Tag Archives: DC

National Air & Space Museum at Dulles

Let me quote from the Wikipedia:

“The Smithsonian Institution was founded for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge” from a bequest to the United States by the British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829), who never visited the new nation. In Smithson’s will, he stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States to create an “Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men”.

“The Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum complex in the world, and many of its buildings are historical and architectural landmarks.”

During our last trip to USA, Luca and I visited both locations of the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian institution. I had already been at the one in the Mall and I already talked about it briefly in a previous post. I wanted to write about the museum at Dulles, close to DC international airport.

That museum is named after Steven F. Udvar Hazy, who is the CEO of Air Lease Corp, an airplanes leasing company. Previously he was chairman and CEO of ILFC, another leasing company, together with GECAS, one of the 2 biggest. The guy is a living legend or commercial markets: when he blessed or criticizes an aircraft it is seriously noticed by the manufacturers. He donated 65M$ to the Smithsonian to set up this museum and that’s why it carries his name. Thanks Steve! What a museum! The NASM is awesome!

The museum has dozens if not over a hundred of airplanes, satellites, rockets, helicopters, etc., in display, all tagged with small explanation of the aircraft.

On our visit we joined a free guided tour, another fabulous feature of the museum. Our guide was Bill Laux, a veteran pilot from the Navy. He was originally from Omaha where we would be going in a couple of days while he would be heading also in a couple of days to Belgium… crossing roads.

We stayed with Bill for about 2 hours, following one explanation after the other, one curiosity here, another detail there, etc. I remember visiting Ellis Island in NYC 2 years ago with a ranger who also filled the tour with stories. This is something I really like: instead of paying for a quick tour or audio-guide, they make use of the willingness of these volunteers to pass on their knowledge.

I have to admit that the session was for core aviation geeks, and I want to commend Luca for standing it. At the beginning we were a group of 10-12 people, wives and children included. The guide asked: “Who has got an aerospace background?” 4 or so of us raised hands… after 30 minutes of tour only Luca and those with aviation background continued with the tour (no sight of wives and children). After 1 hour 30 minutes, only Luca and me. After 2 hours the guide went “well, we’ve seen pretty much everything” :-). Thanks Bill!

I scanned one of the sides of the map of the museum to post it here. The map covers the Boeing hangar, but bear in mind that there is another hangar missing (James S McDonnell, which hosts a Space Shuttle), an IMAX cinema, the restoration hangar and the control tower.

I wanted to post it here so you can get a grasp of what we’re talking about. Airplanes packed side by side, one of top of the other… and not any airplane, some are unique pieces. Let me just comment on a few of them (of which below you can find the pictures):

  • The Space shuttle Enterprise: which never went to outer space as it was used only for training purposes, to let astronauts command the powerless flight after re-entry. Believe it or not, it was going to be named “Constitution”, trekkies had not stepped in.
  • A Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird: the reconnaissance aircraft which set the record as fastest aircraft back in 1976.
  • The Boeing 367-80 “Dash-80”, which as I already mentioned in a previous post, was the prototype Boeing built to test and market a new configuration for commercial jet aircraft, a configuration which all commercial aircraft have followed more or less ever since.
  • A Concorde.
  • The infamous B-29 Enola Gay.
  • The Langley Aerodrome A: a model that Samuel Pierpont Langley (a manned flight pioneer and secretary of the Smithsonian institution at the time) used to try to set the first heavier-than-air flight… he didn’t, as the model crashed in the Potomac river.
  • A Junkers 52 built by the Spanish CASA.
  • A Boeing 307 Stratoliner: the first pressurized commercial aircraft.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I would only give one point of improvement for the museum: now you cannot get into the aircraft except for simulators, if they would just change that policy it would be just perfect (in the Mall you can actually enter in some models, e.g. Spacelab).

I forgot to mention some extras: the museum is free (free as in zero dollars), it has a transport leaving every hour to and from Dulles airport which costs just 50 cents, has lockers for big luggage free of charge, has a nice souvenir shop with plenty of aviation books and even a McDonald’s to recover some strength at half way of the visit…

In future posts I will comment some of the details of some aircraft… give credit to Bill, our guide.

17 Comments

Filed under Aerospace & Defence

A day in DC

Two years ago, in December 2008, I came for the 1st time to Washington DC. That was the first time I came to the USA and even though it was on a business trip, I managed to take some 4 hours in 2 days to do some sightseeing. I loved it.

