The Pfeil Fighter: Push-Me Pull-You

By 1943, it was becoming apparent that the standard propeller-driven piston-engine aircraft was reaching the limits of its potential speed. At the same time, though, Nazi Germany was facing daily raids by American and British bombers, and needed ever-faster planes with ever-higher altitudes to fight back. In the race to increase speed and power, unconventional designs were looked at, and one of the oddest was the Dornier Do335 “Pfeil” fighter, which had two propellers–one mounted in front and one at the back.

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The Dornier Do 335 A “Pfeil” fighter, on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center

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Empire State Express No. 999: First Locomotive to Reach 100 mph

By 1890, the US was expanding rapidly. The West had been conquered, thriving large cities existed along both coasts, and populations were moving in large numbers. The primary method of transportation was the railroad, and new tracks criss-crossed the country. But even at top speed, it took almost a week to travel from coast to coast. The locomotive “Empire State Express No. 999” changed that.

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Empire State Express No. 999, on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

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The Airphibian: The Car That Flies

Since the 1920’s, futuristic scifi novels and films depicted humans zipping around sky cities in flying cars. Several dreamers even produced designs for cars that could be converted into airplanes and vice versa. The first of these to be certified by the FAA was the “Airphibian”, the brainchild of an amateur designer who taught himself aeronautics from a book.

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The Fulton FA-3-101 Airphibian, on display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center.

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Florida’s Invaders–Hydrilla

Florida is the land of invasive species. Because of our status as a center for the importing of exotic pets and houseplants from overseas, and our neo-tropical climate, we have been invaded by everything from kudzu plants to Burmese pythons. One of our invasive plants is Hydrilla, an aquatic plant that came to us via the aquarium trade. It is listed as one of the “100 Most Invasive Species in the World” and has been called “The Perfect Aquatic Weed”.

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Yuri Gagarin: First Human in Space

The development of human space flight was one of the pinnacles of human technological advancement and one of humanity’s greatest achievements. But the “Space Race” was not motivated by science or by the humanitarian drive to explore new worlds–it was motivated by global Cold War politics between the United States and the Soviet Union. Perhaps that is why most people in the US today do not remember that the first human in space was not an American, but was a Soviet Air Force Senior Lieutenant named Yuri Gagarin.

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Gagarin’s spacesuit, on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

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