Taking to the Sky

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While in Virginia the boys and I sought out things to do near Fairfax. We heard tale of an “out of this world” museum only 20 minutes from George Mason University (where Rusty was spending the week attending a 3D programing camp.) After a little bit of research I knew this had to be one of our day trips for the week. The reviews were incredible and the pictures were amazing, and when we learned that the cost was FREE we knew where we were headed next…

To the Steven F. Udvar- Hazy Center!

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Opened in 2003, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center serves as a partner facility to the National Air and Space Museum. The two locations together attract 8 million visitors per year, making the National Air and Space complex the most popular museum in the United States.

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For aviation enthusiasts young and old, the Udvar-Hazy Center is just plain cool. The expansive museum consists of two hangars—the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar—which have dozens of aircraft and spacecraft suspended from their ceilings. Some of the most notable include the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. A more recently added hangar, the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, is where scientists and engineers work to restore artifacts from the Air and Space museum’s massive collection.

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We arrived soon just as the doors opened. As we stepped into the museum we stopped first at the information desk with hopes of getting a map to guide us through the massive museum. Upon seeing the two boys, the volunteers told us about a fun aeronautic scavenger hunt they offer children, making their time at the museum even more interactive and engaging.

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The boys jumped to the challenge, especially when they heard they would earn a special souvenir if they could track down all the airplanes on the sheet and record their unique animal themed names.

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With the scavenger hunt paper in hand we began our search…

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Working our way through the various sections of the museum that highlight different time periods and themes in aviation.

Cold War Aviation:

After World War II ended, the United States and the Soviet Union began competing for primacy in a global struggle pitting democracy against communism. Tensions between the two superpowers led to such confrontations as the Berlin blockade, the downing of an American U-2 spy plane, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Hot” wars erupted in Korea and Vietnam.

Aerial reconnaissance played an important role in this struggle. To supersede its U-2 spy plane, Lockheed developed the top-secret, stealthy SR-71 Blackbird, the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft, one of which is displayed here. The Cold War ended with the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and relations between the former adversaries began to warm.

SR-71 and Space Shuttle Enterprise

Commercial Aviation:

Flying was new and daring in the early years of the 20th century. Traveling by airplane was rare. Airlines, airliners, airports, air routes—none of these existed. But by century’s end, you could travel to almost anywhere in America by air in a matter of hours. Commercial aviation is now both a commonplace and an essential aspect of modern life. It has revolutionized the world.

Some of the aircraft that marked important points in the evolution of air transportation are on display here: a Junkers Ju 52/3m, a popular German airliner of the 1930s; a Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the first pressurized airliner; the Boeing 367-80 Dash 80, the prototype for the Boeing 707, America’s first commercial jet airliner; and an Air France Concorde, the first supersonic airliner.

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Destination Moon:

The National Air and Space Museum holds approximately 17,000 space artifacts in its collection. More than 3,500 of those stem from the historic Apollo Moon landing effort, with 400 objects related specifically to the first successful lunar landing mission, Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in the Lunar Module Eagle and became the first humans to step foot on the lunar surface while astronaut Michael Collins orbited above inside the Command Module, Columbia.

The tour and the display of Armstrong’s spacesuit help to set the stage for the unveiling of a completely reimagined permanent gallery at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Destination Moon, scheduled to open in 2021,  will present the exhilarating story of one of the greatest adventures in human history, the exploration of the Moon. It begins with ancient dreams of lunar flight, takes the visitor through the Moon race of the 1960s and 1970s, and ends with what is happening now.

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Space Shuttle Discovery:

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Discovery was the third Space Shuttle orbiter vehicle to fly in space. It entered service in 1984 and retired from spaceflight as the oldest and most accomplished orbiter, the champion of the shuttle fleet. Discovery flew on 39 Earth-orbital missions, spent a total of 365 days in space, and traveled almost 240 million kilometers (150 million miles)–more than the other orbiters. It shuttled 184 men and women into space and back, many of whom flew more than once, for a record-setting total crew count of 251.

