(Continued from above)
Air and Space Museum
Opening Day: 12/15/2003
Photos and Coverage by Ernest Lilley
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles
10:00am - 5:30pm Open every day except December 25.
(bus transport available from the NASM)
Having recently moved near Washington DC, just
a few miles away from the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall,
I was delighted at the timing of the opening of the new extension
out at Dulles airport. We'd just finished major unpacking and were able to get to the new Steven Udvar-Hazy Center in time to see the line form up and the brass band
The center calls itself
"America's Hanger" and it certainly lives up to the name. First off,
it's built as a hanger, without any obstructions in the center and
just concrete on the floor. Planes are grouped by period or purpose
and either parked on the floor or hung from the ceiling. A catwalk
goes around the outside for a birds eye view. (cont.)
For a December day, the weather was nearly
perfect. It had snowed, but not too much, and the crisp air didn't
deter the crowd. Inside, a mural chronicles the first hundred years
of flight. What will the next hundred years bring?
The majority of the planes are from the baby
boomers lifetimes, like this F-86 which flew over Korea, and against
countless monsters in 1950s SF films. There are a few, like this
Spad, to commemorate earlier flight.
Shiny sheet metal abounds, whether on this Boeing
307 Stratoliner or the Airstream trailer used as a Mobile Quarantine
Facility after the Apollo moonshots.
The flight simulator ride on the lower level uses
gimbals and polarized optics to give audiences a taste of flight or
even spaceflight. The 5 minute ride takes you around the
International Space Station during final construction for a view of
mans future in space. One can hope. The ride was fun, but the IMAX
theater was actually more impressive.
The Enterprise rests in the Space Wing, waiting
to be joined by other exhibits. Looking at it here one can't help
but wonder what will come after it...and when. Classes held on the
lower levels for young museum goers like one in paper airplane
design help keep the dream alive.
The Center isn't actually at Dulles International
Airport, but just outside past the end of one of its runways. The
observation tower houses exhibits on control towers and provides an
excellent view of planes on final approach to the airport. While that's
fun, the real view is out over the hanger floor, where you're greeted
with an SR-71 Blackbird in the middle of it all, and the shuttle
Enterprise, which never actually flew into space but was used for
testing, in Space Hanger beyond.
The museum is still a work in progress,
and though many of the major pieces are in place, like the Concord,
Shuttle, Blackbird, and the Enola Gay B29 Superfortress, it's a long way
from being completed. The Space Hanger isn't open yet, though you can
walk up to the roped off entrance for a pretty good view of the shuttle
and a Mercury and Gemini capsule. All in all there are over 9,000 space
artifacts in the museum's keeping, though only 135 will be keeping the
shuttle company here.
The museum seems to focus more on the last 50
years of flight than the main museum on the Mall does, making the exhibits coincide with the memories of many of the baby boomers who
listened to the first space shots on transistor radios. This new
addition to the NASM is a fitting place for generations to come together
and share the dream of flight.