On the way out of Wilmington, I stopped at the Battleship North Carolina to finish my coffee. I had a lot of miles I wanted to cover, so I didn't actually take the tour. I took some photos of the dragonflies in the park, tried to avoid stepping in goose crap, and had a look at the outside of the ship. If you've never seen a World War II era battleship . . . it's pretty impressive. It's a porcupine with guns instead of quills.
Driving from Wilmington to Charlotte takes you across the flat coastal plain and into the Carolina Piedmont, the worn down foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The main artery is US 74/I-74, which in some places is labeled "Andrew Jackson Highway" and in others "American Indian Highway." I'm sure there is a story somewhere there, but I'm too tired to investigate right now.
Traveling through the Piedmont was a little bizarre for me. In some ways, it feels strangely homologous to the oh-so-familiar Midwest. There is a feeling of rural depression, where shifting economic demography has left so many towns, so many businesses, and so many homes in a sad state of decay. Where there is shininess, it manifests in the form of scattered McMansions and a veneer of chain stores and fast food restaurants. The towns I drove through reminded me of the northeastern Ohio towns of my childhood.
While the built landscape seemed familiar, however, the vibe did not. Places were closed, some people were rude (I'm looking at you, lady in the Albemarle McDonald's), and I just didn't feel the love. I'll try not to judge, but geez . . . the Piedmont was buzzkill. It seemed like "home," yet it felt like I was traveling through enemy territory. Strange.
I want to preface this section by saying that I support all efforts to preserve aviation history and tell the stories of that history to the public. I like air museums. I go to every one that I can. I've seen many.
I visited the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte. They have some interesting aircraft on display (some are unique), and there are a lot of staff on hand to answer questions. Those are the good things. Here are a few ways that the museum could be improved (I'm not picking on just this museum, these are common issues):
- Lose the Mood Lighting. For some reason, some museums choose to keep their display space relatively dark and use dramatic colored, directed lighting to illuminate the aircraft (the Kalamazoo Air Zoo does the same thing). I'm not sure what the rationale is, but I know that I'd much rather be able to actual see the aircraft in a normal white light. I want to see the scratches and the rivets and the details, not imagine the airplane is in the "Thriller" video. As long as we're shining purple lights on the planes, why not plug in a smoke machine and play "Kashmir"? I just don't get it. Turn the real lights on, please.
- Get the Facts Right. I'm probably at least slightly above average in terms of my knowledge of aviation history. I actually read the information that's provided about the aircraft I'm interested in, and it bugs me when I see something that I know isn't right (it makes me ask how much of the other information is also incorrect). Do some fact-checking, please!
- Put Stuff Where I Can See it. I understand that there's never as much space as you want, and some aircraft are very large. The centerpiece of the Carolinas Aviation Museum display is the Airbus that was successfully crash-landed in the Hudson River. It's a great display (with lots of interpretive information), but the Airbus is huge. Putting it in the center means that all the other aircraft are arranged around it and you can't actually walk all the way around them. And some (rare early Cold War aircraft such as an F-102, an F-101, and a Regulus cruise missile) are displayed outside, hundreds of feet away from where you're allowed to be. That kind of sucks. There's a pedestrian Cessna indoors, but we keep a fascinating example of early nuclear cruise missile technology outside where I have to use my zoom lens to get a decent look at it?