The New Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

It’s been said two wrongs don’t make a right, but two Wrights do make an airplane. After those ingenious brothers took their historic flight in December of 1903, the world was irrevocably altered.

As a nation, we continue to be fascinated by the machines that make it all possible.

It’s now possible to see more of the aircraft that touch the sky. The Smithsonian’s extensive collection of space and flight artifacts has a new venue: The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

The center is a companion facility to the more well-known National Air and Space Museum located on the Mall. The unusual name comes from the center’s most generous individual donor, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy who pledged a total of $65 million for the project. The total cost was approximately $311 million, but Congress mandated only non-federal funds be used.

Even before the opening of the museum building on the Mall in 1976, officials knew a companion facility would eventually be necessary.

By 1980, the Board of Regents for the Smithsonian proposed the museum establish a new facility to display the stored objects. The Dulles airport site met all the criteria and was chosen as the location.
Together the two facilities will eventually house and display almost all the museum’s aircraft and large space objects. The Mall building was unable to accommodate massive flight icons such as the space shuttle Enterprise and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, as well as numerous collections of smaller artifacts.

Commemorating one hundred years of flight, The Udvar-Hazy proudly opened its doors on December 15th, 2003.

Unlike traditional museum galleries, the center displays artifacts in an open, hanger-like setting. The hanger contains three levels of aircraft, two levels suspended from the huge trusses and a third on the floor. The suspended aircraft have been hung in their typical flight maneuvers, giving the area a vibrant, “in-motion” feeling.

This may be your only opportunity to stand just a few feet beneath a supersonic passenger jetliner, more commonly known as the Concorde. The museum’s Concorde is situated over a walkway allowing a close up view of her underside. Sleek and birdlike, this particular Concorde was the oldest in the Air France fleet. It was acquired in June 2003 after being promised to the Smithsonian in an agreement in 1989.

The aircraft cruised at more than twice the speed of sound at around 1,350 mph and at an altitude of up to 60,000 feet. Amazing! I’m sorry I never had the chance to fly on the Concorde. Unfortunately, it’s a travel dream which can never be fulfilled-at least not in the foreseeable future. Both British Airways and Air France retired these airplanes in 2003, marking the end of an era. Retired or not, the craft is still stunning in design and a pleasure to behold.

Elevated walkways and inside lighting allow visitors to get a close-up view into the cockpit of the Enola Gay. This B-29 Superfortress dropped the first atomic bomb used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan. For years this historic plane sat hidden away in storage, but was reassembled at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in 2003. The shiny metallic body stands out amid the other aircraft.

Speed fanatics will appreciate another notable aircraft on display, the Lockheed SR-71, called the Blackbird. You’ll quickly see the reason for the nickname. Although first designed and built in the early 60s, the SR-71 is still the fastest, highest flying jet-powered aircraft ever built. Flying more than 2200 mph (Mach 3+ or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of 85,000 feet.

The SR-71 was one of the first stealth aircraft; it incorporated radar absorbing materials and was shaped to have an extremely low radar signature.

One large section of the center is devoted to space travel. The showpiece is the Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter. The craft was originally to be named Constitution (in honor of the U.S. Constitution’s Bicentennial), however avid Star Trek fans did a “write-in” campaign urging the name be Enterprise. The fans won the day and the name was changed.

From 1977 to 1979, NASA used this vehicle for approach and landing test flights in the atmosphere as well as vibration tests and launch pad fit checks on the ground. The second-largest artifact in the collection after the Concorde, the Enterprise was featured at the Paris Air Show in 1983 and the 1984 World’s Fair before being transferred to the Smithsonian in 1985.

Smaller artifacts are on view in glass cases throughout the building. Many of the small collections have never been seen by the public, such as the newly donated Lindbergh memorabilia and an array of aerial cameras. Balloonamania features popular culture items from the 18th century.

If you plan to stay in the area, consider Fairfax, Virginia. Fairfax is a convenient and affordable alternative for visitors, yet still close enough to easily see the sights Washington D.C.

Other attractions near the city of Fairfax include: Manassas National Battlefield, site of two major battles in the Civil War and The National Firearms Museum. A must-see is Mt. Vernon, home and burial place of our first President.

Allowing time for the IMAX and gift shop, expect to spend at least 4 hours at the center.

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