By Mahreen Khan and Colin Knechtl
Marcellina Mele’s two boys ran from the F-105B Thunderchief to the P-84B Thunderjet, jaws dropped, eyes opened wide. Not far behind, Mele looked on in fascination, a large smile brimming from cheek to cheek as she watched her children press their faces against the cold glass cases full of Long Island’s aviation history.
On April 8, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City kicked off its four interactive April break activities, coinciding with the 90th anniversary of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight. A variety of educational programs are being offered April 8 through 18, including a live astronomy program called “The Current Night Sky,” a Golden Age gallery highlighting Lindbergh’s flight and more.
“My boys love airplanes and they’ve been just amazed by being able to see everything here at the museum,” Marcellina Mele, mother of two and visitor of the museum, said.
From reaching the moon and working tirelessly to explore our elaborate solar system, to controlling the skies with large aircrafts, the history is rich and the culture is profound on Long Island’s peninsula. In fact, 12 NASA astronauts have come from Long Island.
Visitors like Mele are ushered in to explore the Island’s history through 30 interactive exhibits, six climbable cockpits, multiple giant dome films and live planetarium shows and the assistance of tour guides who have worked in aviation and educators familiar with the solar system.
“Our planetarium seats 299 people,” Ellen Peiser, planetarium educator at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, said. “The planetarium digital system allows us to fly anywhere in the solar system that we would like. It also allows us to stand on Earth and look up at the sky at any point in the day from now to 5,000 years ago to the year 9,999 in the future.”
Peiser presents the planetarium shows at the museum, including the newest “The Current Night Sky” showing. The shows offer visitors of all age ranges the opportunity to engage in hands-on, interactive activities – activities she says the museum only started up about two years ago. She said the museum has room to grow, although seminars on climate change and excavation, as well as space-related events are already offered.
Some local pilots feel it is important to education the youth on matters of aviation.
“We have a terrible shortage of pilots now and if we could get young people to be educated with the history, what happens is then maybe we get people into general aviation – pilot-based – and people enjoying aviation, because right now we’re short of flight instructors and it’s getting very expensive,” Jeff McArthur, president of the Gace Flying Club in Ronkonkoma, said. McArthur commended the Cradle of Aviation Museum, and said that the more grade school and middle school children the museum can educate, the better.
A variety of space exhibits are being held, including one called “Exploring Space.” The Cradle of Aviation Museum features 75 air and spacecraft and collaborates with local Long Island colleges every Saturday to put on planetarium shows.
“Just being able to see the big planes and climb into some of them and touch everything – it’s just been awesome,” Mele said.
While walking through each gallery exhibit, visitors can look to the museum’s tour guides for reference.
“When I was retiring at 62-years-old, I needed something to do and I always was involved in aviation,” Steve Sachar, an eight-year tour guide with the museum, said. “I retired from the airlines after 42 years. I was a military helicopter pilot, and it was just a natural move for me to expend my time and my knowledge trying to share it doing something I really enjoy.”
Sachar said that many of the tour guides at the Cradle of Aviation Museum are the same people who helped build the equipment on display. “What they bring to us is incredible knowledge that could not be gathered in a book. You’re listening to real life people discussing real life events and that’s really the way we pass down knowledge,” he said.
Among the four April break activities, the museum is hosting to extend its usual century’s worth of aviation history, are a “Hands-On Science Zone” event planned between April 11 and 13 and “Astronomy & Space Day” set for April 13.