WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The National Museum of the United States Air Force is displaying a new special exhibit entitled “Leonardo da Vinci Machines in Motion” starting Monday, Feb. 21. Presented by Evergreen Exhibits, the touring da Vinci exhibit is free, open to the public, and will run at the museum through May 8.
According to the press release issued by the museum, the exhibit was originally built in Florence, Italy and spotlights “the largest hands-on display of full-size machine replicas of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions.” The exhibit “features 40 actual-size working machines designed by a modern team of scientists and artisans who used the craftsmanship that Leonardo would have used in his time.”
The machines and devices are all available for hands-on, interactive use by museum patrons and were not only built specifically from da Vinci’s 600-year-old designs but from materials only available during the artist-inventor’s 15th century time period.
“Leonardo da Vinci Machines in Motion” is divided into four parts based on da Vinci’s relentless, lifelong study of nature’s four elements: Earth, water, air, and fire. In hosting such an exhibit, the museum aspires to offer “an engaging combination of education and entertainment in an experience that explores history, science, mechanics, and physics, invention and innovation.”
NMUSAF Education Director Michael Brimmer said during a preview tour for media that although “most people believe da Vinci was an artist only, he was much, much more than that. He was also a pioneer in engineering, aviation, anatomy, and science in general. He was truly a remarkable student who took interest in multiple topics.”
Engaged patrons will discover da Vinci’s eclectic interests and surprisingly prophetic visions of a mechanical future that would take centuries to be realized. This includes a working humanoid robot — likely the first ever designed or recorded — built from a suit of metal armor that bows, waves, and permits observers to see the churning gears inside its sternum.
There are also on display various prototypes of unarmed weapons that da Vinci only imagined but are now available for curious patrons to feel and explore. These items include predecessors of our modern-day machine gun, cannon, and armored tank.
Connecting the exhibit to local engineering history, Brimmer pointed out a replica of an early concept for a plane hanging from the museum ceiling over the exhibit proscenium. It’s possible, Brimmer suggested, that the Wright Brothers were inspired by da Vinci’s design, particularly for its use of the brothers’ incorporating “wing warping” into their own early experiments with their heralded flying machines.
“This exhibit showcases how da Vinci drew and documented some amazing ideas of simple machines and how they can be incorporated into technology, as well as put to use,” Brimmer said. “Many of the machines that we see around the Air Force Museum today — whether they’re rockets, aircraft, or space shuttles — incorporate concepts that you’ll see in this exhibit. When you mix art and science together, you get something great. That’s exactly what da Vinci gave us with his designs in action on display for museum patrons to both look at, learn about, and experience for themselves.”