National Air and Space Museum

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The Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport is definitely worth a visit if you have a few hours to spend in the area whilst waiting for a flight. It is also worth visiting if you are staying in or near the City of Washington. We visited it on a day when we had a flight that evening and had driven to the airport the previous day. We came on a shuttle bus from our hotel, the Hilton, and also saw buses from other hotels coming by.

It is a large modern building (opened 2003/4), a few miles from the actual runways though they are visible from the observation tower. Entry is free though there are charges for car parking and the IMAX theatre. Close to the entrance is a visitor’s desk manned by extremely helpful volunteers who are a mine of information and I suggest calling there first. We then took the lift up to the top of the Observation Tower as we thought this might get busy later in the day. This has displays about air traffic control.

The whole air museum is on several floors with the central area the full height of the building. This means you can look over the planes as well as up to them. Some of the helicopters and smaller planes are suspended from the ceiling. They are grouped by date and by nationality and hot air balloons, helicopters etc also form some of the displays. Among the planes on display are the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest jet in the world; the Boeing Dash 80, the prototype of the 707; the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay; and the deHavilland Chipmunk aerobatic airplane; Concorde and a Japanese WWII plane. I found it all very interesting and I am not a plane buff.

Another huge hanger is given over to space exploration. The highlight of this is the Discovery Space Shuttle which was moved there this year. We found it amazing. There are also missiles, a full-scale engineering prototype of the Mars Pathfinder Lander, a human-sized, NASA-built android used for 1960s spacesuit testing and the Spartan 201 satellite, deployed for solar research during five shuttle missions. There’s masses to see in both hangers and it’s all laid out spaciously and with interesting information boards – if I write any more about what there is to see it will just seem like a long list.

The shop has a good selection of air/space/science related items plus the inevitable t-shirts etc but all of a reasonable quality and price. We were, however, disappointed that the only food option was McDonalds – no doubt fine much of the time but not what we fancied.

We were there about 4 – 5 hours, including an hour or so in the IMAX theatre. This seemed about right to us – if you are a great enthusiast for this type of museum or wish to read and see everything you would no doubt need longer.

Official name: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
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