Mission Aerospace offers flights of fancy at Berkshire Museum


PITTSFIELD — There's a reason why the word "flight" is part of the well-known idiom "flight of fancy," which means an extreme imaginative pursuit. For the next two months, the Berkshire Museum will help flesh out that quest with the traveling exhibition, "Mission Aerospace."

The show, which opened last weekend and runs through May 13, takes the subject of aeronautics and combines history, science and imagination, says Craig Langlois, the museum's chief experience officer.

"We are working hard to bring the public programs which not only appeal to kids, but also will give accompanying parents and other adults something to enjoy and think about," Langlois said, taking a break after having spent the three-day President's Day weekend directing the strong flow of visitors. "'Mission Aerospace' took a little time to get here, but it was worth the wait."

The idea for bringing the nationally acclaimed show to the Berkshire Museum began about year ago. It is presented by the Feigenbaum Foundation and sponsored by Greylock Federal Credit Union.

The exhibit is one of more than a dozen offered by Seattle-based Minotaur Mazes, a company that creates interactive traveling exhibitions on educational themes of science and sustainability.

Minotaur Maze associate director of sales and marketing Jack Stawick said that fun activities, like launching a paper rocket through the solar system, combined with an appealing maze experience, make "Mission Aerospace" "a blast for families."

"The topic of space exploration has never been more relevant than it is today, and this exhibit is an exciting way to learn more about space and flight," Stawick said.

Museum communication director Lesley Beck agreed with Stawick.

"The exhibition fills three large galleries on our second floor, about 3,700 square feet in all," Beck said while standing at the start point of Mission Aerospace. "[It] takes the form of a maze in the first two galleries, with vivid green, white, and blue vinyl and mesh rectangles forming the walls stretched over a framework of pipes. The third gallery holds some of the larger interactive stations."

In following Beck through the maze, one can see how someone with even the remotest interest in flight can be drawn in. At the entrance is a large wheel divided into 16 categories of aircraft from different eras, each with a challenge question, in much the way one would solve a puzzle or a mystery.

That's where it all starts, Beck said,

"Visitors spin the wheel to find their challenge question, and enter the maze to find the answer," Beck said. "[They] search for the panel that describes the particular aircraft with information that answers the challenge question as well as other fascinating details."

There are a number of featured aircraft histories from throughout the history of flight. Along the way, several interactive stations describe some of the scientific concepts integral to flight.

One such example is a stop which explains the way GPS works, showing a panel with a map of the world layered with an attached system of cables, and illustrates the way satellite signals combine to measure distance.

Another station offers an explanation of the fixed plotter, a navigational tool essential for planning a flight. Equipped with maps and several plotter tools, visitors can try using the tools themselves.

A third station offers an assortment of gyroscopes to try, along with explanations of how the gyroscope plays a role in flight navigation.

Beck walked by flip-top panels offering facts about NASA and flight, as well as those with illustrations of NASA pilots and astronauts with mirrors in the helmets, allowing kids to picture themselves as future pilots.

"And for a fun photo op, there's a small space capsule model that children can sit in to have their picture taken," she said.

Langlois says that one of his favorite parts of the exhibit is a spot in the third gallery that offers visitors the chance to make their own flight vessels.

Along with countless interactive variations of designing, building and testing rockets, Langlois points to a station he claimed was "a personal favorite," one with every material imaginable needed to make paper airplanes, including challenge cards with options for different folding options.

The launch zone for the paper planes allows visitors to fly their planes to graphic cutouts of international destinations from Seattle to Paris.

"Research has shown that one of the greatest human desires and dreams is the ability to fly, say, like a bird, or like any one of countless superheroes," Langlois said. "Given this, I think it's very easy to see why Mission Aerospace has been a popular attraction anywhere it has traveled. It not only addresses this dream and imagination in children, but also reminds adults of that time in their childhood when such notions were bigger than life itself."

Langlois hopes that while Mission Aerospace is in the Berkshires, families will find a spark that comes from the world of aeronautics.

"I want them to have that sense of creativity and innovation," Langlois said. "People who come to this exhibit will be inspired to know more about how our universe functions. They'll grasp that sense of curiosity, and thirst for knowledge that make us human."                                                                                                                        

Telly Halkias can be reached at tchalkias@aol.com or at @TellyHalkias on Twitter.


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