Alistair Maclean's Web Site
NASM : Udvar-Hazy Center (Dulles)


Wanting to see the XB-70 on his trip to the States, Gary suggested a museum foray. It was hoped that we could get to Dayton, OH to see the USAF Museum but, as is the way of things, the weather was to conspire to stop that particular leg of our journey. Going through the coldest winter in 10 years means paying attention to the weather forecasts to determine what is coming up, and in this case three days out it was apparent that a big storm was forming with prognostications of inches of snow and even ice rain and other 'Wintery Conditions.' To be flexible, we decided to get to Washington DC and then make a determination of whether to continue. But what to see? Well, as it happens, the new Steven Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport has just opened (about a month ago), as the most anticipated aviation museum opening in the last 10 years we thought that it would be a good thing to check out.

Location, Location...

We put our collective posteriors into a motel in Fairfax, VA and were positioned not far from Dulles perimeter roads. In the morning we shovelled a quick breakfast down our throats and headed to the hallowed new museum.

The Center is located at the far southern end of Dulles airport, just off one of the runway approaches. Mostly hidden behind trees, you don't see the facility till you are almost on top of the car park toll gates.


A long line of flap shaped panels leads from a striking spiral sculpture, up to the entrance of the new museum, each panel covered in the names of donors to the museum. Once inside the museum you find that yourself looking down from a balcony at the SR-71 and the Space Shuttle Enterprise beyond.

The main floor is festooned with colour. Aircraft of all sizes and shapes battle for your attention. It is quickly apparent that getting round this collection is not going to be quick. The museum is on three levels; the lower level is where most aircraft are placed, the upper levels are balconies of various heights that allow alternative views of the lower level aircraft, but also of aircraft that have been suspended from the arching ceiling above.


There are many aircraft here, far too many for me to list. The NASM web site has a list of current and planned exhibits. However, there are some gems in the line up. The B-29 Enola Gay, is an impressive sight, as are the Concorde, Boeing 307 (Stratoliner), the shuttle Enterprise, and the SR-71. But that is not all. Dozens of smaller aircraft fill big shoes, placing themselves as bookmarks in the history of aviation.

Other stuff

The museum is not just about the aircraft though. There is a wonderful collection of engines, showing how the powerplant that has driven the plane has itself undergone significant development. You can see here how the radial engine starts from relatively simple 3 cylinder origins and develops into the wonderfully complex WWII engines that powered fighters like the Thunderbolt and Bearcat.

Also, tucked away amidst the larger displays are examples of rocketry and missilry that have developed steadily since the 1940's, including examples of German guided bombs that presage todays "smart" weapons.

Throughout, small displays touch on people and the human aspects of aviation; a display of aviation maps; a biography about "Hap" Arnold; a pilots survival gear. These add a personal dimension to what otherwise would be a large, admittedly stunning, collection of cold metal.

But that's not all folks...

The Center has an IMAX theater (which we didn't bother with) and a cool viewing tower. The tower looks out over Dulles airport giving a great view of operations there. Also in the tower is an exhibit about Air Traffic Control with a recording of activities around Newark Liberty International Airport (We travelled all the way from Joysee to see this???) which confused us for a time till we realised that the display was in a loop and showing the same approaches time after time - a simulation of a tower - just like the man in the elevator said!

Odds and ends

The Udvar-Hazy Center is a magnificent display that is a great day out for all the family. The exhibits will increase over the next few years as the Centers' restoration facility opens and the Gerber facility's aircraft are moved over. At that time I can only guess that NASM on the Mall will be closed for a long overdue refresh and cleaning. The real question that faces the Smithsonian curators is how to make these two great museums compliment each other and not compete.


The Boeing Stratoliner from the upper level


The Boeing 707 prototype
707 prototype

Darryl Greenamyers awesome Grumman Bearcat

Mig 21
Mig 15

F-86 Sabre

B-2's great grandfather
flying wing Mk 1

Cockpit of the German Arado jet Bomber
Jet Bomber

P-47 Thunderbolt under the Enola Gay
Thunderbolt & thunder

B-29 Enola Gay. Atomic Bomber Mk 1

Just hanging around, a Vought Kingfisher float plane

Concorde, French style

© Copyright A. Maclean 2004
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