Museum of Flight to display rare aviation artifacts

SEATTLE -- Historic, priceless and rare. That's how two aviation artifacts -- never seen publicly before -- are being described.

The Museum of Flight will open its vault only once to share them.

"This is basically the birth certificate for the United States aviation industry as we know it, this is the Magna Carta," said Museum of Flight Curator Dan Hagedorn.

It's a contract between the Wright brothers, which creates the brothers' aviation manufacturing company.

On a pristine but faded legal note pad the historic document now 111 years old begins, "Agreement made in duplicate this 27th day of November 1909 between Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright of Dayton Ohio."

Hagedorn says what makes it so special is its place in history.

"The first time I saw it it made my hair stand on end," said the historian and author.

He insists everything aviation related from this point on can be traced back to the three-page contract. On the typed pages the brothers conveyed patents for the first airplane and even more vital how to direct an airplane.

"This document is manifestation of that achievement," Hagedorn said.

Hagedorn marvels at it and is careful not to touch the delicate and fragile paperwork. The Museum of Flight considers it priceless and told KOMO 4 when the Smithsonian could not afford it, a benefactor acquired it for The Museum of Flight.

"We are delighted to be the repository for this document," he said.

It is part of the Museum's permanent collection, which includes aircraft and all sorts of aviation history documentation.

The contract is considered so fragile, it has to be shield from any long term exposure to light and is always handled with gloves.

"We call these the Mickey Mouse gloves," joked Hagedorn and Amy, a staffer who has the honor of actually touching the documents and showing them to us.

The Museums' Marketing Director Mike Bush said the Wright contract is out of the vault just this once to commemorate the museum's 50th anniversary this year.

"This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something that is essentially the Mona Lisa of the aviation world," said Bush, who added it may be 100 years before the documents are publicly pulled from the vault again.

From time to time scholars get to take a close look, otherwise, it lives in a secret museum vault, so guarded, we were denied access just to see it.

The Wright aviation gems live in the vault alongside another equally rare piece of aviation history. Another manila envelope is opened with gloves and gingerly pulled from the paper sleeve is an Apollo 11 artifact.

Another vault treasure, Hagedorn reminds us, that would not have happened without the Wright Brother's first flight in 1903.

"My most memorable moment is when Walter Cronkite took his glasses off and told the world Apollo 11 had just landed on the Moon," Hagedorn sai .

Hagedorn said it is as memorable to him as the birth of his children.

The artifact looks like an oversized index card, it's mostly numbers and formulas, all of it written in pencil by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin

It's called a P30 Maneuver card and it's signed by Buzz Aldrin. He and Neil Armstrong used it when they made history in 1969.

"What you're looking at is the road map that they used to put that lander on the Moon," said Hagedorn.

Two of aviation's greatest milestones in our history, preserved in the museum's vault and now for the first time the vault doors to these treasures will swing wide open, but for only 20 days.

The artifacts will be on display this Saturday, May 10th through Friday May 30th.

Due to their value, the Museum of Flight has arranged for heightened security during the Treasures from the Vault Exhibit.