Udvar-Hazy Center at Air & Space Museum

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Well-Known Member
Jul 18, 2010
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My wife and I drove out to the East Coast last week to visit some friends, including some friends who live near Dulles Airport in northern Virginia. So, we decided to visit the new Udvar-Hazy Center, which is the extension of the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum, located at Dulles.

My overall reaction: cool, but...

They have clearly stated that the Center is a work in progress, and it kind of shows. I suspect that they pushed hard to have it open in time for the 100th anniversary of the Wright flight, but it seems like it could have used a little more time. Mostly, right now, it's a bunch of airplanes with placards describing them. Now, some of these airplanes are pretty darn cool (e.g., SR-71 Blackbird, Concorde, Enola Gay), but there is very little in the way of interactive displays or exhibits.

The space exhibits are also rather disappointing. There's an entire wing off of the main hall that's going to be their space exhibit, but right now that wing is mostly occupied by the Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise, which is being restored. You can look at the Enterprise from a distance, but that's it for the moment. (If you go during the week, I imagine you're able to watch the restoration work.) The only other "artifacts" in that hall right now are a Mercury and a Gemini capsule.

There are also some other spaceflight items that are currently off to one end of the main exhibit hall (including an Apollo capsule, the "isolation trailer" that the Apollo 11 astronauts lived in after splashdown, and a few others I didn't get a chance to look at); I would imagine that those will be moved closer to the Enterprise at some point.

Maybe my single biggest complaint was the lack of good maps! At the entrance, the Welcome Center was giving out booklets with maps...but these booklets were about the entire Smithsonian system, and not just Udvar-Hazy; thus, the map in these booklets was sketchy. There was another information desk on the main floor (just beyond the Blackbird), and they had another map, but it wasn't a whole lot better.

A complicating factor on the maps is the fact that the center is laid out on several levels. There are many planes hanging in the air, and walkways that go up past the hanging planes. If you're curious what a certain plane might be, you may need to walk up a long ramp in order to find its placard.

They have an IMAX theater...but, when we visited, only one of the three movies being shown was really about air and / or space -- a film about helicopters. The other two were about "the science of risk" (seemed to be about extreme sports) and NASCAR racing. I am really astonished that they weren't showing some of the older IMAX films on space exploration.

There is a tower that one can go up into (after waiting in line for a while), which lets you overlook the Dulles area, so you can watch take-offs and landings. Just below that is an exhibit on air-traffic control, which was pretty non-interactive, and thus pretty dull, IMO.

The food court is still under construction (supposed to be done by the end of the year), so the only food available right now is boxed lunches and salads from Subway.

The museum store is pretty good. It'd seem to me that this is a missed opportunity for Estes (or someone) to sell starter sets to aspiring young rocketeers, but I imagine there's some sort of issues with having the motors in the kits, esp. given the number of foreign visitors.

Admission is free, but parking is $12 per car. They have a shuttle bus that runs between the original Air & Space Museum in D.C. and Udvar-Hazy. The only exhibits that have an additional fee are the IMAX movies and the flight simulators (kind of fun, but I'm not sure they're worth $6 a head).

All in all -- if you're a nut for this stuff, you'll probably still enjoy it, but it feels like it'll be better in a few years.
They're trying to build a museum on the footage that was storage for things they didn;t have room for. They still don;t have room for all their stuff and now they're using some of it for "display". Good intentions, bad ideas.