The Washington D.C. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was nice, the San Diego Air and Space Museum was great, but man, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center National Air and Space Museum annex was brilliant! With the NACAS C3X Expo in Phoenix all wrapped up, I bid my colleagues goodbye and flew back to Washington D.C. in order to catch my flight back home to South Africa. Unfortunately the timing of my flights wasn’t great, and I had quite a long wait time at Dulles International Airport. However, this quickly turned into a silver lining when some Googling indicated that I could kill the time by hopping on a bus and heading out to the nearby Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.
In 1999 Steven F. Udvar-Házy, an immigrant from Hungary and co-founder of the International Lease Finance Corporation, gifted the Smithsonian Institution with $65 million to establish the annex, which opened in 2003 and solved the problem of the National Air and Space Museum having more exhibits than what they could actually display! The massive 7.1 ha facility consists of two large hangers, the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar, and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, which provides a view of landing operations at the nearby Washington Dulles International Airport. An additional wing which was added in 2010 houses the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, Archives, the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory, and the museum’s Collections processing unit.
Bus ride successful and with my luggage safely stored in the museum’s large lockers, I got to grip with exploring the absolutely immense aeronautical collection, complete with incredible gems like Enola Gay (the Boeing B-29 bomber that dropped the Atomic bombs over Japan), Space Shuttle Discovery, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an Air France Concorde, and the Gemini 7 space capsule, not to mention the absolute treasure trove of Allied and Axis WWII fighter planes!
The collection is grouped into neat little logical blocks, with exhibits including Vertical Flight (aka Helicopters!), Sport Aviation, General Aviation, Business Aviation, Commercial Aviation, Pre-1920 Aviation, World War II Aviation, Korea and Vietnam, Cold War Aviation, Modern Military Aviation, Aerobatic Flight, World War II German Aviation, Ultralight Aircraft, Interwar Military Aviation, Human Spaceflight, Space Science, Applications Satellites, and Rockets and Missiles.
The collection as you may then imagine truly is breathtaking. Pretty much all the planes I ever loved as a boy were to be found either on the floor or suspended from the ceiling, and with so many views and so much information on offer, I could easily have spent hours more happily wandering along the hangar walkways and floors. This visit was an absolute personal highlight for me, which also then explains why the corresponding photo gallery ended up being so large! Oops.
Needless to say, I was rather sad when the time to leave rolled on in, but I did after all have a plane to catch, and besides, South Africa, Chantelle, and my girls were calling!