The aviation exhibit, The Franklin Air Show, re-opened October 18, 2003 after a period of renovation. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the Institute's newly restored 1911 Wright Model B Flyer, which was returned to the museum in the summer of 2003 after undergoing restoration at Aeroplane Works in Dayton, Ohio.
The 5,000 square foot permanent exhibit immerses visitors in the simulated environment of an actual air show and introduce them to the history, majesty, science, and technology of powered flight.
The Franklin Air Show contains over 20 interactive devices in three environments—an aircraft hangar, a midway, and a pilot training area—showcasing the historical and contemporary facets of aviation and aeronautical technologies and the life stories of a broad spectrum of aviation pioneers, including the Wright Brothers, Bessie Coleman, the Tuskegee Airmen, and Amelia Earhart. Visitors explore basic physics concepts demonstrated by the properties of air and the forces of flight.
The exhibit emulates a busy, lively air show with roaring sounds and shapes of planes overhead. Theatrical and technical effects create a sky like effect, grass and tarmac surface, and planes zooming overhead. Would-be pilots have the opportunity to earn their wings at several training stations. A new flight simulator lets visitors try a variety of maneuvers, including a 360 roll. The 1948 T-33 jet trainer (one of the most successful jet trainers ever built), shows visitors how to handle real jet controls, while other interactives introduce cockpit controls, principles of flight, and how they impact aircraft design.
On display at The Franklin Institute from 1935 to 2001, the Model B Flyer—number 39—has been restored to the condition of its first flight, with its muslin-covered wings and workable engine. It was one of the first mass-produced aircraft ever built and was the first plane to fly non-stop from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. Before the Institute acquired the Flyer in 1933, it was owned by Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, grandson of a wealthy Philadelphia beer baron. The plane was in such good shape because Bergdoll never crashed and flew for only two years. Bergdoll flew 748 flights without a mishap and logged 312 hours and 34 minutes total air time. His last flight was in 1914.
The Franklin Air Show includes two- and three-dimensional artifacts from the Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection, willed to The Franklin Institute by Orville Wright. Artifacts include original airfoils, scraps of wallpaper the Wright Brothers used to record measurements while doing their wind tunnel tests, and drawings of the original 1903 flyer. As the first scientific organization to give the Wright Brothers credit and ranking for achieving sustained powered flight, The Franklin Institute had a strong relationship with Orville Wright. In 1933, Orville Wright and Amelia Earhart presided at the grand opening celebration for the Institute's Aviation Hall. In 1914 and 1933, the Institute presented medals to the Wright Brothers in recognition of their scientific achievement.
The opening of The Franklin Air Show coincided with the national Centennial of Flight celebration of the Wright Brothers' first flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, which took place on December 17, 1903. The world paused to recall the innovative spirit that lifted two bright bicycle-makers from Ohio to controlled powered flight above the sandy dunes of North Carolina. Their curiosity, scientific inquiry, and passion for flight opened the skies on that December day and made the world a little smaller.