Washington D.C. is famous for its historic landmarks as well as its expansive museums that appeal to a wide range of interests. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA, the partner facility to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C. is no exception, and an absolute must-see for anyone visiting or living in the area. I’ve lived in the Northern Virginia area for most of my life but I never visited the Center until earlier this year. As a lover of all things soaring, flying, and space, it was a truly incredible and delightful experience.
The planes displayed throughout the two hangars span over a century of flight from the early days of the Wright Brothers, through the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam, to early and recent commercial aviation. Just a few of the notable attractions include the balloon gondola and the suit Felix Baumgartner wore during his record-breaking jump and supersonic freefall, the space shuttle Discovery, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (the fastest jet in the world), a Concorde, and the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
I always find it astounding to see any piece of history in real life (as opposed to models or recreations) as there's something extraordinarily humbling about being in front of such historically important artifacts. Closing your eyes you can hear the World War II fighter planes shooting down their German counterparts, feel the rush and soar of a Blackbird breaking the sound barrier, the lurch and immediate 160-degree turn of the Enola Gay taking the bomber away from the explosion, and see the view of Earth while standing at the edge of space. You can spend hours walking around the Center marveling at the sights and admiring the stunning restorations — navigating through a brilliant kaleidoscope of history.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located at 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway in Chantilly, VA. It's just a few short miles away from Washington Dulles International Airport, making it the perfect stopover before a flight or during a layover. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; summer hours extend until 6:30 p.m. Admission is free but there is a parking fee of $15.