess Uniforms

In 1965, Braniff was bought by the Great America Corporation, who appointed new President Harding L. Lawrence. Lawrence brought in the marketing agency Jack Tinker Associates to modernize the company’s image. Braniff airport lounges were refurbished in exotic color schemes.

Braniff Flight Hostess Uniforms (1937/1982) by Braniff AirlinesFrontiers of Flight Museum

Airplanes were painted in a variety of bright solid colors, earning the nickname “jellybean fleet.” And Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci spruced up the hostess’s attire. A Braniff advertisement at the time tried to seduce prospective fliers with this copy:

Gemini 4” Braniff Flight Hostess Uniform (1965/1965) by Emilio PucciFrontiers of Flight Museum

“Our hostesses wear reversible coats of almond green and apricot, space helmets to keep out the rain, red spacesuits and sometimes something a little more comfortable... We have blue planes, orange planes, yellow planes… 

You can fly with us seven times and never fly the same color twice...”

Braniff 727 Flying Colors of the United States

The Calder 727 was built by Boeing Aircraft in 1968 and started its commercial life in the Frontier Airlines fleet. It was among a lot of 727s bought by Braniff in 1972. 

In 1975 the plane was painted with a design created by artist Alexander Calder to celebrate the upcoming United States bicentennial. 

Braniff 727 Flying Colors of the United States Model (1937/1982) by Alexander CalderFrontiers of Flight Museum

The design featured abstract shapes in red, white, and blue on a white ground. Calder’s “flying canvas” was in active use until 1982. The plane was never a favorite of pilots as it required constant manual corrections to fly “on trim,” that is, on a straight and level course.


The Concorde supersonic jet was the result of collaboration between British and French engineers. In its developmental phase, many airlines showed an interest in what would be the fastest jetliner around, but in the end only British Airways and Air France bought in. 

Although Braniff operated Concorde flights from 1979 to 1980, the company never actually owned any of the supersonic jets—the planes that flew the Braniff route between Washington, D.C and London and Paris were “borrowed” from British Airways and Air France. 

Braniff Airlines Supersonic Concorde Model (1979/1979) by Captain Glenn ShoopFrontiers of Flight Museum

This jet carried as many as 100 passengers at a maximum cruising speed of 1,350mph (2,160kph). A Concorde flight from London to New York took about 3½ hours. Notice the past tense: the Concorde was never a commercial success and stopped flying in 2003.

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