by Jim and Melanie
When we get a chance, we enjoy visiting the National Mall in Washington, DC. Over time we’ve experienced many of the museums and monuments. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is one we have visited several times. It is full of thousands of artifacts documenting the history of aviation and space exploration. Did you know about their companion facility the Udvar-Hazy Center? It is located near Dulles airport west of the DC area in Chantilly, VA. It consists of two hangars with some iconic space and aviation exhibits. We finally got to visit and urge you to do the same if you have an interest in aviation and space.
The hangars are enormous and contain displays at every turn. It would be impossible to tell about them all. We will focus on a few exhibits that were especially impressive and memorable.
Space Shuttle Discovery
Launched in August 1984, it flew 39 missions over 27 years of service. Cargo included the Hubble Space Telescope. It flew the return-to-service mission after the Challenger disaster. Jim was especially moved by this exhibit. In the early 1980s he filled out the application papers for the Teacher In Space program, which selected Christa McAuliffe to fly on Challenger. To see one of the huge orbiters up close was exciting and brought back many memories and mixed emotions.
Enola Gay Boeing B-29
Seeing the Enola Gay was very sobering for both of us. Melanie, especially, was affected. This is what she said elsewhere about it:
I’d imagined it as small, assuming it like the images of World War II planes I’d seen in movies and news reels all my life. The Enola Gay is not small. It’s a B29 Superfortress, 99 feet long. Years of hate, realized in the murders of millions of “others,” had played out in Europe and other parts of the world. We, as a nation, determined that the only way we could stop the hate was to hate bigger. We used a large plane to drop a super bomb, destroying a Japanese city, destroying a different kind of “other.” We had already imprisoned many of those “other” in the US, simply because of their genetic background. Hate begets hate. Murder begets murder. And the hate did not stop there. We see it today blooming again around the world and in the US, this time focused on different “others.” Where will hate take us this time?
Air France Concorde
We have seen two of the Concorde planes. The first was at the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle. The plane at Boeing was open for people to walk through. We could only walk under this one. The Concorde is narrow and cramped. Think of a regional small jet with 3 or 4 seats across the fuselage and little headroom above the center aisle. Its fame came from its speed, able to fly from New York to Paris in about half the time of most commercial planes.
Landing and take-off required a steep angle due to the delta wing design. That forced engineers to design a drooping snout activated at those times. Take off and taxi needed a 5˚ droop. Landing required a 12.5˚ droop, illustrated below, so the pilot could see the runway.
The Concorde flew commercial service for 27 years starting in 1976. One of the planes crashed on take off from Paris in July 2000 killing all 100 passengers and 9 crew, the only fatal accident of Concorde. Service never fully recovered and was ended in 2003.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
Blackbird was built for long-range reconnaissance and was capable of flying at speeds over 2000 mph and at 85,000 feet altitude. The sign near this one said it flew from Los Angeles to Washington, DC (Dulles) in just over 1 hour and 4 minutes. That was its decommissioning flight, after which it was installed at the museum. The planes flew between 1966 and 1999. They took off with nearly empty fuel tanks. Seven minutes later they fueled in the air from a tanker plane.
We looked into the shop area in the back of the center to see what planes were being prepared for future displays. They have skilled men and women who can refurbish planes and make new parts so they look original.
We’ve been to other aviation museums over the years. This one was a big thrill for us both and well worth the side trip to get there.