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Because Discovery flew every kind of mission the Space Shuttle was meant to fly, it embodies well the 30-year history of U.S. human spaceflight from 1981 to 2011. Named for renowned sailing ships of exploration, Discovery is preserved as intact as possible as it last flew in 2011 on the 133rd Space Shuttle mission.

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NASA transferred Discovery to the Smithsonian in April 2012 after a delivery flight over the nation’s capital.

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Early Flight:

Early Flight celebrates the first decade of flight by evoking the atmosphere of an aviation exhibition from that period: the fictitious Smithsonian Aeronautical Exposition of 1913. The gaily decorated gallery is crammed with fabric-covered aerial vehicles, some fanciful, most real, along with trade show–style exhibits featuring cutting-edge technology of the day.

Gracing the gallery is a rare 1894 Lilienthal glider, along with Samuel P. Langley’s Aerodrome #5 and Quarter-Scale Aerodrome, powered, unmanned vehicles that successfully flew in 1896 and 1903. Early Flight also features the most original and complete of the Museum’s three Wright airplanes, the 1909 Wright Military Flyer, the world’s first military airplane. Other treasures include a Curtiss Model D “Headless Pusher,” an Ecker Flying Boat, and a Blériot XI monoplane.

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Interwar Military Aviation:

The airplane emerged from World War I recognized widely for its potential as a military weapon. In the United States, Army pilots and Navy and Marine aviators worked to realize their different visions of the airplane’s ultimate role in American defense.

These advocates faced institutional resistance and meager budgets. They also faced the danger of pushing the capabilities of a rapidly developing technology during regular operations, combat in foreign lands, and public flights that presented their visions to everyday Americans. Innovations in doctrine, organization, and technology resulted in the air forces that would fight World War II on a global scale.

The Museum’s collection of 1920s and 1930s military aircraft contains many one-of-a-kind and sole-surviving aircraft.

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Aerobatic Flight

In 1908, Wilbur Wright flew the first public exhibitions of a Wright Flyer in France. It wasn’t long before aviation meets began thrilling crowds of spectators with races; altitude records; climbing and diving; and dramatic turns. Developing aerobatic maneuvers helped the military improve fighter tactics and aircraft technology. Today, aerobatic flight remains an exhilarating type of flying in which a pilot performs precision maneuvers. Civilian pilots fly aerobatics for fun, competition, or air show performance. Military pilots use aerobatic flight for combat tactics. Millions of spectators watch aerobatic demonstrations each year at air shows. Aircraft used for aerobatics range from barnstormer-style biplanes to the latest military fighter jets.

 

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While tracking down the planes on their scavenger hunt sheet we made sure to take advantage of the interactive booths scattered throughout the museum that allowed the boys to get “hands on” with the science of flight.

How Things Fly:

How does an airplane stay aloft? How can something as insubstantial as air support all that weight? Why do you become “weightless” in space? How can you propel yourself there, with no air to push against? These and many other questions are answered in How Things Fly, a gallery devoted to explaining the basic principles that allow aircraft and spacecraft to fly.

The emphasis here is “hands-on.” Dozens of exhibits invite you to push, pull, press, lift, slide, handle, touch, twist, turn, spin, bend, and balance. Here you can discover for yourself answers to things you’ve always wondered about flight. You can explore the nature of gravity and air; how wings work; supersonic flight; aircraft and rocket propulsion; flying in space; and more.

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From there we headed up to the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, where we enjoyed a bird’s eye, 360-degree view of the planes landing and taking off at Washington Dulles International Airport.

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It was pretty spectacular!

Our day concluded with the boys turning in their completed scavenger hunt sheets and being awarded a prize for their efforts.

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What an amazing place!

Pictures don’t do justice to the sheer size and scope of this incredible museum.

We give this Washington D.C. site two thumbs up!

If you are in the area: check it out!

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