At the very tail-end of our Southern road trip, we stopped off in DC for the night before heading home to NJ. Stu being the aviation nut that he is, suggested we stop by the air & space museum near Dulles airport, officially known as the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. I had never even heard of the place, but it’s actually an extension of the Smithsonian air & space museum in DC. It is housed in a giant t-shaped hangar, with aviation exhibits in the crossbar of the T, and the other portion dedicated to space travel. Entrance is free, you just have to pay $15 for parking.
Let’s face it – I went along to humor Stu, but this place was a revelation. Right at the entrance, you find yourself looking down at a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. This particular example, one of just 32 produced in the mid 1960s during the height of the Cold War, set four new speed records on its final flight to the museum in March 1990. Among them, LA to DC in 64 minutes, an average speed of 2,145 miles per hour, or about 3.2 times the speed of sound. To this day, the Blackbird continues to hold its record as the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.
The airplane exhibits run the gamut, with many historically-important examples, from the dawn of flight, to those flown during World War II (including the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay, which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima), to the Mach 2 Concorde and swing-wing Grumman F-14 Tomcat. (Tom Cruise’s ride in Top Gun; I feel the need…the need for speed!)
From there, onwards to the space exhibit, with a large collection of artifacts bridging the decades of time from early rocketry to the conquest of manned space travel. In pride of place, the Space Shuttle Discovery.
It’s actually disturbing how much of a patchwork the space shuttle is – to think people actually flew through space in that contraption is mind-boggling. And then they wore these suits:
By the time we made it over to the simulators, my so-called husband told me we were out of time – party pooper.
This was a hugely enjoyable museum that we easily spent a couple of hours in; I can see it being great for kids too. There are free tours throughout the day, though unfortunately we weren’t able to partake. There is a bag search at the entrance, but it was done professionally and courteously – I heard the security guy address the people behind us in both Chinese and German!
Thanks to Stu for his help on this one … all the fancy commentary on planes – that was him.