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‘FLIGHT’: The Leonardo’s original exhibit opens Saturday

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SALT LAKE CITY — Leonardo da Vinci's passion for flying is at the heart of the Leonardo's latest exhibit, “FLIGHT,” the first original exhibit created by the museum.

When the exhibit opens Saturday, it will feature a fully restored Convair C-131 military transport airplane and a MiG-21 Monolith fighter jet.

But the Leonardo didn't bring the aircrafts in just for show. Visitors can walk around, climb up and sit inside the C-131 airplane to catch a glimpse of the engineering behind how planes lift off.

"It almost feels like this place was actually built for this," said Alexandra Hesse, CEO of the Leonardo. "This one we took really great care in designing it for people of all ages."

The Leonardo allowed media to preview the exhibit Thursday before it opens to the public.

"For people to be able to see the real things is not only unique but very educational," said former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, who attended the preview.

The 84-year-old native Utahn served as a U.S. Navy pilot and also spent a week in space as a payload specialist with NASA in April 1985.

Garn said seeing any airplane brings back memories to him, especially since he said he once flew a C-131 aircraft like the one in the museum.

"I just love airplanes," Garn said. "I’m a lot better pilot than I am a driver."

The two aircraft barely fit inside the 10,000-square-foot special events gallery at the museum.

The wings of the C-131 transport miss the walls of the museum by just 6 inches on either side. Part of the wall on the north side of the Leonardo was demolished to install a garage door to carefully move the airplane pieces into the museum.

The C-131 aircraft was assembled inside the museum in July after the aircraft pieces were transported from Arizona. Additional steel structures were added to the museum to support the weight of both aircrafts.

"It’s quite a momentous occasion for us because it’s really the largest exhibit we have built on our own, in-house, with designers and architects and engineers that are all local," Hesse said. "I’m proud of the creativity and the sheer audacity of this idea and the execution of it."

Two full-size, commercial grade flight simulators were also made specifically for the exhibit, the same type of simulators actual pilots train on.

"The Leonardo is an art studio. It is also a science lab, and now, with this new exhibit, “FLIGHT,” it is the workshop of dreams that would make Leonardo da Vinci proud," said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

The exhibit is free with general admission unlike traveling exhibits that have been hosted at the Leonardo. General admission is $12.95 for adults, $9.95 for students, military and senior citizens, and $8.95 for children ages 3-12.

Email: astilson@deseretnews.com