- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

Within the Smithsonians National Air and Space Museum lie some of the countrys finest technological achievements, from the Apollo 11 command module to the Spirit of St. Louis.
So when it came time to create a new home to present much of its collection, the museum turned to the high-tech Internet to help fund it.
The storied museum has launched a Web site where visitors can "adopt" the airplane or spacecraft of their choice to support the proposed $248 million Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
The center, named after an aviation magnate who donated $65 million to the cause, will showcase the bulk of the historic collection when it opens in 2003 adjacent to Washington Dulles International Airport.
Potential supporters can "adopt" an SR-71 Blackbird, a Piper J-3 Cub or the space shuttle Enterprise by clicking on their images and making a donation. Donors can give their names or be anonymous.
Every aircraft in the collection eventually will be available for adoption.
"This is the national technological museum. Its what were all about," says Gen. John R. Dailey, the museums director. "Thats what makes this a beautiful match for us its the kind of thing we should be doing."
The fund-raising effort is needed because no federal funds are available for the project. The government did supply $8 million for planning purposes.
Since the effort began in late January, on-line donations have ranged from $1,000 to $10,000 and totaled $40,000. Museum officials wont make any predictions on how much can be raised on line, but Gen. Dailey has high hopes.
"Potentially, it could be monstrous," he says. The museum is also raising funds through mailings to potential donors.
• • •
Joseph Suarez, director of the National Air and Space Society, says the idea for leveraging the Web for fund raising sprang in part from the vigorous activity its main Web site enjoys.
"We knew we were getting the visitorship virtually," he says, meaning through the Web site, which had about 70 million hits last year alone. Maximizing that exposure made sense.
On-line fund raising, though still new, has a solid track record, says Phil Tajitsu Nash, author of "Winning Campaigns Online."
Mr. Nash says fund raising on line works, often better than traditional electronic-commerce ventures.
"The notion of selling widgets on line has not been proven," Mr. Nash says, "but on-line fund raising as an impulse donating vehicle is still a viable model if its done tastefully and it honors safety protocols." Security is the biggest issue in fund raising on line.
The Smithsonian site, which offers secure transactions, presents a sleek parade of visuals with easy-to-find buttons and prompts.
"It needed to be first-class, Smithsonian quality," Gen. Dailey says.
The Web work itself came at no cost to the museum. Internosis, a Web development firm, and Microsoft and Compaq picked up the tab.
Peter DiPaola, client solutions director with Internosis, which is based in Arlington, says his company made sure the Web sites visitors could see the planes and monitor the centers progress.
"Its not just a flat site. You see layers of graphics," says Mr. DiPaola, whose company regularly prepares sites for nonprofit groups raising funds. "Some donation sites, its just a white background. Its plain."
"As see things they like, there has to be something that says, 'donate now," he says. "Its an impulse thing."
Those surfing by with a story to share about aviation history can choose another option to support the center. They can donate and secure a spot on the forthcoming Wall of Honor, which will reside in the new center. Donors can recount their loved ones stories through the wall, similar in theme to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Those stories will be featured as part of the museums permanent collection and displayed on an electronic kiosk and, eventually, the Internet.
• • •
The center has been discussed since the museum opened in 1976.
The plan from the outset was to open in 2003, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Wright brothers first powered flight, on Dec. 17, 1903. That deadline became more feasible thanks to Mr. Udvar-Hazys generosity.
Only 7 percent to 10 percent of the full collection is now on display, with another 10 percent included in traveling exhibits. Once the center opens, more than 70 percent of the collection will be visible to the public. For now, the bulk of the aircraft resides in a series of buildings known as the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland.
The museum and its pending new center will strike a chord with the public, officials predict. Mr. Suarez already can rattle off stories contributors have shared with him, touching tales of aerial wonders of yore.
One widows husband helped stabilize a damaged plane during the Korean War while his buddies parachuted to safety. Her husband went down with the plane, but she makes sure his story endures.
For that reason, the site evokes a warm, historical undercurrent.
"Were trying to get away from being clinical," Mr. Suarez says of the site. "We want to connect with something."
Generous patrons who donate more than $250 are dubbed Flight Leaders and receive a range of benefits, including a commemorative certificate and permanent recognition as a donor associated with the adopted aircraft.
Pilots those who give $100 to $250 earn invitations to museum lectures, events and the gala grand opening in 2003 among their rewards.
Its hard to categorize the kind of donation Mr. Udvar-Hazy made to the center.
The Los Angeles resident came to the United States after fleeing his native Hungary in 1956 and went on to run the International Lease Finance Corp., the nations largest lessor of airlines. The former jet pilot, worth an estimated $1.6 billion, told Smithsonian officials he wanted to give something back to this country.
"He saw aviation as freedom, flight from a strict government," Gen. Dailey says of the man he calls the centers "patron saint."
Thanks to Mr. Udvar-Hazy and the Web site, Gen. Dailey guarantees that the center will be ready by its due date.
"This is our opportunity to get it all out on display," he says of the museums collection. Air flight "is an area where America leads the world."
Visitors can access the site through www.nasm.edu or directly by punching in https://helpairandspace.si.edu.

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