From the top of the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower at the Udvar-Hazy Center –part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum - visitors have a 360-degree bird's-eye view of Washington Dulles International Airport. It’s a place to view aluminum in action: making human flight possible. The Udvar-Hazy Center, pictured left, is the sister center to its Washington D.C. counterpart and is home to thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the space shuttle Discovery.
"Without aluminum, we wouldn't have a museum."
Colonel Scott Willey of the Air and Space museum, who gave a private tour to the Association’s Technical Committee on Product Standards, said “Without aluminum, we wouldn’t have a museum.” The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a sleek reconnaissance plane, has an internal aluminum airframe; the Concorde, which flew at twice the speed of sound for 27 years, has an aluminum skin; and Discovery, pictured right, who flew 39 times to spend a total of 365 days space, was built around a backbone made out of aluminum alloy plate.
Exceedingly versatile, lightweight and strong, aluminum made human flight and space exploration possible. From the Wright Brothers using an aluminum engine in 1903 to Boeing 737s now where roughly 80 percent of the dry weight of the plane is aluminum, the metal has made transportation that was once a dream a daily convenience. Aluminum alloys are the primary choice for large structures of commercial airplanes including the fuselage, wing, and supporting structures due to the metal’s properties. Museums house artifacts documenting the impact aluminum has had to make this possible.
So what’s next? Aluminum has created the potential for mankind to fly both around the Earth and into space. Aluminum has already been to the moon and to Mars. Where should aluminum go now?