A few weeks ago, I wrote about my trip to Washington, D.C. Well, the real reason I was there wasn’t to take in the sights or to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner after parties, but rather to catch the inaugural flight of OpenSkies (an all-business-class airline) from Dulles to Paris. As you are about to see, it’s a fantastic airline for a hop across the pond in a business-class seat for a lot less than you think-rates begin at $1,450 R/T! The day of my flight I also discovered my new favorite museum: The Udvar-Hazy Center, which is part of D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum. It’s perfect for those on a long layover and/or anyone who’s an aviation or space fan. This place is a MUST and it’s free!
THE UDVAR-HAZY AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is better known as the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. It’s right near Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). Actually, it’s located near the end of one of IAD’s runways, so they have an observation tower where visitors can learn about air traffic control (ATC) and even listen to live ATC while watching planes take off and land. The museum currently has 160 aircraft (and growing). It opened in 2003 and is the sister facility to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. The two sites together showcase the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world.
Those coming from Dulles International Airport can take the 50-cent shuttle that runs every 45 minutes beginning at 10 a.m. The last one returns to the airport when the museum closes at 5:30 p.m.; the ride takes about 10 minutes. Coming from downtown D.C., the trip is about 35 minutes and a taxi costs approximately $60. There is a train that goes near it but you will still need to take a taxi. I’m not sure on the price or way.
I spent 90 minutes here and this is what I learned: First of all, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy isn’t some famous aviation pioneer-he’s a rich Hungarian-American who lives in Southern California and donated $65 million to create this amazing place.
PLANES IN THE MUSEUM
The main building is a Boeing Aviation Hangar where aircraft are displayed on three levels, with many hanging from the ceiling. They have all kinds of planes on display and they are broken into these groups: Aerobatic Flight, Business Aviation, Cold War Aviation, Commercial Aviation, General Aviation, Korea and Vietnam Aviation, Modern Military Aviation, Pre-1920 Aviation, Ultralight Aircraft, Vertical Flight, World War II Aviation, and World War II German Aviation.
MOST POPULAR AIRCRAFT
The most famous and fascinating aircraft are the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest jet in the world, that went from L.A. to D.C. in just 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds; the Boeing Dash 80, the prototype of the 707; the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; an Air France Concorde; and the Space Shuttle Enterprise. FYI: You can’t go inside any of the aircraft.
Attached to the Boeing Hangar is The James S. McDonnell Space Hangar, which opened in November 2004. The centerpiece is the Space Shuttle Enterprise, but the other interesting space artifacts include the Gemini VII space capsule and the Mobile Quarantine Unit used upon the return of the Apollo 11 crew.
IMAX & SIMULATOR
I’ve could’ve spent hours upon hours in the center just admiring all the planes. Next time I will leave more time so I can check out the film in the Airbus IMAX Theater and/or experience the flight simulator (both charge a small fee).
GOOD TO KNOW
The museum is open every day but Christmas from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, as are the docent tours. Parking costs $15 (no charge for taxis). You can bring your luggage into the museum (there is a security hand check) and either wheel it around or get a locker (they aren’t too big). There’s a museum store that often has an aviation author on hand signing books, and there’s a McDonald’s with regular prices for those who get hungry. For more info log on to NASM.si.edu/udvarhazy.