|Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
|Address||14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA 20151, USA|
|Admission Fees||Free (Parking is $15/car)|
|Time Required||A day|
|Photography||No tripods or monopods. Museum is well lit|
|Nearest Airport||Dulles (IAD)|
I had spent two days in DC visiting the Air and Space’s main site in the National Mall and a few other museums, and had an evening flight out of Dulles International Airport (IAD), so going to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center right by the airport was a logical thing to do.
Getting to the museum from DC is a little tricky unless you’re driving. Public transport options from DC to IAD are ridiculously limited (and slow) and first take you to IAD from where you then need to take a bus. Taxi/Uber/Lyft are quite expensive ($60+) since the airport is quite a bit away.
Renting a car for the day cost me some $40, so I went for that option. Picking up a vehicle in the city and dropping it off at the airport doesn’t incur any penalty or one-way fees. Further upside of that option was that I could leave my luggage in the vehicle trunk. The Udvar-Hazy center has luggage lockers, however. Parking at Udvar-Hazy costs a steep $15/day, but all in all I still saved money compared to any other option.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center is named after the co-founder of ILFC, who made a $66 million grant to the Smithsonian Institution enabling the center to be built. The center has two large exhibition halls arranged in a T-shape, an observation tower overlooking Dulles International Airport (IAD) allowing close-up views of aircraft approaching IAD from the south, and it also hosts the Air and Space museum’s restoration center.
The main exhibition hall features many milestones of civil and military aviation. The Boeing 367-80 prototype is one of the highlights of the civil aviation collection. The “Dash 80”, as it is called, was the basis for the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker of which quite a few are still in service, and also for the somewhat wider and longer Boeing 707 that revolutionized intercontinental travel. Derivatives of the 707/KC-135 still serve in many roles today, including NATO’s Boeing E-3A Sentry AWACS.
Another highlight of civil aviation is Air France’s BAC/Aerospatiale Concorde F-BVFA, one of the three Concorde aircraft on display in the United States (the other two are in New York and Seattle). Concorde was the only supersonic (Mach 2.2) aircraft in sustained regular passenger service, from 1976 until its retirement in 2003. The competing Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 was extremely flawed with a short service life. The U.S. SST program, in form of the Boeing 2707, only ever got as far as a mockup until the government withdrew funding for the effort in 1971.
My personal highlight in the Udvar-Hazy Center’s military exhibition are several of the last intact examples of milestones of German military aviation engineering from the late stages of World War 2. These aircraft, like the Japanese aircraft that are also shown here, were brought to the U.S. for evaluation after the war.
The dual propeller, dual engine Do-335 has a pusher prop at the tail in addition to the prop in front and was the fastest piston engine aircraft of its time. The Arado Ar-234 Blitz was the world’s first operational jet bomber.
The last intact night fighter Heinkel He-219 Uhu awaits completion of its restoration in the same section of the main hall alongside those two aircraft. The Udvar-Hazy Center also shows one of three Messershmitt Me-163 rocket-powered interceptors in the U.S. (there are a total of 10 left). The Messerschmitt Me-262 in the museum’s collection is on display at the National Mall.
Still under active restoration is the jet-powered Horten H.IX flying wing prototype, which would likely have
had the designation Horten Ho-229 if it had made it into German Air Force service. The Horten flying wing
was an astonishing engineering achievement for its time. Due to its shape it had a significantly reduced
radar cross-section, and is therefore also called the world’s first stealth fighter, even though it is unclear today
whether defeating radar was an intentional design goal.
The spaceflight exhibition’s crown jewel is the Space Shuttle Orbiter “Discovery”. It is the spacecraft with the most missions flown (39) and the oldest surviving space-flown orbiter of the Shuttle fleet. The exhibition hall features a great collection of other spacecraft, including a flight-ready Mecury capsule, the flown Gemini VII capsule, a paraglider prototype for landings of Gemini spacecraft on land, and one of the Apollo Command Modules used to test floatation. The space gallery also features a great array of models and flight spares of satellites and many missiles and rockets.
The most “current” exhibit, even if already 15 years old, is the Lockheed-Martin X-35B prototype, precursor of the F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter aircraft that is currently being introduced into service in several NATO air forces. The X-35B on exhibit is the STOVL (short takeoff, vertical landing) variant, prototype of the F-35B for the U.S. Marine Corps to replace the ageing McDonnell-Douglas AV8-B Harrier II. The F-35A model is a conventional configuration for the U.S. Air Force, and the F-35C is a carrier configuration for the U.S. Navy. The F-35 program is, by a wide margin, the most expensive military armament project ever undertaken and is projected to cost more than a trillion U.S dollars.