While in DC last week, I took the kids to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. It’s part of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, created in part to display thousands of items that they just can’t fit into the museum on the Mall in Washington.
As a kid, I wanted to be a pilot. My grandfather was a civilian in the Air Force (he was a printer), and I grew up staring at posters of airplanes of all kinds, though my favorite was (and still is) the SR-71 Blackbird. My fascination with this plane started as a kid — I remember thinking it was the most exotic, other-worldly aircraft I’d seen. I read about its specs, its construction, the missions it had helped… if there was something about the SR-71 written, I found it and devoured it.
Imagine my glee at actually seeing an SR-71 in person. And then a Concorde. And the USS Enterprise, the “test” space shuttle NASA used to test the shuttle’s ability to glide after re-entry. The Enola Gay. A MiG. An F-15. An F-4. An A-10. And on and on.
It was one of the best museum displays I’ve seen; you don’t just get to walk around the base of the planes, you can walk up ramps and on cat-walks to see over the planes and look down on them. Interactive kiosks using Quicktime VR and touchscreens show you the interiors of every plane on display (maybe not all of them, but it sure seemed like a lot). And apparently noone knows about the museum: as spectacular a collection as it is, there was nobody there. No lines, no crowds around individual planes, nothing. As with all Smithsonian museums, it’s free.
If you find yourself in DC with an afternoon to kill, catch the shuttle bus from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on the Mall, and get yourself to the Udvar-Hazy Center. If you like air and space history, you’ll be overwhelmed at the collection.