Planes hang from above. Rockets stand tall. Artifacts proclaim the story of air and space exploration, and what it has meant for war and peace, art and science, hope and heartache.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, is the partner facility to the Smithsonian’s main National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Its two massive display hangars house dozens of historically significant air- and spacecraft, along with thousands of smaller artifacts.
Among the most significant are:
On August 6, 1945, the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. On August 9, the United States bombed Nagasaki. President Harry S Truman believed that these attacks would convince Japan that defeat was inevitable. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced that Japan would unconditionally surrender. On September 2, Japan formally did so aboard the U.S.S. Missouri.
As soon as World War II ended, the Cold War began: The United States and the Soviet Union, victorious allies, began competing for primacy in a global struggle pitting Constitutional republicanism against totalitarian communism. Tensions between the two superpowers heightened with episodes like the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
During the same decade, Lockheed developed its top-secret, stealthy SR-71 Blackbird, a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ aircraft, used for aerial reconnaissance — surveillance and intelligence-gathering — in other words, a spy plane. One of the 32 built is my favorite artifact at the museum.
U.S. superiority in technology like this was important for several reasons:
- It gave us strategic advantages.
- It showed the world that freedom was more productive than totalitarianism.
- It forced the Soviet Union to try to keep up, which it couldn’t do because its communist system could not produce sufficient economic growth.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood in Berlin and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!” Two years later, in 1989, the Wall began to come down. Two years after that, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. America had won the Cold War without firing a shot.
The Space Race was also important during the Cold War. Discovery was America’s third Space Shuttle orbiter vehicle. She entered service in 1984 and flew 39 missions, spending 365 days in space and travelling almost 150 million miles. She shuttled 184 crew members out into space and back home to earth.
The Udvar-Hazy Center also offers thousands of smaller artifacts to view.
You can also:
Watch the conservation work underway on a number of artifacts, including the B-26 Marauder “Flak Bait”, which flew more missions than any other American plane during World War II, from the overlook above the Restoration Hangar.
Pretend to fly combat sorties in simulators.
View films in the IMAX Theater.
See planes take off and land at Washington Dulles International Airport and enjoy a 360-degree view from the Observation Tower.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, click here.
What to Know before You Go to the Udvar-Hazy Center
The Udvar-Hazy Center is located at 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway in Chantilly, Virginia. As a Smithsonian museum, Udvar-Hazy does not charge admission, but there is a fee to park before 4:00.
There is a cramped gift shop and a popular Shake Shack, which serves delicious burgers.
Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes; the floors are hard. Allow 3 to 6 hours.
As of this writing, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is closed and scheduled to reopen on October 14.
Nearby hotels include: