National Air And Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center

Shuttle Discovery cockpit

My flight did not leave until later in the afternoon, so on my way out of Washington D.C., I met up with Xeni Jardin for breakfast and wonderful conversation, hoping she could have joined us for a visit out to the Udvar-Hazy Center.  Unfortunately, she could not make the visit, but I’ll look forward to the next time we can chat.  Xeni, the museum is totally awesome and completely worth your time.

Right after breakfast, Erik Couse stopped by to pick me up and give me a ride out to the airport.  Our scheme was to visit the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center for a couple of hours before I jumped on the plane to fly back to Salt Lake.


Air and Space Museum_

This is the scene that greeted us as we walked into the Udvar-Hazy Center.  You can get a full resolution, 4096 pixel wide image of this here.  Right in front, you have a P-40 Warhawk and an F4U Corsair in front of an SR-71 Blackbird with the Space Shuttle Discovery peeking out from the space gallery behind.  On the right you have Vietnam War era jet fighters as well as surface to air missiles and on the left, some of the most rare collections of both WWI and WWII aircraft in the world as well as the Concorde and other commercial aircraft like the Boeing 307 and a Boeing 707 and even a Junkers Ju-52.


Shuttle Discovery front

The Udvar-Hazy Center was part of the Air and Space Museum that I’ve never actually seen before and man, was it totally worth it.  Its much quieter than the downtown Air and Space Museum with many fewer people and the history contained in those buildings is amazing.  The Shuttle Discovery of course is one of the highlights and made for a completion of sorts from the last time I saw a space shuttle up close.


Space Shuttle Discovery panorama_

Like most things in this place, its hard to actually capture the full size in a single frame.  Panoramas are the way to go and I love the iPhone panorama feature for shots like this.  You can get the full resolution 5936 pixel wide image of this here and it was even featured on BoingBoing here.


Shuttle tiles

The thing that I liked about the Shuttle Discovery exhibit was that they did not clean it up.  The Air and Space Museum decided to keep it raw… just like it entered the atmosphere last.


SR71 cockpit

SR71 17972

SR71 engine spike

Man photographs SR71

They also had one of the most amazing aircraft ever built, the SR-71 as a central exhibit.  There is a pretty rare SR-71 up at Hill AFB that we visited on a photowalk a while ago, so I had some experience trying to figure out how to shoot the Blackbird.  The trouble with photographing this plane in an enclosed space is that its long, black and sleek.  Without some significant setup time and effort, its tough to get the whole aircraft in the frame.  So, given the limited time on this trip, I focused on the details.  I’d love to come back to photograph it some time and take the time to light it and really do it right.


Enola Gay

The Enola Gay is also present and completely restored.  The history of this aircraft is so big, its kind of hard to imagine the kind of history that comes with this particular aircraft.  Anyone interested in airplanes pretty much knows about this aircraft and its role in history, so it was both somber and intriguing to be able to get up close and see the real aircraft that I had built a 1/48 scale model of when I was a kid.


Arado 234

Dornier Do 335

The Udvar-Hazy facility also has two of the wildest looking and rarest combat aircraft in the world, the world’s only surviving Dornier Do 335 and the Arado 234.  These are two of the strangest and yet most advanced aircraft ever to come out of WWII.  Had the German leadership at the time been more competent, these aircraft could have been more damaging to the US and Allies.


Northrop Flying Wing

The Northrop N-9M flying wing was another interesting and rare aircraft.  Back in the fall of 1989, I was on a ranch in Nevada where I saw this strange line in the sky that kept rolling back and forth.  The rancher I was with was also looking at it and we had no idea what it was we were seeing.  Anything we might have been thinking was kept completely to ourselves…  Eventually, it got close enough and banked off for us to see that it was a *huge* black flying wing.  This it turned out was the B-2 bomber right around when it made its first flights.  After seeing that it was an airplane, the rancher exclaimed “Oh, shoot… I saw those back in the 40’s”.  I though he was nuts, but he was of course, right.


