Giving The New Museum A First-Hand Once Over (Part One of
By ANN Correspondent Rob Milford
Seeing the previews and reading the news releases is one thing.
But being the first ANN staffer to tour the new National Air and
Space Museum facility at Dulles International Airport (VA) is
Exactly 48 hours after I was cold and soaked to the bone on the
sands of Kitty Hawk, I pulled into the huge parking lot for the
Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Museum, which opened less than two weeks
It’s easy to get to. On the southeast corner of Dulles,
less than a mile north of US 50 and 3.5 miles south of the toll
road that links the airport with Arlington. There is the shock of a
$12 parking fee, but just pull out the cash, and roll in. You
won’t regret it. Arriving just moments after the 10 am
opening, there was a line out the door -- maybe 80 to 100 people --
standing there in the cold and wind.
In order to make the aviation theme more exciting, and
realistic, and because it is post 9/11…you go through
security. Not as rigid as what you need for your flight, but close.
They will look in your camera bag, they want you to empty your
pockets. As you’re waiting in line… you catch a
glimpse of what lies ahead. There is the Space Shuttle Enterprise.
You wonder if the Trekkies had not had their way about 25 years
ago, would the Enterprise be flying still, and the Columbia parked
there. Something to think about.
The ceiling holds a Pitts Special. This is "Little Stinker." The
second aircraft Curtis Pitts built in Gainesville (FL) almost 50
years ago. It’s the aircraft that Betty Skelton used to whip
the world in aerobatics during the 1950’s. It is inverted, as
it should be, looking like it’s at the top of a loop. After a
few steps, you come to a hallway on your left and right. In your 2
o’clock position is the ticket booth for the Imax theater.
Next to that is the information desk, where they answer all. In
your nine o’clock position is the gift shop.
But we’re here for airplanes -- and like a huge magnet, or
the recipient of a blast from a Wright 1820 when it starts, you are
drawn (propelled) to the hangar. You know that untold treasures
Well, I’m here to tell you that there is no more dramatic
setting then seeing an F4U-1D Corsair to the right, flaps and gear
and tailhook down, just feet away from a P-40E in two-tone
camouflage and with the yawning red shark mouth on it, coming at
you from the left. Below them, nose on to you, an SR-71 Blackbird.
Off the tail of the Blackbird, the huge nose of the Shuttle peeking
at you from the James McDonnell space hangar.
I stood there for five minutes, taking it all in. This
combination of aircraft is guaranteed to be the most photographed
for years to come. An 8-year old, barely head high over the
railing, was transfixed. His eyes were darting this way and over
there, and was nailing his aircraft identification. He was spotting
aircraft in a jumble and knew them on sight. It was enough to bring
a tear to your eye. It reminded me of me 40 or so years ago,
waiting to be taken to the air show at Dobbins AFB when Lockheed
had their open house. I could see the wooden mock-up of the C-5,
and walk through brand new C-130’s and C-141’s.
A visit to the new NASM annex will do that to you. On the floor
below you, and hanging from the ceiling are so many of the planes
that have been “pictures only” to this point in our
lives. Now, for the first time, we will see so many that have been
locked away, in a warehouse, for years. From that same vantage
point, you also appreciate the huge space being occupied here. This
place could handle some blimps in it’s spare time and with
all the room it has. 986 feet long, 103 feet at the top of the
curved roof, the plans call for the roof supports to carry the
weight of many aircraft, displayed at angles and headings that will
make them appear in flight. Each arch will support up to 20,000
pounds of hanging aircraft, not an issue for the Gossamer
Albatross, which is well displayed. And since size does matter, let
me phrase it another way. This building it so big, that the
well-known and loved NASM building on the Washington Mall could fit
inside the hangar here.
So you’ve caught your breath. Where to start? The ramp to
your right leads to Vietnam-Korean military era aircraft, plus a
huge collection of engines. The stairs on the left take you down to
the nose of the SR-71. I go right, to take in the view, to savor
each step. My phone rings. My buddy Greg is looking for some spare
parts for his Merlin. I tell him where I am, and he falls silent. I
can hear him turning green over the phone.
The Vietnam-Korean era display are the most modern of the
aircraft now on display. An A-6E Intruder, an F-4S Phantom with one
confirmed kill from Vietnam, and alongside them, their ultimate
replacement, the X-35B Joint Strike Fighter. This is the
Lockheed-Martin V/Stol Model, that was used for testing ad Edwards
AFB just a couple of years ago. The engine has been pulled, but
it’s a beautiful aircraft. That same block also displays a
MiG-21m and UH-1H “Huey”. Across the aisle, an F-86A
and MiG-15bis. There’s also a Matador TM-61C and a Regulus 1
missile, from the days when the Navy would have launched these
cruise missiles from surface combatants and submarines.
Keep this in mind. The Udvar-Hazy NASM facility at Dulles
Airport is a work in progress. They have 80 aircraft and major
aerospace displays, and more on the way. We’ll cover them
all, through the week.