Tour Air and Space at the Smithsonian Udvar Hazy Center

James has decided to do his fourth grade science fair project on flight, so this morning I took him out to the Udvar-Hazy museum to gather material. Amy tagged along because it was her idea in the first place, but mostly because she thinks this is her science project. We also brought the portable child.

James and Julia admire the Loudenslager Laser 200, which won seven U.S. National Aerobatic Championship titles for it's aerial stunts.
James and Julia admire the Loudenslager Laser 200, which won seven U.S. National Aerobatic Championship titles for it’s aerial stunts.

The first thing I noticed on driving up to this sprawling government facility were the anti-tank blockades hidden beneath the road and a perimeter of concrete sphere bollards to prevent an off-road attack.  If you were bent on assembling an air-force from the last century, they’re ready for you.

The observation tower at the Udvar-Hazy Museum overlooks the runway at Dulles International Airport
The observation tower at the Udvar-Hazy Museum overlooks the runway at Dulles International Airport

Our first stop was the observation tower, which offers sweeping views, not only of the Dulles airport, but of the foothills to the west.  As we walked around the spacious deck, we listened to the live audio from the Dulles air traffic control tower, which we could see off in the distance. 

The Flight Radar 24 app complements the experience of watching flights land at Dulles International Airport.
The Flight Radar 24 app complements the experience of watching flights land at Dulles International Airport.

As planes lined up in the skies to land, we tracked them on the Flight Radar 24 app, which allows you to see where all the flights are arriving from and interesting stats like their speed and altitude.

The main hall of the Udvar-Hazy museum feels more spacious and far brighter than the Air & Space Museum on the National Mall
The main hall of the Udvar-Hazy museum feels more spacious and far brighter than the Air & Space Museum on the National Mall

Walking around the light-filled main hall was a mood-enhancing experience after the dreary drive along the Dulles Tollroad.  The visitors to the Crystal Palace during the 1851 Great Exhibition must have felt the same way.  It is rare to see so much space and light under one roof.

The space hall is full of artifacts from NASA and other government organizations.
The space hall is full of artifacts from NASA and other government organizations.

The museum features a number of important flight artifacts, most notably the Enola Gay, the Concorde, and the Space Shuttle, but we were most interested in the gliders and single pilot designs, from which James is drawing inspiration for his project.

When you're enjoying the planes on the floor of the Udvar-Hazy Center, don't forget to look up!
When you’re enjoying the planes on the floor of the Udvar-Hazy Center, don’t forget to look up!

Pro Tip: bring a quarter to open a locker for your stuff (you’ll get it back when you return the key).  The museum is huge and the long walk is more enjoyable without all the kid luggage.

The free baggage / coat-check lockers at all Smithsonian museums are sometimes hard to find.
The free baggage / coat-check lockers at all Smithsonian museums are sometimes hard to find.

Cost: Although the museum is free, parking set us back $15 and we spent close to $30 on lunch.

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