Located on the National Mall in Washington DC between the Hirshhorn Museum and American Indian Museum, the Air and Space Museum is the nation’s most visited museum and second in the world only to Paris’ Louvre Museum. Nearly every major historic aircraft or spacecraft in US history is located behind its stone and glass walls. These include the Wright Flyer, the Bell X-1, Mercury “Friendship 7″, Apollo 11 Command Module “Columbia”, Ryan NYP “Spirit of St. Louis”, SpaceShipOne, Douglas DC-3, Hughes H-1, Voyager, V-2 rocket, Messerschmitt Me 262A, and dozens more aircraft, spacecraft, and artifacts. Despite the typical crowds, this is one museum you should plan the time to see properly (at least a day), but if you only have limited time below are a few key spots to visit.
Personal Note: It has been a few years since I have had the pleasure of visiting our national museum. It simply is a treasure and if you have the chance to, you just must see this museum.
Exhibit 1: Milestones of Flight
Hanging above you as you walk into the museum’s Mall entrance you are greeted by some of the most significant artifacts in aerospace history. Aircraft hanging above you include the Bell XP-59A, Bell X-1, North American X-15, “Spirit of St. Louis”, and SpaceShipOne. On the ground spacecraft such as the Mercury “Friendship 7″, Gemini IV, and Apollo 11 Command Module “Columbia” are there for you to walk up next to and peer inside.
Originally hanging in the Milestones of Flight the 1903 Wright Flyer was moved to an exhibit of its own. The 1903 Wright Flyer is the “first heavier-than-air powered aircraft to make a sustained, controlled flight with a pilot aboard”. Now displayed with a backdrop of the Wright’s bike shop and reproductions of three of the Wright’s earlier gliders.
What can I say; I am a sucker for a vintage DC-3. The Eastern Airlines DC-3 is on display “flying” in formation along with a rare Boeing 247-D in United Air Lines livery, an American Airlines Ford Tri-Motor, and the small TWA Northrop Alpha. The idea of sitting directly behind the Alpha’s engine in a small enclosed cabin must have been one loud flight.
On December 14, 1986 Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan took off from Edwards Air Force Base and did not land until December 23rd completing the first around the world unrefueled non-stop flight. Hanging in the air above the South Lobby wings outstretched from wall to wall all by itself is Burt Rutan’s Voyager. You can get up close to this piece of history. Even the wing tips are unrepaired from the damage they took on takeoff.
This is the first aviation event that I truly remember. Part of it was the joy of seeing Voyager in person at EAA Oshkosh Fly-In (now AirVenture) in 1987.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (on the Mall)
Hours: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Open every day except December 25.