Museum of Flight dedicates safety exhibit to J. Kenneth Higgins

Museum of Flight (MoF) visitors enjoy the new aviation safety exhibit that is dedicated to J. Kenneth Higgins.

The Museum of Flight (MoF) opened up its new safety exhibit dedicated to the late J. Kenneth Higgins, a Boeing Vice-President of Flight Operations in the context of testing and validation, on 13 Oct. The display was a result of a collaboration between the MoF staff and Higgins’ widow, Sandy Higgins.

Mrs. Higgins first got the idea for the exhibit after looking through some of Mr. Higgins’ work after he passed away. She wanted to be able to honor her husband while simultaneously supporting the MoF.

“Twenty years ago, when we first saw an attorney for estate planning, Ken identified a few charities he wanted to support [and] the Museum of Flight was first on his list,” said Mrs. Higgins. “When I heard some of Ken’s co-workers talk about Ken after his death, they frequently mentioned his devotion to the topic. It seemed logical to approach the Museum about their interest in an exhibit that focused on aviation safety.”

The exhibit has several key features that correspond to the topic of flight safety. Lead exhibit developer Cody Othoudt looks forward to the different aspects of the display.

“There will be an introduction display in the Great Gallery that includes an introduction panel to the exhibit, two cases of safety related artifacts, and an interactive touch screen that will demonstrate innovations in aviation safety since 1903,” said Othoudt.

One unique aspect of the exhibit is that it is throughout the Museum and not in a sectioned out area.

“There will also be large display panels in the Aviation Pavilion around some of our most iconic aircraft,” said Othoudt. “These panels focus on specific safety innovations in technology and policy during different time periods represented by aircraft on display.”

The exhibit’s range of information throughout time is one of the things Othoudt is most proud of.

“[I am most proud of the exhibit’s] ability to educate our visitors about the safety innovations throughout the past 100 plus years that has made aviation one of the safest modes of transportation,” said Othoudt. “A theme that we heard repeatedly from our industry experts was ‘safety transcends competition’, meaning that the safety of passengers is more important than our performing your competitors.”

The gathering and compressing of the information to include in the exhibit was definitely a challenge for the Museum exhibit team.

“I would say the most difficult aspect of this exhibit was determining which stories to tell,” said Othoudt. “As with many of our exhibits, the amount of information we want [to] include is often more than we are able to fit [in] any given display area. Determining which stories to tell, and unfortunately which ones to exclude, was probably the most difficult part of this exhibit.”

John Purvis, a retired Boeing flight safety head, was close to Mr. Higgins and was involved in the development process of the exhibit.

“To me, it is important because, as far as we know, this is the only dedicated safety exhibit in an aviation museum,” said Purvis. “I’ve never seen a safety exhibit in any of the aviation museums I have visited so this may well be a ‘first.’”

As for the RAHS community’s interest, pilot-in-training sophomore Cooper Stukel is interested in what the exhibit has to offer. Flying planes taught him to be safe and careful while operating any plane he flies.

“The most important protocols I follow as a student pilot is making sure the plane is in good condition before every flight,” says Stukel. “I have a lot of regard because if there’s something not working, I don’t want to find it out in the air.”

Desiring pilot RAHS senior Sameer Romani, is curious about the safety showcase because of how much the aviation industry has evolved and how the exhibit will showcase that visually.

“I’d love to attend the exhibit for the following reason: when aviation as a whole progresses, so does every aspect involved with it, from how we board the airplane, to how an airplane is designed, and to how flight safety is implemented in aviation,” said Romani. “I’d attend to learn not only about how flight safety is implemented in the modern society, but how it evolved from what it once was”

Likewise, RAHS Aviation Law instructor Troy Hoehne is appealed by the exhibit. He teaches a unit on accident investigation and believes that it would be extremely helpful to the unit.

“I very much encourage a strong relationship between us and the Museum,” said Hoehne. “They have resources that we can use in the classroom, so why not?”

Aspiring aerospace engineer, sophomore Arianna Montoya, is also extremely interested in the exhibit, but is focused more on the hidden stories of how engineers overcame challenges.

“I would personally love to learn more about how safety plays a role into popular aircraft because it would give me more insight [into] what the thought process of an engineer is,” says Montoya. “Knowing what safety challenges engineers of certain planes had to overcome is a very interesting topic.”

Mrs. Higgins’ experience of working with the Museum of Flight was pleasant.

“Really good organizations attract really good talent — people who are passionate about the purpose or product,” said Mrs. Higgins. “The Museum of Flight has an excellent staff who are not only creative but also very people-centric and socially smart. It was a joy to work with every one of them!”

As for the experiences within the MoF community, Othoudt believes the adventure behind the exhibit has been extremely educational for him.

“A few major themes developed out of this exhibit that I thought were quite interesting,” said Othoudt. “There is a change happening in the aviation industry from a reactionary approach to a proactive approach regarding flight safety using vast amounts of data available. The general public’s attitude towards flight has also changed from apprehension to expectation throughout the decades as new technology like jet engines was introduced.”

Othoudt would recommend the display to his friends and family, regardless of being apart of the development team.

“I think the safety of commercial aviation is something that we all have a connection with,” said Othoudt. “This exhibit is a great way to learn about the technologies, policies, and individuals that have contributed to the safety of commercial aviation that we all rely on.”

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