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First in Flight: Exploring the Carolinas Aviation Museum and the 'Miracle on the Hudson' Plane

Where: 4672 First Flight Drive [map], Charlotte, NC, United States, 28208
March 30, 2012 at 12:26 PM | by | ()

North Carolina’s state motto is “First in Flight,” and the state that once hosted the Wright Brothers’ first flight now houses an aviation museum. While the Wrights’ plane flew in Kitty Hawk, the Carolinas Aviation Museum is located in the more convenient—and booming—city of Charlotte, just down the road from the airport. The location wasn’t just chosen for proximity, though—the planes live in a retired airplane hangar.

Among the aircraft you’ll see are a military jet that rescued American soldiers in Vietnam, a plane from now-defunct Piedmont Air, and one of the planes used in Top Gun. (They’re pretty sure Tom Cruise never sat in it, but that could be a plus.) However, the star of the show is a US Airways Airbus 320, otherwise known as the "Miracle on the Hudson" plane.

In case you need a refresher, it was in January 2009 that this plane left New York-LaGuardia airport en route to Charlotte, suffered bird strikes and failures of both engines, forcing it to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Piloted by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the plane and its passengers escaped almost-certain disaster and became a worldwide news story, with the plane’s crew invited to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration and to greet the crowd at the Super Bowl.

After a thorough screening by the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane—which is in several pieces—was sent to the Aviation Museum. Once the engines are given the OK, they’ll join the rest of the parts. If you’re a fan of the TV show Lost, you could almost mistake the Miracle plane, with its visible damage and broken pieces, for Oceanic Flight 815.

The Miracle on the Hudson plane may dominate the museum, but there’s much more to the exhibit than just the vessel. Because the flight’s destination was Charlotte, many of the passengers live in the area and have contributed to a video installation where they are interviewed about their experiences. They even have periodic meetups where survivors can chat with museum attendees and volunteers, including one where passengers sit in their original seats. Eek!

There’s also a gorgeous silent film—made of photographs shown in rapid-fire succession—that depicts the plane being lifted out of the Hudson. Finally, the exhibit includes a detailed explanation of how the plane was restored and brought to Charlotte, complete with cute pictures of kids climbing on the fuselage as it sat on a flatbed truck.

You’ll exit the museum through the gift shop, where there are lots of fun aviation-inspired gifts. We got an airplane pilot rubber ducky named Sully, but you can pick up a book about kinds of planes or the history of the Air Force if you’re into more intellectual fare.

[Photo: Lilit M.]

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