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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?