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Udvar - Hazy trip report

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vjp

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Here's a recap of my trip to Udvar-Hazy, the new Smithsonian Air & Space museum
next to Dulles airport, Virginia.

We left around 9:30 a.m. yesterday (Monday, December 30th), expecting light
post-rush-hour traffic and a quick trip. We avoided I-95 and the D.C. beltway
as well as Rt. 66, instead heading west on I-70, then down 340 and 15 to rt. 28,
approaching the museum from the north. We made very good time - UNTIL we
hit the backup at the exit to the museum.

What would have been a <2 hour trip, turned out taking nearly 3 hours instead.
The final 1.5 miles took nearly a full hour. That was one slow, agonizing hour,
thanks to my having downed two big-gulp sized coffees just before leaving. Ugh!
At first, I thought an accident was to blame for the backup, but in fact the
accident was on rt. 28 northbound, and we were heading south, and the left lane
traffic was making good headway. Nope, that looooooooong line of cars we were in
were ALL headed for the same destination that we were. This museum is drawing a
LOT of people in its opening weeks.

Parking costs $12 - a little ridiculous in my opinion, but at least admission is
free, and the fee should encourage carpooling. Once we were through the parking
gate, we were able to find a spot quickly, despite the huge crowd there. The museum
was CROWDED, but even so, the security folks there did an admirable job of getting
everyone into the building and checking bags efficiently and quickly.

I did *not* remember to find out if food was allowed in the building, but I'd wager that
it isn't, as the first Air & Space museum doesn't allow food in. In any case, there's
a "food court" area inside. However, it's not completed yet, and there is only one
food stand open at the moment, serving pre-packaged sandwiches and drinks. The line
was extremely long, too, so we decided to skip having lunch there.

Once inside, the crowds weren't too bad (except for the food). A few bottlenecks
here and there, but for the most part, it was easy to move around.

Now, for the good part. Planes. And rockets. ;o> This museum fills in the sorely
needed gaps in the original collection down at the Mall facility in D.C. Primarily
aviation, but there are a few space items, of which the crown jewel is the space
shuttle Enterprise. But I'll come back to that later.

On display are historically important aircraft, military, civilian, and experimental,
from across the whole spectrum. One is first drawn to the SR-71 in the center of the
hangar. To the right, there is a collection of cold-war era jet fighters, U.S. and
Soviet, as well as a smattering of missiles; surface-to-air, air-to-air, and even an
80's era satellite-killer missile. Overhead hang several WW-II era fighters. To the
left, the Boeing dash-80 (the prototype to the 707), the Enola Gay, and the Boeing
clipper "Flying Cloud", which with its chrome-like polished skin, has got to be the
most beautiful aircraft there. Beyond the dash-80 lies the Concorde, which seems huge
in comparison to the other aircraft there. Various other aircraft, from an early
flying wing prototype to Japanese and German WW-II vintage aircraft, are interspersed
throughout.

Past the Concorde, on the left end of the main hangar, there is a collection of large
(1/15 scale!) rockets including a Titan II, an Ariane 4, a Delta II, an Atlas, etc. Beyond
this lies an exhibit of various rocket engines, including the H-1, the engine used in
the Saturn 1B. There's an assortment of space memorabilia from the 60's, including the
isolation trailer that the early Apollo astronauts were kept after their return from
the moon.

There are elevators and stairs at several locations throughout the hangar, giving access
to elevated walkways. This affords great views above the floor displays, and puts you
at eyeball level with a lot more aircraft suspended from the ceiling. There is an
observation area overlooking the shuttle hangar, which is accompanied by a Mercury and
Gemini capsule, as well.

More now on the Enterprise. Unfortunately, this hangar area is closed off, and you can
only view the shuttle from the front, from a distance. It appears that the Enterprise is
undergoing restoration and some of the leading edge structure was removed for the testing
which was performed during the Columbia accident investigation. Hopefully, once it is
brought back to better condition, this hangar will open and we'll be able to get closer
to the shuttle and see it from all sides, as well. In the meantime though, it's still
a beautiful sight to behold, and - BIG. I had never been this close to a shuttle before,
only at a great distance once at the KSC. When seen side by side with other aircraft like
the dash-80, Concorde, SR-71, etc., you get a better impression of just how HUGE the
shuttle really is. Certainly not as long as the Concorde, but much more massive overall.
In comparison to the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules there at the museum, it's simply
an awesome quantum leap in size and technology.