Yesterday we arrived again to DC. This time Luca and me, on holidays, again just for 2 days. We checked in our hotel, The Quincy, in L Street NW, not very far from the White House… though I acknowledge that distances are misleading in this city: why wouldn’t you walk from Lincoln memorial to Washington memorial if “it’s just over there”, and from that to that other museum in The Mall, and for that matter to the Capitol. In the end you walk many kilometres. The hotel was a success. For just 100 dollars a night, we’ve got a room of rank of the best ones I get in business trips with the company, so the start of this stay was promising.

Today has been a long but entertaining day. I woke up without alarms at 5:30am. I checked the time and enjoyed the fact of having 45 more minutes of sleep. At 6:15am I got up, dressed in running gear and went out for a morning run. Only to discover that it was way hotter and more humid than I expected and dressed for. I didn’t come back to leave the sweater and paid for it later on. I was amazed by the dozens even hundreds of people I saw running before 7am around the city, especially in the Mall. I knew Americans love to run and do wake up early. Still, what I saw was beyond expectations. I went from the hotel to the Washington memorial passing by the White House (2 km), then to Capitol (other 2km) and back rounding the Washington memorial. In total 8.6 km. The plan was to round the capitol from behind and pass by the Jefferson memorial (4 more km) but I was way too overheated for that.                            

Back in the hotel I did some stretching, took a shower, washed clothes and got dressed to continue hitting the streets of DC. We went for breakfast at a cafeteria close to the hotel, then to a store to buy a new photo camera and at 9am we were at the Lincoln memorial ready to start a day of reflections (though the reflecting pool was empty and under construction).

We then headed to the World War II and the Washington memorials. Then to the American History museum. This one is one of the 19 museums of the Smithsonian. All of them admission-free, all of them wonderfully arranged. It is almost impossible to overstate the quality of those museums. In each one you could spend a week if you had it for each. There are hundreds of materials to read, to watch, to listen to… in each room. In this one we paid special attention to the rooms dedicated to the flag and the song that would become the American anthem, to the gowns of the First Ladies, to the presidents and Abraham Lincoln. By 11:45 we had to leave for the next appointment in the day.

This time we had booked a guided tour through The Capitol, which houses the Senate and the House of Representatives. We had to wait rather long as expected long queues weren’t such, so we took the extra 30 minutes we had in the schedule to have lunch in the restaurant within the building. The visit was funny and the guide entertaining, but I expected more of it. With that visit you don’t get to actually see the chambers. I guess that deal in Spain is better. However, as we were about to exit, Luca saw a sign for the Library of the Congress and there we went.

The visit of the LoC is wonderful as well. You get to see two bibles from the XV century, one made by Gutenberg, what is left from Jefferson’s library (a third from the original, but still over 6,000 books – including some from Cervantes) bought by the Congress, and one of the reading rooms, which anyone could access provided the she would get the card by filling a form and paying 2 bucks (that‘s not so easy in Madrid with the national library).

Afterward, we headed for the American Indian museum. Another one from the Smithsonian institution. By then I was exhausted and overloaded by information, so I paid attention to one of each 10 signs to read, but still enjoyed the museum.

As we went out it was already 17:20, time for museums to close… but as we passed by the Air and Space museum I saw a sign saying that that particular museum would open today till 19:30. There we went. We needed something relaxing so we bought a couple of tickets for the 3D movie “Legends of the Sky”, a splendid documentary of 50’ which has the 787 program as the main theme and covers some basic principles of flight such as propulsion, materials, structures, etc. It also reviews a b it of aviation history from the Lockheed Constellation to the A380. I especially liked the final line telling children that everything is not yet invented in aviation, we’ve just started. Then we entered the replica of the Spacelab, the gallery of the Apollo programme and the room dedicated to interactive explanations and games of the principles of flight: wonderful again. This was the second time I visited this museum… it won’t be the last.

By the time we left the museum, Luca and I were completely worn out by the rhythm of the day, with just some strength to walk back to the hotel and take some pictures in front of the White House on the way. We stopped at the Irish terrace close to the hotel to enjoy an American dinner composed of buffalo rings, hamburgers and 4 large beers to call it for the day.

Two years later, I continue to be more than delighted with DC.

2 Comments

Filed under Travelling