Aeroseums Blog

Aviation history, one article at a time.

Located near Dulles International Airport, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened its doors in Dec 2003. Due to the size of the Center the Smithsonian was finally able to exhibit a majority of its large aircraft collection that it simply could not display at the main museum on the National Mall. The over 50,000 square foot primary hanger is show center for the airplane and helicopter collection with the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar holding the space collection, highlighted by currently the Space Shuttle Enterprise, but soon to be replaced by the Discovery. The stellar aircraft collection includes a Lockheed SR-71, Concord, Boeing’s 367-80 and 307 Stratoliner, B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, Northrop N-1M, and many other rare aircraft.  Additionally the Museum has an observation deck that looks like an aircraft control tower providing a view of Dulles as well as an IMAX theater.  The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center truly lives up to its nickname of America’s Hangar.

Ok, we have one major problem. The Udvar-Hazy Center is my favorite museum and I could easily pick dozens of airplanes, but like all of our reviews on Aeroseums we have to pick 3 so here are three aircraft that you just have to see if you only have a short time to be at the museum and my Personal Gem, ok 2 Personal Gems this time.

Exhibit 1: SR-71 Blackbird

Greeting you upon your entrance to the museum is the sleek Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. This record setting Blackbird set the Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. speed record flying 2,124MPH and clocking a time of 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds between the two cities. Developed by a team of engineers at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, lead by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, with its first flight in December 22, 1964, the SR-71 was a follow on to the CIA’s A-12. There are a total of twenty remaining SR-71 Blackbirds. Other records achieved by the SR-71: “absolute altitude record” of 85,069 feet, New York to London 1,435.587MPH (need to slow down to refuel) in 1 hour 54 minutes and 56.4 seconds, a flight of 15,000 miles in 10 hrs. 30 min., St. Louis, Missouri to Cincinnati, Ohio 311.4 miles in 8 minutes 32 seconds, and more can be found here.

The positioning of the SR-71 Blackbird in the Udvar-Hazy Center is stunning: not only is it one of the first airplanes you see when you walk in as you look from nose to tail you then see the Space Shuttle Enterprise (soon the be Discovery) between the SR-71’s twin tails.

Note: The SR-71 has long been my favorite airplane ever since I laid eyes on one at the EAA Fly-in (AirVenture) in 1989.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - B-29 "Enola Gay"Exhibit 2: B-29 “Enola Gay”

One of the most controversial, but historical, aircraft in their collection: the Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, known by its name “Enola Gay”, dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The B-29 was first flown September 21, 1942 and entered service in May of 1943. Enola Gay was produced late in the war on May 18, 1945. The Superfortresses was the largest Allied bomber to fly in World War Two and introduced new technologies like pressurization, remote controlled weapon stations and electronic fire control systems.


Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - Space Shuttle EnterpriseExhibit 3: Space Shuttle Enterprise

Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first Space Shuttle airframe built that was designed for flight-testing.  Enterprise first flew on the back of a 747 during a captive carry test on February 18, 1977. The Shuttle was later used for ground testing before STS-1 (the first launch of Shuttle Columbia) and then the ground testing at Enterprise at SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB, the never used shuttle launch facility. After the Challenger disaster there was consideration on pulling Enterprise out of storage and refitting it to be a fully working shuttle but Endeavor was build in its place. After the Space Shuttle Columbia breakup wing parts from Enterprise where removed and used in foam impact testing that proved how the shuttle was damaged. The photo in this review shows parts missing from Enterprise: these were the wing panels used in this testing. Enterprise’s next home will be the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.


Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - N-1MPersonal Gem: N-1M

I have always held a place in my heart for flying wings. I am not sure what it is but the N-1M just calls out to me. The N-1M was one of John “Jack” Northrop’s early flying wings. It was a one of a kind proof of concept that later lead to the N-9M and then later the YB-35.




Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - Boeing 307 StratolinerPersonal Gem 2: 307 Stratoliner

The Boeing 307 Stratoliner was the first pressurized commercial transport and built in 1938 it was well ahead of its time. It was originally ordered by PanAm and then TWA, but World War Two intervened and with modification the design became the C-75. This airframe was restored and on March 28, 2002 it had an emergency ditching in Elliott Bay near Seattle, Washington due to running out of fuel. It was restored again and flew via EAA AirVenture (where I took this photo) to the Smithsonian where it is today.


Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center


Hours: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Open every day except December 25.

Admission: Free
$15 per day parking

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