Winter is finally arriving in Washington, DC so for those of you who are brave enough to tackle the bitter cold weather the District occasionally gets, you’ll likely end up spending a whole lot of time indoors.
Fortunately, Washington, DC is full of excellent museums that will more than fill the your daily agenda including the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center. This museum sits right on the edge of Dulles Airport and is the sister of the more popular National Air and Space Center located at the National Mall. Visitors young and old alike come here to gaze at its amazing collection of aerial and space artefacts that includes these four standout pieces.
The Smithsonian Museum’s Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center
Lockheed Martin SR-71, “Blackbird”
One of the museum’s most exciting donations is a Lockheed Martin SR-71, nicknamed “Blackbird.” It was built and designed by Lockheed Martin for the United States Air Force (USAF) to serve as a stealth and strategic reconnaissance aircraft. It remains the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft with a flying speed of up to 2,500 miles per hour and in its more than 25 years of service, flew close to 2,800 hours.
It got its nickname, Blackbird, because of how quiet the plane was and also due to the 60 pounds of black paint purposely selected to help cool the aircraft that flew above the atmosphere at 85,000 feet (the average airplane flies at 35,000 on cruising altitude.) Two USAF pilots, Lt. Col. Ed Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida, flew the plane from Los Angeles, California to Washington, DC in just over an hour and delivering it at a record-breaking speed close to 2,100 miles per hour.
Boeing B-29 Superfortress, “Enola Gay”
No World War II bomber is more famous than this Boeing B-29 Superfortress on display at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center. This particular airplane, Enola Gay, named after one of its pilot’s mother, changed the world and essentially ended the war in the Pacific when it dropped the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan. After its critical mission that fateful day in August, it flew as a weather reconnaissance aircraft during the mission to drop the second atomic bomb that ended up in Nagasaki.
A year after World War II ended, the Enola Gay continued to operate in several top-secret missions involving nuclear weapons testing but was ultimately left out and retired in 1946 with intentions of preserving the plane. Unfortunately, the aircraft failed to find a home and at one point, was in danger of corrosion and collapse before the Smithsonian decided to dismantle and store its parts at the museum’s storage facility in Maryland. In 2003, after more than 50 years of meticulous restoration, the aircraft was reassembled wholly and became a permanent display at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Commercial aviation raised the platform of innovation when it introduced the Concorde aircraft in 1969. The first supersonic airliner provided frequent services to five international airports, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, London’s Heathrow, New York’s John F. Kennedy, Washington, D.C.’s Dulles, and Barbados’ Grantley Adams, under the tutelage of both Air France and British Airways. What was normally an eight-hour transatlantic journey from Paris to New York for standard airplanes, the Concorde did so in less than half the time. Flying at twice the speed of sound, it zoomed past the atmosphere with an average cruising speed of 1, 354 miles per hour.
A series of unfortunate events that began with the crash of Air France 4590 in 2000 through the airline companies’ decision to cease maintenance support contributed to the Concorde’s retirement in 2003.
The Concorde on display at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center was a gift by Air France.
Orbiter, Space Shuttle, OV-103, Discovery
We’ve all seen one take off on television. They’ve been immortalized in cinemas from films like Apollo 13 to Gravity but there’s nothing like seeing one up close and appreciating firstly, how big they really get, and secondly, what an incredible piece of engineering it truly is.
No doubt, the Orbiter, Space Shuttle, OV-103, nicknamed “Discovery” is one of the highlights inside Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center. Only the third space shuttle to fly into space, it’s also quite the workhorse, having amass almost a year of flight time in space. It flew 39 Earth-orbital missions, travelled a staggering 150 million miles, and carried a record setting 251 astronauts, including the oldest man to fly in space, in its 27 years of service.
Note: The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is accessible by public transport but is best reach via rental car considering its location in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. When you decide to go, keep in mind that there is a parking fee of $15 per vehicle, however, fees are waived if entry is after 4 p.m.