My earliest recollection of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum dates back to my first trip to the United States. I must have been about 8 or 9 years old when my parents did a stop over in Washington DC to visit the White House, the US Capitol, the Pentagon, the FBI Hoover Building, Arlington National Cemetery and the Smithsonian museums. Back in the days there were no visitation restrictions yet, and one of my vivid recollections was the military tour guide inside the Pentagon walking backwards throughout the hour-long visit, so he could keep an eye on every visitor in case they ‘escaped’.
Back on the Mall, I was equally amazed by the Air & Space Museum’s collection and since then I have spent many more hours going back when I visit the city. On my more recent visits, I noticed that they promoted a second Air & Space Museum, located just outside DC by Dulles International Airport, but I was never able to visit until today!
Driving from Philadelphia from my visit to the AACA, America on Wheels and Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum (you can read about those visits here), it took me about 4 hours to get to the impressive Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, just south of the airport. It is actually connected with the airport by its own private taxiway from runway 1R; a needed convenience for the many airplanes that were flown here to find their final resting place.
Entering the museum hanger is simply breathtaking. If you have been to the original DC museum and thought that lobby was impressive, then you are in for a treat. The immense 760,000 square-foot facility houses some of history’s most impressive collection of airplanes, helicopters and related artifacts, including the Discovery Space Shuttle, an Air France Concord, the Enola Gay and a Lockheed SR-71, better known as Blackbird.
A second hangar is dedicated to space flights, and includes the original Discovery Space Shuttle as its focal point. For over 27 years Discovery took on 39 missions, more than any other spacecraft to date. Other items in the hanger include rockets, space capsules, satellites and many other items linked to the space program.
Free tour guides offer a selective overview of the entire museum's collection, and through the walkways that extend all the way to the top of the hangers, one can get a great birds eye perspective of both small and large aircrafts, which include hang gliders, helicopters, balloon pods, space capsules, prototypes, rockets, and so much more. Don’t forget to visit the Air Control Tower, from where you can see Dulles Airport and if you are lucky, the approaching airplanes will be passing right by.
Overall my visit to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center was well worth it, and I can wholeheartedly recommend anyone visiting DC to include this into their itinerary, especially if you are flying out of Dulles International.