On a hot summer Saturday, we headed to the Udvar-Hazy Center to check out Smithsonian TechQuest: Flying Circus, a new alternate reality game at the museum. It’s set in 1927 when famed pilot Jimmy Doolittle is about to debut an aerobatic maneuver called the Outside Loop. Our mission would be to design a plane that will manage to complete the outside loop before he does.
After we watched the introductory video (which plays every 10 minutes or so), we proceeded to the introductory briefing. We learned a little more about Jimmy Doolittle, what an outside loop was, and that our goal was to create a plane that would be able to complete an outside loop. We also got a basic overview of the forces that allow a plane to fly – our plane would need to maximize all four to complete the loop. We then got pins to show we were working on the TechQuest, a map to help us find the answers, and we were off.
In order to complete the mission, we had to visit 3 different stations. Each station had another short video and an “explainer” (that’s right, their official title was explainer) to teach us more about the forces at play in flight. They all had a hands-on element, and my daughter was really captivated by all three. At the end of the lesson, the explainer gave her a choice – she had to put what she had learned at the station to use in selecting the right piece of her plane. For example, at the tail station, there were three tail shapes to choose from.
We collected all our pieces – a tail, wings, and a propeller – then headed back to assemble our plane and see if we were right. It turned out that my daughter learned quite a bit about what she needed to make her plane fly, and was awarded with a medal for completing the challenge. We were also able to take a celebratory picture with the props they had set up and do some additional challenges in the museum’s design space.
Overall, the challenge took us about 45 minutes. It was a lot of fun and got my daughter totally engaged in what she was seeing at the museum. She was so proud of her plane and her medal and I loved that she had a good time and learned a few things without even realizing it. I highly recommend making the trip to play!
Smithsonian TechQuest: Flying Circus is free to play. Admission to the museum is also free, but there is a $15 parking fee. It’s well worth the $15! Udvar-Hazy is one of our favorite museums and my daughter loves wandering through and looking at all the planes and the space shuttle.
There’s also an observation tower where you can watch planes take off and land at Dulles Airport and an IMAX theater if you want to catch a 3D movie (tickets for the movies are a separate fee – we saw “A Beautiful Planet” and really enjoyed it!). Smithsonian TechQuest: Flying Circus is offered Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., as well as the second Friday of each month. The program is designed primarily for families with children ages 10 to 14, but anyone can play – my daughter is 7 and really enjoyed it.
Photos courtesy of Mara Surridge.