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Smithsonian hangar to honor McDonnell

July 23, 2002 — The space hangar at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum companion facility in northern Virginia will be named for aerospace executive James S. McDonnell, founder of the company that built America's first manned spacecraft.

The naming of the space history exhibition hall at the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy (pronounced OOD-var HAH-zee) Center, under construction at Washington Dulles International Airport, is in recognition of a $10 million gift from the JSM Charitable Trust, in conjunction with McDonnell's sons, James S. McDonnell III and John F. McDonnell.


The gift will be used to complete the hangar, which will house the space shuttle Enterprise and some 135 other large space history artifacts plus hundreds of smaller pieces. The Udvar-Hazy Center will open in December 2003 to mark the 100th anniversary of powered flight.

Museum director Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey said it is "an absolute privilege to have the James S. McDonnell name as part of our new facility because the gentleman known as 'Mr. Mac' helped write so much of the history we preserve. His accomplishments illustrate the growth of flight in the 20th century."

Born in 1899, James Smith McDonnell went from an Arkansas boyhood delivering newspapers by horseback to flying for the Army Air Service Reserve, earning a degree in physics at Princeton and a graduate degree in aeronautical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After putting his skills to work for several airplane manufacturers and an earlier attempt at self-employment, he formed McDonnell Aircraft Corp. in St. Louis shortly before World War II.

McDonnell's innovations transformed military flight, creating the first U.S. carrier-based jet fighter; the first twin-rotor, twin-engine helicopter; the first ramjet helicopter; and the first convertiplane, which lifted vertically by rotor and flew forward by pusher propeller. With reliable designs like that of the supersonic F-4 Phantom II, McDonnell Aircraft became the world's leading producer of jet fighters.

In the race to put a human in space and eventually on the moon, NASA chose McDonnell to build the Project Mercury spacecraft flown by America's original astronauts. After the first U.S. orbital mission, John Glenn told the McDonnell team: "Your hearts were in this." Following the six solo Mercury flights, McDonnell supplied the spacecraft used for the 10 two-man missions of Project Gemini, which carried out America's first spacewalks and orbital rendezvous.

McDonnell Aircraft merged with Douglas Aircraft Corp. in 1967, bringing together the largest employer in Missouri with the largest in California. Under James McDonnell's leadership, the McDonnell Douglas Corp. rolled out, among other aircraft, the DC-10 jetliner and the F-15 and F-18 fighters. The company also made the third stage of the Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon, built Skylab, America's first space station, and was a major subcontractor for development of the Space Shuttle orbiter.

James S. McDonnell died in 1980. During his lifetime he received some of the highest honors in the aerospace field, including the Robert Collier Trophy, the Guggenheim Medal, the Founders Medal of the National Academy of Engineering and the NASA Public Service Award.

The James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center will contain 53,067 square feet of floor space, as well as a mezzanine to provide a close-up view of artifacts suspended from the 80-foot-high ceiling. In addition to featuring the Enterprise, used for landing tests in the 1970s, the hangar will house an unflown Mercury series spacecraft and the Gemini VII spacecraft, flown by Frank Borman and James Lovell on their two-week orbital endurance mission in 1965.


The space hangar will be adjacent to the center's 10-story-high aviation hanger, which will house a McDonnell F-4S Phantom II and a McDonnell XV-1 Convertiplane, along with more than 200 other aircraft.

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will allow the public to see the 80 percent of the Air and Space collection not displayed at the museum's flagship building on the National Mall in Washington or on loan. The facility will be 760,057 square feet situated on 176.5 acres.

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