National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
The best thing about the Udvar-Hazy Center and the one thing that they do that no other flight museum has yet accomplished is that they give the airplanes enough room and enough light and provide visitors multiple viewing angles. There, I said it.
I can’t go to an aerospace museum without trying to rank it within the pantheon of aerospace museums and there were some times walking through Udvar-Hazy that I was thinking yeah, this is the best flight museum there is and that was based in large part on how easy they make it to see and photograph the planes. The USAF Museum in Dayton, for instance, is really dark so in order to take photos without a tripod, you have to do flash-fill and be happy with taking a photo of one small part of the plane. And in most flight museums, including Dayton, it seems like they looked at the arrangement of displays as a Tetris variant. Udvar-Hazy gives the planes their due space. Well, except for in the commercial airplanes area, but those planes are kind of big, so I suppose it makes sense.
And if you could combine the National Air and Space Museum component on the mall in DC with the Udvar-Hazy Center, you definitely would have the greatest flight museum in the world. But they’re too far away, so you can’t. It’s like saying if you combined Seattle and Portland, you’d have the second largest city on the west coast. True but moot. Like most of life.
Which leaves only bullet points:
- I think the Top Tier of aerospace museums is this one, the one on the mall, the USAF, and probably Pima/AMARG.
- It’s interesting how they don’t tell many stories in this museum — they mostly let the plane speak for itself. There are no big panels explaining the Wright Bros. or anything like that — I think most of that is on the mall.
- Without a doubt the least impressive gift shop of any top-flite aerospace museum.
- Walking through the museum, you start feeling like there are planes that should be there but aren’t, and then you remember that the other half of the collection is an hour away, which is sort of comforting in that you know that they know that this isn’t a complete something.
- They have a bunch of “last one like this that still exists” planes there, including some bizarre-awesome German WWII examples, like the late-war gigantic fighter plane with fore and aft props. Too bad those airplanes are evil.
- For some reason the only planes missing their wings were German WWII planes. There was no explanation.
- They put plexi-glass up around the Enola Gay so no one could throw stuff at it. Apparently that’s happened before.
- Hooray for flight.
So yeah. ICYDK, the Udvar-Hazy Center is located right by Dulles Airport in Virginia. The Smithsonian (or whoever) built it in order to house planes that wouldn’t fit in the regular museum on the mall. They have elevated walkways along parts of the perimeter that afford the top-down views. The museum is free, but parking is $15. The only food inside is McDonalds. There’s very little to buy in the gift shop.
PS, If you combined Seattle and Portland, it would still only be the third largest city on the west coast.