NATCHITOCHES, La., November 22, 2012 — The National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is a relatively new addition to the Smithsonian’s museum complex. It opened in 2003 and provides an extensive display of some of the world’s best flying machines next to Dulles Airport, right by Washington, D.C.
It is an awesome experience. You can walk among aircraft and artifacts that are displayed on three levels. Some of the hundreds of aircraft are the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest, highest-flying spy plane ever built; the Gossamer Albatross, a man-powered airplane that crossed the English Channel; a Concorde SST; the space shuttle Discovery; and other famous and really interesting airplanes, missiles, spacecraft, and jet engines.
In the center of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar, the hall devoted to space-related items, is the space shuttle Discovery. There are also space capsules, the mobile quarantine unit the Apollo 11 crew used when they came back from the moon, a missile designed to shoot down other missiles, and a collection of satellites.
Displayed in some glass cases were examples of the food astronauts and airmen had to eat. It almost made me lose my lunch - which was actually a pretty good lunch. I’m just going to say this: The scrambled eggs looked like barf (that’s the nicest way of putting it).
One of my favorite things at the museum was the flight simulator. I liked it because you pilot a pretend airplane that seems to go really fast. You can do loops in it and go upside down. Two people ride at a time. One is the pilot, and the other is the gunner. You have guns and missiles, and your goal is to shoot other pretend airplanes out of the sky. You leave your camera and everything from your pockets in a locker before you ride, because it gets sort of violent. If you get sick on rides at Six Flags, you probably shouldn’t fly the simulator.
The museum has an IMAX theatre. We watched a movie about rescue pilots, and it was amazing. It showed different groups involved in the relief effort in Haiti. Firefighters talked about the earthquake in Haiti and showed what was going on there. Navy medical ships went to Haiti to take supplies there. It also showed Haitian children and people after the earthquake. Then there were some Army people talking about their rescue missions and they showed two army people going on an operation to save a man who was stranded on an island. We also saw Air Force pilots who were new to their jobs who were flying huge transport planes.
There was also a movie about space that we’d seen at another IMAX, and I read in the paper that they were going to show The Amazing Spiderman there (this was last summer).
After the movie, we went to see some of the more famous aircraft like the Enola Gay and the SR-71 Blackbird. The Blackbird was pretty impressive. It is definitely a wicked-looking aircraft, almost like a missile with wings and painted black. It could fly at least Mach 3 (more than 2,000 miles per hour). The Concorde SST could cross the Atlantic in just three hours at Mach 2 (1,400 miles per hour). It was near a Super Constellation, the first airplane my dad rode across the Atlantic when he was four, and he says that took a whole day (300 miles per hour). The Gossamer Albatross, the first pedal-powered airplane, took almost three hours to fly 22 miles across the English Channel, so it only went seven miles per hour.
We came across an X-35 stealth fighter while wandering around. It was at the opposite end of the hangar from the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. That plane was in very good shape. It was weird to hear how many people that bomb killed, and that it destroyed a whole city.
As you can imagine, the hanger complex is really huge since it holds passenger jets, spacecraft, and more in it. It has good food service courtesy of McDonald’s, and an excellent museum store. I strongly recommend going there when you’re in Washington. It’s a good educational site and it’s really cool. But you should go to the Air and Space Museum on the Mall first, since if you go to the Udvar Hazy first, the one on the Mall will look really small and seem super crowded and not be nearly as fun as if you go there first.
There’s no Metro stop at the Udvar Hazy yet, so you’ll have to drive. The museum is free, but parking is expensive. Also, when you buy tickets to the IMAX, they’ll try to sell you a membership to the Smithsonian. If you’re going to eat there or at the other Smithsonian museums, buy it. It gets you discounts at the IMAX, the museum stores, and all the museum restaurants, and ours paid for itself before we left the Udvar Hazy.
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