The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: A Captivating Slice of History
There are seemingly endless new ideas in the aviation sector, each touting their own brand of revolutionary innovation. From engines you can print at home to flying taxis you can hail for a quick flight across the city, the industry is awash with exciting potential.
But sometimes it pays to look back on the great innovations of the past.
It’s remarkable how far the aviation industry has come over the last century. That much is clear. For aircraft buffs, seeing a multitude of the major aviation milestones honored in one place makes for a real spectacle. Enter the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The Museum, also referred to as the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre, only opened in 2003 but is already world-famous for its incredible documentation of aircraft developments. It’s also the companion facility to the Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which certainly warrants a visit too.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center itself is comprised of two giant hangars. One is named the Boeing Aviation Hangar – showing just how much of an impact Boeing has had on the industry – and the other is the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. Mr. McDonnell was a famous pilot and aviation pioneer, and his legacy is the James S. McDonnell Foundation which helps support scientific and charitable causes.
Stepping into the hangars is an eye-opening experience, as our CEO Richard Zaher recently discovered on his visit to the venue.
“Aviation is a big part of my life, so visiting the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center was a special experience for me,” said Mr. Zaher. “Seeing thousands of pieces all on display in one place was fascinating, and you could see that many day trippers and families were just as impressed. Hopefully, some of the younger visitors will be inspired by what they see there to go on and achieve great things.”
Indeed, there are thousands of items and artifacts on display at the museum. Many visitors are quick to remark on one of the first that greet them upon entering. A Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird stands proudly by the entrance after 24 years of service. Historians will be proud of the Blackbird’s place in the Cold War, where it played a pivotal role. And any record hunters can also tick another sight of their list once they’ve laid eyes on the Blackbird; in its final flight, it set a new speed record by traveling from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. in just 64 minutes and 20 seconds.
But there is far, far more to the museum than this. Head into the hangar a little deeper, and your eyes will quickly be drawn to an immaculately maintained Concord with the words ‘Air France’ etched along the side. As the first supersonic airliner to enter service, the Concorde is a household name.
The Concorde was a masterclass in elegance, with each flight carrying up to 100 passengers in style. It packed style as well a substance and could cross the Atlantic in under four hours. It could fly at twice the speed of sound. But, in 2003, it sadly retired. This was largely due to the high costs of flying and market conditions. Air France donated this particular aircraft to the museum, which had racked up an impressive 17,824 hours and was even the first Concorde to run the Rio de Janeiro to Washington, D.C. and New York routes.
At the heart of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar is the Space Shuttle Discovery. Marking mankind’s impressive ventures into the unknown, Discovery was the third Space Shuttle orbiter vehicle which successfully navigated its way into space. Since 1984 the shuttle completed no fewer than 39 Earth-orbital missions. It spent a full 365 days in space, traveling around 150 million miles. As the oldest orbiter to date, it seems rather fitting that it enjoy its retirement as one of the museum’s biggest showpieces.
There’s enough here to keep aviation enthusiasts entertained for hours, but it’s not just a matter of looking at significant artifacts. The museum also looks to offer its visitors a few experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Like the Donald D. Engen Tower, for example. This observation tower boasts two different levels and delivers a 360-degree bird’s eye view of Washington Dulles International Airport. Plus, on the lower level, you can get an up-close look at how an air traffic control workstation operates. It shuts at 4:30 pm, so get there in good time to make the most of your experience.
Tech fans will revel in the Airbus IMAX Theater, which shows a range of short and feature-length films and documentaries. You can see their full schedule online. The vast majority are focused on space travel and aviation, though the odd Hollywood blockbuster also finds its way here. Most showings are 3D, such as A Beautiful Planet 3D or D-Day: Normandy 1944 3D. It’s a great way to keep the kids entertained and to get a glimpse of these mighty artifacts in action. If you can tear yourself away from the main hangars, that is.
Whether you’re an aviation expert or just looking for an entertaining day out in Virginia, there’s no question that the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will make for inspired viewing. The German inventor Ralph H Baer remarked that “Most inventions are based on some prior history.” With such an impressive history documented at this museum, the future of aviation makes for an incredibly exciting prospect.