The Smithsonian has been an American institution for over a century. In 1946, congress mandated a National Air Museum. In 1976, the famous National Air and Space Museum on the Mall opened.
In 1980, the Smithsonian saw the need for another facility. The Maryland Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility was becomeing overcrowded. This facility is a crammed bunch of warehouses that is not at all suited for aircraft. The Air and Space Museum on the Mall was always limited in terms of display space. Being a quasi-governmental organization, the Smithsonian moved as fast as Carbon 14 decays. Now, 20-odd years later, there is another Smithsonian museum to enjoy. it is located at Washington Dulles International Airport.
OOD-var HAH-zee is how one pronounces the name. Mr. Udvar-Hazy made millions during airline deregulation by buying aircraft from airlines and leasing them back. He gave $60 million to the Smithsonian and got the naming rights.
- 82 Aircraft now, 200 at completion
- Planned space for over 130 "large space arifacts"
- IMAX screen
- Donald D. Engen Observation Tower (164 feet high)
- 760,057 square-feet of space
- Over $300 million has been raised, 80 million is needed to finish off the restoration wing and some other small stuff.
The museum consists of a very large hangar oriented north-south. to the east is a huge parking lot. Right up against the east side of the hangar is the Observation Tower. On the west side, against the hangar is the Space Artifacts Hall, the archival center and the (future) restoration center.
Inside, the hangar is organized into three levels. They made ingenious use of such a cavernous space by hanging planes on wires. Don't worry, it's safe. The ground level has mainly large planes and artifacts. The mid and upper levels have smaller planes of all types. To better see those, there is an elivated cat-walk around the edge of the hangar.
Notes on a visit
After paying 12 dollars to the Smithsonian to park, I entered the museum for free, because all Smithsonian museums are free.
I walked in and saw a Pitts-Special hanging inverted in the main entrance hall. Beyond that, in line with the entrance hall was an SR-71 Blackbird and the Enterprise. Upon further later examination of the Shuttle, I noticed the leading edges of the wings missing. Gone for research? After entering, I wondered about the main floor with my father, who is quite the aviation buff. We saw a Concorde, a Joint Strike Fighter and some MiGs. Against one wall was an engine collection, including a Wright Engine and a weird British Merlin V-12 with a turbine integrated to the underside. Buried under a wing of the concorde was the Nemesis, Jon Sharp's amazing F1.
The catwalk provided an amazing view. I saw a collection of bamboo bombers from WWI. The Grob 102 that set a sailplane altitude record was hanging up. About 48,000 feet with no engine was the record. The FAA ripped the pilot's license, as he lacked clearance. He almost asphyxiated at that altitude, despite his lungs being filled with pure O2. His alveoli became excessively swollen. There are two dead ends on the catwalk. Eventually, they will lead through the restoration facility, when it is built.
To the tourist, the museum will appear about two-thirds done. The main hangar has some empty spaces and the restoration center has yet to be built. To the aviation enthusiast, the museum will appear about a third done. The restoration hangar will be one of the most important parts of the museum. It will house 1 to 3 aircraft at once and do the full restorations the Smithsonian is famous for. I know that the aircraft are historical gems, but I would still love to see them fly, or watch the Enola Gay's engines turn over. Even when 200 aircraft line the main hangar and the space hangar, the Smithsonian will still need room for their ever growing collection. The main hangar will have to be extended eventually to fit the entire collection.