Visiting the National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center
Backyard Tourism, North America, Travel, USA, Washington DC

Backyard Tourism: Visiting the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center

Whenever I go into a travel dry-spell, I make a concentrated effort to go on some backyard tourism (aka going to tourist-y places in my home city). I did this quite a bit when I was living in Hoboken and checked out a number of cool places like the USS Intrepid, Citi Field, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Chelsea Market. This is my first backyard tourism post for Washington, DC metro area.

Richard and I were bored one weekend this spring and decided to check out the other National Air & Space Museum – the Udvar-Hazy Center. The Udvar-Hazy Center, for those of you who are not in the know, is an annex of the National Air & Space Museum. It’s located in Chantilly, VA which is about 45 minutes from the main National Air & Space Museum location on the National Mall. Being 45 minutes out, the Udvar-Hazy Center is afforded much more space than the National Mall location. This allows NASM to showcase a wide variety of things that they can’t in the National Mall location due to space and logistical constraints (i.e. how do you logistically get a spacecraft into downtown DC?).

Boeing Aviation Hangar

When you walk into the Udvar-Hazy Center, one of the first things you run into is the Boeing Aviator Hangar. This is a large space where a number of planes of various shapes and sizes are showcased. Some of hanging from the ceiling and some are on the ground. You can enter on the second level and walk down into the hangar. That gives you an impressive bird’s-eye view of the hangar before you even go down to explore.

Udvar Hazy National Air & Space Museum Hangar

Planes everywhere at Udvar Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Menacing plane at Udvar Hazy National Air & Space Museum

If you’ve ever watched Top Gun, you might recognize this plane as a Tom Cat, or F-14.  Udvar-Hazy has some memorabilia from a real “Top Gun” pilot on showcase. Let’s just say… this guy really liked being a Top Gun guy considering his license plate.

Tomcat F-14 Top Gun Plane    Top Gun Guy

One of the more impressive planes we saw in the hangar was an SR-71, or a Blackbird. This is literally one of the fastest planes on the planet. The plane being showcased flew set a record when it flew from LA to Washington, DC in 1 hr 4 min 20 seconds when it retired in 1990. Not sure I’m really in that much of a rush to get to LA, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Blackbird at Udvar Hazy NASM    Blackbird SR-71 from the top Blackbird SR-71 Emergency Kit

There are a number of miscellaneous things in the hangar. The capsule that Felix Baumgartner’s space jumped from is on display. There are little kiosks for viewing the inside of the cockpits of various planes. There’s a Concorde (USS Intrepid also has one, so this is the second one I’ve seen!). And they even have a random landing gear on display (Richard for scale).

Feliz Baumgartner's Capsule Air France Concorde at Udvar Hazy Cockpit Kiosk in Hangar

Landing gear with Richard for scale

 

Dulles Observation Tower

One of my favorite parts of visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center was the Dulles Observation Tower. We could watch the planes coming in to land at Dulles. It was pretty fun, because Dulles gets a lot of international flights. I live and work relatively close to National Airport so I see those planes frequently, but they are often smaller commuter planes and jets vs. the big honking international planes. They also had an area that simulates an air traffic control tower.

Dulles Observation Tower Plane landing at Dulles (IAD) Air Traffic Control Station

Discovery Space Shuttle

The most impressive thing about the National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center is the Discovery space shuttle. It’s so big. It takes up most of the space section, but they also managed to fit in some space capsules and items that astronauts bring with them to space.

Discovery from the front at Udvar Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Richard in front of Discovery Space Shuttle Discovery Space Shuttle Astronaut Underwear    Spaces Capsules at Udvar Hazy

Getting There

As I mentioned, the Udvar-Hazy Center is about 45 minutes from the flagship National Air & Space Museum location on the National Mall. As such, the best way to get there is by car. There are some busses that go there, but the most efficient way to get there is via car.

Udvar Hazy Building - National Air & Space Museum

The Verdict

Overall, visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center was a great, low-cost weekend activity. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot while I was there.

Stars

3-stars

3 of 5 Stars: I really enjoyed going to the Udvar-Hazy Center, but for me, it’s one of those places that I probably won’t go to again. I definitely think it’s worth going to if you are into airplanes or space in any way shape or form. But if those things aren’t your cup of tea, I’m not sure that it’s worth going 45 minutes out of DC to get to.

Time Needed

3-5-hours

3 to 5 Hours: We spent about 3 hours at the Udvar-Hazy Center and felt a little rushed at the end (it was Sunday and they were going to be closing soon). Plan to spend anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, depending on how much you like to read the placards. If you just walk and look, you’ll be fine with 3 hours. If you like to read in-depth, give yourself 5 hours. Also, there are lines for the observation tower. We ended up waiting about 20 to 30 minutes before we got up there.

Cost

1 money of 4

One of the best things about the Udvar-Hazy Center is that admission is free! However, there is a charge for parking. We spend around $15 on parking when we went. Still, for $7.50 each, it’s a pretty cheap afternoon activity.

Have you been to the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center?

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