If you read this blog frequently, you know that Noah LOVES airplanes and space shuttles. Who doesn’t?
We have visited the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall a handful of times (it’s one of Noah’s favorite places!)…and last weekend we finally made it to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.
The Center has two MASSIVE hangars—the James McDonnell Space Hangar and the Boeing Aviation Hangar. The facility is HUGE!
The highlight of our visit was seeing the Space Shuttle Discovery—so cool!
Discovery launched and landed 39 times between 1984 and 2011. This space shuttle carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit and made many visits to the International Space Station.
I remember when Discovery—strapped to the back of a 747—flew low over Washington, DC on its way to Dulles International Airport (west of DC) in April 2012. Everyone was outside trying to get a glimpse. It was an exciting day! Discovery was on its way to replace Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Udvar-Hazy Center, and it will remain on permanent display there.
We saw many other cool things in the space hangar too: the Mars Pathfinder Lander, the Goddard Rocket, the Mercury Capsule 15B, a mobile quarantine facility, and lots of other NASA equipment.
In the aviation hangar, we saw the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. This aircraft is the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft. This particular aircraft was used by the Air Force between 1966 and 1990 and is most known for its reconnaissance missions during Cold War. The Blackbird is capable of flying at speeds over Mach 3 (so three times faster than the speed of sound). That’s about 2,300 miles per hour—that’s fast!
One little-known fact about the SR-71 is that it leaks jet fuel when it isn’t flying. Fortunately, the JP-7 jet fuel used to power the SR-71 is extremely stable and has a high flash point that reduces the risk of a disaster on the tarmac. Then shortly after takeoff (approximately seven minutes later) it refuels in mid-air via a KC-135Q tanker. (Yes, that little factoid somehow managed to pop out of Ryan’s head—nerd! I’m just the typist here.)
Another highlight of the aviation hangar was the Concorde, which was the first supersonic commuter airliner. The Concorde fleet offered by Air France and British Airways flew passengers across the Atlantic Ocean in fewer than four hours—half the time of a conventional jet airliner. The Concorde fleet was retired in 2003 due to high operating costs.
These Cessna planes are like the plane that Ryan used to fly; he flew a Cessna 152. The planes below are a Cessna A152 Acrobat and a Cessna 150.
We also saw many military planes and helicopters, including many from WWI, WWII, and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
As Ryan noted many times, because the facility is so huge, it dwarfs the size of the aircrafts. It’s amazing how many planes they had in one building!
Ryan has been teaching Noah the various types of planes (they read a lot of books about planes), so it was fun to see Noah point out the jet planes, biplanes, fighter planes, etc. And yes, Ryan is the source of most of (OK, maybe all of) the facts in this blog post—thanks Ryan! He’s a space and aviation junkie.
The Udvar-Hazy Center also has an observation tower that gives a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of planes taking off and landing at nearby Dulles International Airport. We didn’t make it to the observation tower this time, so we’ll definitely have to visit again soon…so stay tuned for more. Better yet, fly out to visit us so that we can watch your plane land! Hint, hint, hint…