A visit to Washington D.C. means going to some of the best museums in the world without having to pay, since most don’t have entry cost. One of the most visited and recommended, without a doubt is the National Museum of Air and Space.
If you visit as a child there is a good chance that you want to be a pilot or an astronaut when you grow up. This museum is divided into two: National Air and Space Museum at the National Mall and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia by Washington Dulles Airport. Between both they lodge the important and representative collection of flying objects of the human history.
In the fall of 2018, a great project began to “reimagine” the 23 galleries and presentation spaces of the National Air and Space Museum. This project has a cost of 250 million dollars that will be raised from private funds.
But the total project, which includes construction and new storage space, costs 1 billion and they expect to receive the rest from Congress. This must be completed in a period of seven years. Therefore, when you visit some exhibitions might be closed.
Some collections were temporarily moved to the restoration hangar of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
National Museum of Air and Space
This museum is administered by the Smithsonian Institute. It started in 1946 but its current location in the National Mall dates back to 1976. The inauguration was three days before the country turned 200 years old. This is the most visited museum in the entire United States and the third in the world. In 2016, it received around 7.5 million tourists.
The collection began with pieces from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 and grew over the years. In addition to aircrafts and spacecrafts, it has an IMAX theater and Albert Einstein planetarium.
What to see?
Aviation began with the Wright brothers who entered the industry at the end of the 1890s. They wrote to the Smithsonian to ask them for any aeronautical publication they had to make their creations.
In 1899 they built their first aircraft that looked like a kite. They continued to build models until finally on December 17, 1903, they made their first 12-second flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The longest flight that day was 255.6 m (852 ft) in 59 seconds. This aircraft changed the world and its exhibited (restored) in the museum.
Spirit of St. Louis
This single-engine, single-seat, high-monoplane airplane was flown by Charles Lindberg on May 20 and 21, 1927. He achieved the first transatlantic flight out of Long Island, New York, arriving in Paris, France about 33 hours and 30 minutes later. He flew 5,800 kilometers (3,600 miles) to win the $25,000 prize of the Orteig Award. After this, Lindberg became a celebrity and did a promotional tour for 10 months in the United States and Latin America. On the plane you can see the flags of the countries he visited, including Panama.
Lockheed 5B Vega
The Lockheed 5B Vega is a high-wing monoplane aircraft built in 1927. The exhibit at the National Museum of Air and Space focuses on Amelia Earhart, who used the plane to cross the Atlantic Ocean alone on May 20 and 21, 1932 , five years after Charles Lindberg. She left from Newfoundland, Canada and landed 15 hours later in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The route had a distance of 3,260 kilometers (2,026 miles). This was not the first time she did this trip. Previously, she crossed in 1928 but on a plane that did not know how to fly, so she went only as a passenger.
In 1932 she also broke another record, becoming the first woman to fly across the United States, from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey. She traveled a distance of 3,938 kilometers (2,447 miles) in 19 hours. In 1933, she sold the plane to Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute and in 1966 it was bought by the Smithsonian.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
As the collection of machines grew, including many from World War II, the need arose to open another space, since the National Air and Space Museum had become too small. In 2003, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened with 760,000 square feet (71,000 square meters). It has the capacity to hold about 200 aircraft and 135 spacecraft. Its name was in honor of the biggest donor, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy.
What to see?
Air France Concorde
On June 12, 2003, Air France presented a Concorde airplane to the National Air and Space Museum. This happened after its last flight, from Paris to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, after 27 years of service. This trip had a duration of 4 hours since the Concorde flew at more than twice the speed of sound, approximately 1,350 mph. The plane would be exhibited at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center that would open in December of that year.
With 204 feet in length and a weight of 109 tons, it was very large and heavy for the main building on the National Mall. This Concorde was the oldest of five that were part of the world’s only fleet of supersonic aircrafts.
Without a doubt this is the most controversial piece of the museum. Since this Boeing B-29 was responsible for the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. Finishing World War II, it launched a bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, which destroyed the city. Then, a second bomb that was designated for Kokura but ended up on Nagasaki since they could not see well through the clouds and smoke drifting. When Enola Gay returned to the United States it spent a lot of time outside in a military facility and suffered deterioration. In 1961 the plane was handed over to the Smithsonian Institute.
The space shuttle Discovery is one of the orbiters of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. It operated for 27 years, taking off and landing 39 times, making more space flights than any other spacecraft to date. In total it flew 149 million miles (238 million kilometers).
After Columbia and Challenger, Discovery became the third orbiter to operate. Its last mission lasted one year, returning to Earth in February 2011. 25,000 fire resistant tiles protect Discovery from high temperatures when re-entering.
SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest jet propulsion aircraft in the world. This reconnaissance aircraft flew over hostile spaces with complete immunity. That’s why they invented this plane in the mid-1950s when tensions between the United States and Eastern Europe were at their peak. American commanders needed precise evaluations of Soviet military deployments throughout the world, particularly near the Iron Curtain. The information collected by the SR-71 Blackbird was very useful during the Cold War.
During its 24 years of service with the United States Air Force it accumulated 2,800 hours of flight. It was finally retired on March 6, 1990, after completing a speed record flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in 1 hour, 4 minutes and 20 seconds. The SR-71 Blackbird flew 2,124 miles (3,418 kilometers) per hour. When it landed in Washington Dulles it was delivered to the Smithsonian.