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Sat, Jan 03, 2004

NASM-Udvar-Hazy @ Dulles (Part Three)

Milford Goes To Washington, Finds Himself In Heaven

By ANN Correspondent Rob Milford

From Tioga (ND), Ernie and Alma Knutson came to see the new NASM Annex, along with their son, Gene. Ernie flew C-47’s during World War II and in Korea, and calls the entire NASM facility at Dulles International “Fantastic... fabulous... hard to describe.” He still has the Taylorcraft that his wife and son learned to fly in.

It would seem hard to believe, but there is no DC-3 or C-47 on display, yet. As I have mentioned before, the museum is a work in progress, and there are 80 aircraft where 200 will eventually find a home. The museum you see today will be different from the one a year from now, and two years from now.

The displays at the south end of the hangar include the Concorde, the first Boeing 707, Model 367, the Dash 80 that Tex Johnston rolled over Seattle in a demonstration to airline presidents in 1955. Nowadays, that would have gotten him fired, then, it made him, and the aircraft, a legend. The Boeing people did an incredible job restoring the outside of the aircraft to “like new”. The paint is flawless, everything shines like it just came off the assembly line, and the plane is about to celebrate it’s 50th birthday!

On that same block, you’ll find the first production aircraft from Bill Lear, a model 23 that was built in 1964. That would be N802L for you tail-number buffs. Doesn’t look like a plane that started a revolution, but it did... and others of that age are still chugging through the skies on a daily basis.

There’s a G-21 Goose, from the folks at Grumman. The classic Wasp Juniors putting out 450HP each to get the plane off the water.  Next to that, Winnie Mae. Wiley Posts’ Lockheed 5B Vega that set all sorts of records, and made pilots of that era like rock stars are today. You can see how that aircraft became a trend-setter for designers.

On the far wall, behind the tail of the Ju-52M, there is a display cabinet holding half a hundred airline models. It will do your heart good to see them, and it should generate more than a few tears. These desk-top and bookcase models are only extraordinary because of the names on them.  You have DC-9’s from Allegheny, any number of planes from Pan-Am, and TWA and Braniff (in all those GREAT paint schemes) You will see BOAC and Mohawk, Eastern and Western, National, West Coast, Capitol, North Central, Northeast, Bonanza and Ozark. Still missing are aircraft from Southern and Republic and Piedmont (contributions, anyone?) You remember when we had real, regional competition in the airline industry, don’t ya?

Oh, the Ju-52/3M. The tri-motor. The mass production airplane prior to WWII. This started life as a Casa 352L, but Lufthansa made all the changes to make it as “JU” as they could. I got a big lump in my throat, because my old friend, Martin Caidin, owned one of these, and it turns out he sold his to Lufthansa. I have an e-mail out to the beautiful Dee-Dee to see if in fact, this is the same plane. Marty would be tickled, to say the least.

There are a pair of major players who have gone unmentioned, until now. The Boeing 307 Stratoliner. That grand and elegant plane that graced Oshkosh this year and in 2001, and in between found itself floating in the water not far from Boeing Field. The retirees and restoration crew turned to once again, and it is every bit as wonderful as the day it came off the line. I regret now not begging a ride from Oshkosh in this one of a kind, national aviation treasure.

Not far away, another rare bird. The Bell-XV-15 Tilt Rotor. The one that worked, and worked well, for years, AND on the flight from Texas to Dulles about three months ago. The prop-rotors are pointing towards the ceiling, the blue and white paint gleams, and here again, another aircraft that really proved the concept, and years from now, when there are hundreds or thousands of these flying, you can point at this one aircraft, and say “This started it all”.

Like so many of the planes in his building, it looks like all you would have to do is push them out on the ramp, add some gas and check the oil, and you would be ready to fly.

I decided to take another break, and explore the rest of the building. There is the I-Max Theater, with 479 seats and five different movies going every day, including a new one on helicopters (like they’re not breath-taking enough).

The gift shop is pretty big, all brand-new, of course, and they’re getting the measure of what people want from this new facility. They have included the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy name on some of the shirts, and that certainly tells people exactly where you’ve been. Not a large selection of shirts, yet, but the book case is awesome, and you could do some serious additions to your collection when you come through, and some serious damage to your credit card at the same time.

There are plenty of classroom space and educational programs are being developed for the field trips that will bring every grade level for miles around. Learning technology being what it is, most of that should be available on the Internet before too much longer.

How about that tower? You’ve seen the pictures, and it really soars over the Virginia countryside and Dulles International. 164 feet tall, the Donald D. Engen Observation tower is a great place to watch approaches to Dulles. The space is huge, you have a 360 view of the entire area. The next level down is far more crowded, no windows, since it is a display on air traffic control.

This was one of the rough spots on the tour. The FAA materials are better suited for a convention center, not a museum. The “kid oriented” stuff is 5 or 6 feet off the ground, and instead of listening to Dulles (IAD) traffic, you’re listening to Newark, (NWR)  What’s up with that? After the top level, it’s claustrophobic, and was over-heated the while I was there poking around. There isn’t, but should be, stair access between the two levels. Something else to be worked out. The single elevator wasn’t quite up to the job.

You may wonder about staffing such a huge place. Well, the Smithsonian will have about 15 employees on site. Security, food service and janitorial is out-sourced, and the rest of it is covered by volunteers.

Back on the display floor, your mileage is starting to add up. The display cases full of machine guns and aerial cameras are fascinating beyond words. Within a few feet, you can see the developmental history that covers decades.



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