Concorde cockpit

I’ve seen Concorde aircraft in New York on the Intrepid Museum and as a gate guardian at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.  But this was the first time that I’ve actually been able to get up close.  In some ways its a massive aircraft, but in others, you can see how narrow the fuselage actually was.    Despite the aircraft’s huge size, it only carried 90-100 passengers.  That said, I would have loved to have flown in it.


Erik Couse_

Thanks Erik!  It was good to meet up and talk.  I’ll be looking forward to the next adventure, which according to my watch, is coming up fast… :-)


P.S.  All kinds of cool, this post got mentioned on BoingBoing!


17 Replies to “National Air And Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center”

    1. Thanks man. I’d been to the Intrepid Museum years ago and found it to be an impressive facility. I’ll *totally* look forward to your pics when you visit.

  1. So much history, innovation, and marvelous technology. Hoping to see this marvelous innovative spirit return someday. Fantastic pictures.

  2. Great shots. The panoramas are great, especially of the Discovery. A bit jealous here you got to see some of the most unique planes. Do you recall if the skunk logo is part of the SR-71 at Hill? I’ve got a large number of pictures, but I don’t recall seeing that detail. While on the topic of interesting planes. Have you read about the Horten Ho 229 and its stealth capabilities?

    It looks like they’re restoring the last surviving one right now for the National Air and Space Museum.

    Back about a decade and a half, I had a game on PC called Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe and I am pretty sure that the Arado bomber was one of the planes featured in there. Luftwaffe always tried, but none of the groundbreaking designs like the Me 262 (fortunately) really came into widespread use until right before the end of the war when they were plagued by a shortage of qualified pilots and supplies. Another one of my passions, the submarines, are another great example of that, as with the Type XXI with only two (no typo, 2) of them reaching front-line service by the time of the end of the war.

    1. I don’t recall if the Hill SR has the Skunkworks logo or not…

      And yeah… That Horten is a pretty excellent aircraft. They have *parts* of one at the Air and Space museum that we could see… Very cool.

      The German engineers really did think out of the box back then… Amazing engineering.

  3. I’ll have to go back to see the Discovery… it was the Enterprise when I was there last. Great photos… I had the same problems shooting when I was there, a fish-eye or panoramic is recommended. Be aware, they’re pretty anal about tripods… none allowed, even my monopod was an issue, no idea why.

  4. great shots. i enjoyed the pfeil since, well, it’s my surname :)

    i found it particularly difficult shooting in there even with a fast lens – just not enough light. i resorted to an astrophotography technique… took 10-20 images at iso1600 with very fast shutter speeds, aligned and stacked them.

    did not know about the tripods! maybe they think you’ll use them to try to touch the planes or something.

  5. After years of lusting to do so, I finally got to spend several hours at Udvar-Hazy last October. It is an absolute must-see for any aviation enthusiast/tech geek. Gods willing, I will return some day.

  6. One day I’m going to come on a trip to the US, and I’m going to have to set aside about a month just for visiting aerospace museums.
    We have some pretty good ones over here in the UK, so I’ve seen at least 3 different Concordes, but the most impressive up close is a B-52

  7. I also love the Udvar-Hazy center! Just a heads up about the place, although as part of the Smithsonian museums it’s free to visit, they do however charge $15.00 per car to park. As it’s located on the grounds of Dulles International Airport. Enjoy!

  8. Looks like you made good use of your limited time at U-H! I was last there in Enterprise days and I need to go back. No excuse as I live across the river! Long (in the early 90s) before the U-H was completed they had the SR-71 temporarily parked on the tarmac at Dulles. It was cool to taxi past that bird. En route to Dulles in 1990, as a valedictory for the SR-71, it was flown from the west coast to the east coast in a record time of 68 minutes. Other records were broken along the way, too.

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