First Visit to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Jason Daniel Shaw
WASHINGTON DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Do you want to see the Enola Gay, the SR-71 Blackbird, the Concorde and the Space Shuttle Discovery all under one roof? Then the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the place for you! Part of the Smithsonian Institute Air and Space collection, the pieces in this Dulles annex are on display for all to see and enjoy. There is so much aviation history in one place that you fill an entire day taking it all in. I have been to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at the Mall in DC several times before but this was my first visit to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
STEVEN F. UDVAR-HAZY CENTER
In the south corner of the field sits what looks like a hangar and a tower. However, this isn’t an ordinary hangar, it houses some of the most incredible pieces of aviation history and is open to the public for free (parking is $15 before 4:00PM). The tower is also accessible and serves as an observation deck, overlooking Washington Dulles International Airport. If the winds are right, the planes land on either side you as you get a bird’s eye view of the action. As you walk in, the first thing you see is a futuristic-looking SR-71 Blackbird, despite its age. Behind that is the Space Shuttle Discovery. There is so much to see but here are a few of my favorite pieces.
SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY
One of the first stops I made was at the Space Shuttle Discovery. When you first walk in the doors, looking past the SR-71, Discovery looks almost like a model replica. That is until you get up next to it. Then you realize how big it really is and just how big the entire hangar space actually is. It is housed in a separate section of the hangar that is dedicated to space exploration. There are some incredible pieces in there, including many from the Apollo missions. There is even the airstream trailer that the Apollo 11 astronauts stayed in during their quarantine period after returning from the moon. If you love space, then you will love this section of the museum.
B-29 SUPERFORTRESS “ENOLA GAY”
One of the most amazing pieces of history that I saw in the museum was the famous Enola Gay. That is the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan during WWII. This is probably one of the most controversial pieces in the museum as well. For some, it is was the turn in the war that brought their family members home and for others, it meant utter devastation. No matter your side, it is an important piece of history and having the chance to stand next to it was humbling.
The Concorde is the only commercial supersonic aircraft to fly so far. It flew from London to New York in around 3 hours and was the perfect answer for many executives. However, profitability and affordability were among the main reasons that it retired. The airline needed the plane to be profitable and that meant that the tickets were around $2,500 each way for each of its 100 passengers. One of the other challenges that the Concorde faced was the shockwave that occurs when it goes supersonic – the sonic boom. This can shatter windows and so countries would not allow it to fly over land at supersonic speeds. That meant that the Concorde was limited to flying routes over the oceans. There are many companies today that are working to perfect supersonic travel and I think that we will see more of it in the near future. In the meantime, the Concorde represents a piece of history and innovation.
There are so many other exhibits in the museum that are worth seeing and I would highly recommend that if you are in the area, you make some time to visit. The Smithsonian Institute does such an amazing job at telling the stories that go along with these pieces. They even have an observation deck overlooking the restoration hangar so that you can see what new and exciting pieces that they are working on next. It will keep me coming back for more.