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Air and Space Museum Chief Talks Bizav, Sustainability

Christopher U. Browne is the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. He has helped lead the museum’s multi-year renovation of its flagship building in Washington, DC.

Browne served as a naval flight officer in the U.S. Navy, flying F-14 Tomcats, and is a graduate of the U.S. Navy’s “Top Gun” Fighter Weapons School.

In 1988, Browne joined the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and in 1998 was selected airport manager of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). In 2005, Browne accepted the airport manager position at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).

He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Dartmouth College and a Master of Science in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and he serves on the Space Foundation and Aero Club of Washington Boards.

Q: How does the museum serve as an educational resource to point more people toward careers in aviation – particularly business aviation?

Core to our mission at the National Air and Space Museum is education and inspiration of the next generation that will take business aviation, and all of aerospace, to an amazing future. We do that by making the incredible past and present accessible to an increasingly diverse student audience – anytime, anywhere. That can take the shape of our “S.H.E. Can” STEAM Camp, where experiences like flights in light aircraft and time with simulators can encourage kids to consider careers as pilots; events in person at the museum where they might meet a pilot who flies business aircraft; and virtually through our website and online education resources that highlight the artifacts we hold and stories behind them to engage students in thinking about a future in the field.

One example of our programs is our Innovations in Flight fly-in day each summer. Dozens of general aviation pilots fly their planes into Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), along with some military, commercial and other airplanes that come for the day. A number of the pilots work, or worked, in business aviation and they spend the day by their planes talking to thousands of visitors about the wonders of being a pilot.

Q: How does the museum include GA and business aviation as part of exhibits and why is that important?

Business and general aviation aircraft and related artifacts make up a key component of our collection. In fact, one of the completely new galleries in our fully transformed flagship building on the National Mall in Washington, DC, is the Thomas W. Haas We All Fly gallery. It is all about GA and business aviation. In a place of pride in the gallery is N802L, the second prototype Lear Jet Model 23. It was Bill Lear’s pioneering entry into the world of business aviation. We also have a section of our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia dedicated to business aviation. That display includes a Beech King Air, Bob Hoover’s Shrike Commander and the Bell Model 206L-1 LongRanger II (a variant of the Jet Ranger) that Ross Perot Jr. and Jay Coburn used for the first round-the-world helicopter flight.

The ways we highlight general and business aviation point to the vital role they play in the aviation system. With more than 1.8 million business aviation flights into and from the U.S. in 2022, it shows how important this tool is to those whose travel needs just can’t be met by even our extensive commercial airline schedules. So, we make sure to share how it fills a key sector of flying.

“How we continue to grow aviation with sustainable operations is just the kind of challenge we want our visitors to think about and be inspired to help solve.”

Q: What about the exciting and promising future of electric aviation and sustainable aviation? Will the museum be curating any exhibits surrounding these topics?

As part of the We All Fly gallery, we already have an interactive exhibit where visitors can explore how they might use electric aircraft for urban air mobility to envision that future. I’m also actively engaged with those working in the field on how we can tell this exciting story and its rapid development with our audience. From UAVs that demonstrated electric flight to NASA’s work on electronic propulsion to the electric craft test flying today, we are using exhibits, programs and digital content to make sure we share the past, present and future of electric aviation since it will be key to meeting our sustainability goals.

We’re also very excited about one of the new galleries we’ll be opening soon, the Alan and Shelly Holt Innovations Gallery, which will first house an exhibit on climate change that will have sustainable aviation as a key element. How we continue to grow aviation with sustainable operations is just the kind of challenge we want our visitors to think about and be inspired to help solve.

Q: How does the museum engage with the business aviation community to help it understand the past, present and future of bizav?

Because we recognize the importance of business aviation, we have representatives on our board who work in and around business aviation, as well as using it themselves. They help us understand the industry’s direction, which informs how we tell its story. Also, because our Udvar-Hazy Center is connected to IAD, we’ve occasionally hosted fly-ins by business aviation groups. It lets us share how we are telling their stories, and lets us hear from those with the most intimate knowledge about the current state and future of business aviation.

Q: What’s been your experience working with the business aviation community?

Before joining the museum, I had been general manager of Washington Dulles International Airport and prior to that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, both under the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. As you can imagine, the DC area attracts a lot of business aviation traffic for both business and government engagement. In fact, last year Dulles was the seventh busiest U.S. airport for business jets.

At both airports, business aviation was, and is, a big part of the customer base and financial portfolio. While business aviation can remain less visible to the public than commercial aviation, what I learned was how it is a key support to our aviation system, and that informs how we bring its story to light at the museum.

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