It’s called the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center but it’s a Smithsonian operation. A companion to the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol, which describes itself as One Museum-Two Locations, the Udvar-Hazy Center is out by Dulles International Airport. The first time I saw it, I thought it was the best aviation museum I had ever been in. Ruth wasn’t with me. I wanted her to see it too, but it took years to accomplish this goal. When I returned in October, 2017, she was with me. Ruth agreed that it was the best.
Udvar-Hazy was born in Hungary. He moved to the United States when he was 12. While a UCLA undergraduate, he started his first company. After more education, he became CEO of a global company that owned and leased commercial jet aircraft. In 1999 he pledged $60 million to the Smithsonian to which he later added another $6 million for the construction of this adjunct facility, so it was named in his honor. He has more than 6,000 hours of flying time.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center has thousands of aviation-related artifacts, even paintings like Robert Taylor’s thrilling “Valor in the Pacific”, and a mind-boggling airplane collection that includes the Enola Gay, a Concorde, a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, a space shuttle, etc. This is not a copy of the Enola Gay. It’s the real thing. The Smithsonian had it in storage. It had been disassembled. Experts put it back together so masterfully that only a few bolts remained when it was restored. A very knowledgeable docent named Fred told us the entire story of Enola Gay’s history and reassembly and then took us on a tour that included his favorites. If you ask about Fred and get to meet him, you’re in the company of a man who really knows aviation and loves to talk about it with visitors. He told me that the Concorde that crashed killing 109 picked up debris from a Continental plane and a disintegrating tire struck the underside of a wing where the Concorde’s fuel tank was located, a series of tragic happenings that caused it to crash into a hotel. The supersonic Concorde that could fly from the U. S. east coast to Europe in 3½ hours was eventually retired from service. The crash was cited as one of 7 reasons why. The SR-71A Blackbird was also incredibly fast. The world’s speediest jet-propelled aircraft, this eerie looking reconnaissance plane flew from LA to Washington, DC, in 64 minutes in 1990 when it was given to the Smithsonian.
Fred even took us up into the Observation Tower where we could view airplanes arriving at and departing from Dulles. This was like getting extra chocolate and whipped cream on a fantastic dessert. I learned a lot about air traffic control and an important airport near our Capital City. Later, I found the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Center on my own.
I must resort to a cliché to describe our visit to Udvar-Hazy. It was “an unforgettable experience”. Go.
PS “Valor in the Pacific” below shows B-29s returning from a 1945 mission to Tokyo.
PPS The first time I went to Udvar-Hazy from Dulles, I had to take a taxi. Now there’s bus service from the terminal.