Unfortunately, we had to leave around 3:30, since my son had karate that evening. We
should have set out much earlier, in retrospect. So, I missed seeing some things I was
really looking forward to, like the 1935 Goddard rocket. But, I will definitely be going
back. I will wait, though, for the food court to be completed, and for the crowds to
lessen up a little bit. Also, I had no chance to check out the IMAX theatre, or the
"simulator" ride. We did check out the gift shop on the way out. There was a fantastic
selection of DVD's and books. Unfortunately though, I didn't see "Rockets of the World"
there, but they DID have the entire set of DVD collections from Spacecraft Films, including
the "Mighty Saturns" (both the 1B and the V sets). Expect to pay the usual exorbitant
gift-shop prices, of course.

If you're planning on going, here are some recommendations:

1. Leave early. It opens at 10 a.m., but you'll have LOTS of company. U-H is
drawing big crowds, and the traffic backup was testimony to its popularity.

2. Go on a weekday, if possible. When school is in session, preferably. We went
when most schools were closed for the holidays, and there were lots of families
there, kids in tow. Crowds will probably ease up once the opening rush to see
it is over.

3. Print out a map from their website, and list the things you want to see. I just
plain forgot about the Goddard rocket, until it was too late. They weren't handing
out museum maps when we went, but hopefully this will change in the future.

4. You may want to wait until construction of the food court and/or the shuttle hangar
is completed, if these things are important to you. You can always bring a lunch
in a cooler and go back to your car, but if you want a close-up view of the shuttle,
I would suggest waiting until this section is opened up more.

5. If photography is your bag, use high speed film, or a digital camera with fast ISO
equivalency. The lighting is not the greatest, in fact it was downright disappointing.
A small monopod would be of assistance with slow shutter speeds; there are plenty of
railings to use as a rest, too. I think they could have done more to allow natural
sunlight in, or provide better artificial lighting if that wasn't feasible. There
were some lighting units that weren't yet raised into position, so I think the lighting
situation will improve a bit.

That's all for now, you can find out more at the website:
http://www.nasm.si.edu/museum/udvarhazy/

-Vince P.
 

doxiedog315

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THANK YOU VERY MUCH:) I have seen some pics,But your post really brought it together for me! Please take some pics next trip.I'm out here on the left coast,and might never get out there.
 

vjp

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Originally posted by doxiedog315
THANK YOU VERY MUCH:) I have seen some pics,But your post really brought it together for me! Please take some pics next trip.I'm out here on the left coast,and might never get out there.
Pics coming!
 

rstaff3

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Thanks Vince! I guess I'd rather wait until school is back in session, bit my son is here now so we're going tomorrow. I'll see if I can add anything, but I doubt it.
 

vjp

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Originally posted by rstaff3
Thanks Vince! I guess I'd rather wait until school is back in session, bit my son is here now so we're going tomorrow. I'll see if I can add anything, but I doubt it.
Cool, don't forget about the Goddard '35 rocket!

It's supposed to be on display, don't know how I missed it.
 

NUBlackshirts

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Thanks for the U-H trip report. I wish that they would have had that built while I was at Ft. Meade. Now that I am in CO, I don't know if/when I will get a chance to go back East. :(
 

rstaff3

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I zipped some of the files from my trip today and will leave them up for about a week. These include 4 pics of the Goddard rocket and few others. A couple are of plaques as I couldn't remember the names of the subjects. The file is about 3MB.

http://home.comcast.net/~rstaff/temp/udvar-hazy_rockets.zip

Nothing much to report in addition to what vjp said. EXCEPT...the crowds were much smaller. We had 5 cars ahead of us in line, found parking right away, and had elbow room inside. Guess most people were getting ready to party :)

I too was somewhat rushed as the rest of the group wasn't interested in reading many of the plaques. The only bad part was, as vjp also noted, is that the lighting is not friendly for digicams. Low lighting in general with very bright spots tend to wash out the pics.

The Enterprise, Concorde, SR71, and Enola Gay alone make it worth the $12 parking fee!
 

vjp

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Dick, thanks for the photos. Glad to hear the crowds were light - I guess I just picked the wrong day to go!:D

I see now too, how I missed Goddard's rocket. I had rushed past the Apollo mobile quarantee facility, to catch up to the group I was with, and never checked out that nice display case next to it.

NARHAMS has a field trip to U-H tentatively planned for spring, I may go back then.
 
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