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Cornell's "Fabric/Flight Connection" video will be on exhibit at National Air and Space Museum

Fabrics have always been an integral part of flight, according to a Cornell University video. And now, this connection will be a featured part of a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit in the new gallery, How Things Fly, in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The video, The Fabric/Flight Connection, will be shown regularly for at least 10 years in a mini-theater of the National Air and Space Museum starting Sept. 20 when the gallery opens. The video focuses on advanced fiber science concepts as viewed through the dynamic world of aeronautics.

From kites in China 2,000 years ago, balloons and blimps to the first powered airplane in 1903 built by the Wright brothers and modern aircraft, textiles have played a crucial role, says Nancy Breen, who researched and wrote the video's script. As a textile educator in the Department of Textiles and Apparel in Cornell's College of Human Ecology, Breen collected stories of kites launched 2,000 years ago, two strands of cotton from the Wright brothers' famous airplane, The Flyer, and film clips of the 1986 around-the-world, non-stop, no-refueling flight of the Voyager craft, among scores of other images, for the 30-minute educational videotape on the role of textile materials in historic, contemporary and future aviation.

In researching the video, Breen became the first researcher to identify the type of fiber the Wright brothers used for their landmark flight: cotton.

"Everyone knows how fabrics and textiles are used in clothing and interiors, but many people don't realize how versatile, complex and practical textiles are in industrial and aviation purposes," Breen said.

To go with the video, The Fabric/Flight Connection Handbook, written by Cornell textile educator Charlotte Coffman, provides hands-on activities that encourage youth to discover how objects move through the air, to identify the important properties of aviation materials and to understand design features of aircraft and aviator clothing. Projects vary in difficulty for children from 5 to 18 years of age. It will be available in the fall.

Fabrics are flexible and lightweight yet strong and durable, which historically made them ideal for early aircraft. The next generation of materials in aviation and industry are composites, comprised of fibers that reinforce a material such as plastic. Composite materials are used in a multitude of products such as boats, automobiles, bulletproof vests, tennis racquets and aircraft.

Breen conducted much of her research for the video at the National Air and Space Museum, the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, N.Y., and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Greenbelt, MD.

The first 15-minute segment focuses on highlights of the historical use of textiles in aviation and includes information and images of kites, balloons, blimps, hang gliders, aerobatic airplanes, a stunt plane on which a saxophone player performs while standing on a wing during flight, Count von Zeppelin's airships, the Wright Brothers, the Spirit of St. Louis, and contemporary civilian and military aircraft such as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

The second 15-minute segment discusses composite materials, polymer science and aviation-related careers in fiber science and industrial textiles.

With a Ph.D. in education and a master's degree in textiles, Breen designed her videotape for junior and senior high school classes in science, technology and home economics; 4-H clubs; and college and adult audiences. Her first video, Championship Material, for which she is seeking funding to update, focused on fabrics used in the uniforms of legendary and modern athletes that illustrate the fiber science principles of stretch, absorbency, strength and wrinkle resistance.

The Fabric/Flight Connection is available for purchase for $24.95 or $20 for rental, including shipping and handling, from the Cornell University Resource Center, 7BTP, Ithaca, NY 14850 or from Cornell Cooperative Extension offices throughout New York.

The project was partially funded by the American Fiber Manufacturers Association Inc.