December 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Steven Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum
Opening Day: 12/15/2003
Photos and Coverage by Ernest Lilley

Official Site:

Location: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Intl Airport
Hours: 10:00am - 5:30pm Open every day except December 25.
Parking: $12/day (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 play.

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.
(Continued from above)

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.

2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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