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The Real World

The Children's Museum opens its addition, and a 727 returns to the air.



The Boeing 727 cockpit that's lain dormant on the front lawn of the Children's Museum of Memphis since 1992 is finally going places. Literally. On Saturday, August 3rd, the museum will unveil the now-enclosed cockpit in the "Going Places" exhibit along with three other exhibits that have been under construction since last March.

"Going Places," aimed at teaching children about the forces of flight, will finally utilize the cockpit after its 10-year slumber. It's now suspended in a glass atrium and will be the focal point of the exhibit. Children will be allowed to climb inside and get an idea what a real airplane cockpit looks like. Each button controls a recording describing its function, and the back section of the cockpit contains various computer simulations and games.

"The existing cockpit is the centerpiece of the new museum. That airplane suspended from the ceiling is really going to grab children's attention," says Randy McKeel, public-relations manager for the museum.

The staff of the Children's Museum has had this exhibit in mind since the plane was donated by FedEx and the Memphis Group, a distributor of new and overhauled aircraft equipment, but it's taken a while for the idea to come to fruition.

"FedEx and the Memphis Group knew a long time ago that we wanted to do an exhibit that had to do with flight," says Judy Caldwell, executive director of the museum. "The timing was such that, when we got the plane, we couldn't include it as an exhibit. So all of these years, we've had this plan under our hats."

Up until construction of the 16,000-square-foot addition to the museum, the cockpit sat outside the museum on a concrete pedestal surrounded by a fence, where it became home to a family of birds.

"They had to refurbish the whole inside," says McKeel. "They had to repaint the whole thing. It was white, orange, and blue, and now it's all-white like a FedEx cockpit."

The cockpit is 18 feet tall and 31 feet long and weighs over 20,000 pounds. It was separated from the rest of the plane in Greenwood, Mississippi, and transported to the museum by truck. The leftover fuselage and wings were sold as scrap.

In the new exhibit, stairs lead up to the captain's chair of the cockpit. (An elevator provides access for the handicapped.) Directly across from the plane is an air-traffic tower where children can "control" airplanes by instructing them to decrease or increase altitude or speed based on the planes' positions on a radar screen. Below the cockpit, a flight simulator allows children to experience the motion of an actual flight, such as roll, pitch, and yaw.

The exhibit also features a wind tunnel to demonstrate velocity as well as the effects of wing shape on flight. A distribution station teaches children about the various modes of shipping goods to and from Memphis using a touchscreen and based on weight, size, spoilage potential, and urgency of delivery.

"Going Places" will also feature a dress-up area where children can try on the clothing of pilots and flight attendants, a hot-air balloon demonstration that teaches the dynamics of air temperature, and a station for building model airplanes.

Since our mission is to reach children ages 1 to 12, we really needed something more science-based for the older children. Since flight is science, that facilitated making the whole exhibit," says McKeel.

Besides "Going Places," the museum will also unveil three other exhibits this Saturday. "Art Smart," "Growing Healthy," and "WaterWORKS!" are aimed at attracting older children without being too advanced to hold the attention of younger minds.

"WaterWORKS!" features a 25-foot model of the Mississippi River with miniature boats and barges and a tiny replica of Mud Island. Children will be able to create bridges and levees as well as manipulate the direction and velocity of the water. The exhibit also features a glassed-in Rain Room where kids can cause warm air from the floor to rise and meet cool air at the ceiling, forming an actual cloud. They can then push another button, which produces a shower of water from the cloud, simulating rain.

The "Art Smart" exhibit, framed by giant pencils and paintbrushes, features a stage, where children can dress up and put on their own productions, as well as an art room, where they can draw, paint, and sculpt. A giant loom allows kids to weave patterns out of cloth strips of varying colors, and a Twister game teaches kids about primary and secondary colors.

"Growing Healthy" features three huge arteries that children can climb through. The first will be completely clear and easy to maneuver through, but the second will be partly clogged and much harder to get out of. The third is so clogged, kids will have to exit through a bypass. The exhibit also contains a lung station where kids can don lab coats and view X-rays of healthy and tobacco-damaged lungs on a light box or view slides of lung tissue through a microscope. They'll also get to try on fat costumes and attempt to play basketball.

"The Children's Museum of Memphis is a hands-on interactive discovery museum, and we're an informal learning facility. We want kids to take real-life experiences from our museum and apply them to the real world," says McKeel.

Grand opening of new exhibits, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, August 3rd.

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