You don’t have to be a flying enthusiast or a space geek to appreciate the National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, Va.
This companion facility to the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington is officially called the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. It opened in December 2003 to house the thousands of aviation and space artifacts owned by the Smithsonian.
The museum is housed in an aviation hangar that’s so immense that it never seems crowded. With so much ground to cover, there’s a lot to see here, including the scissors used to cut Amelia Earhart’s hair before her last flight, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the fastest plane in the world and a flag recovered from the Pentagon after 9/11.
WHAT YOU SEE: Some of the highlights include the Boeing FB-5 hanging from the ceiling, the last remaining Farman Sport, which was made in 1924 and the huge Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, which is the fastest jet in the world. Also at the museum is the SA-2 guideline missile, which is 34 feet long, the 46-foot Sikorsky UH-34D seahorse, the Sparrow 2 Missile and the Side Winder Missile. One of the most dramatic displays is the Enola Gay, which was the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb as a weapon of war.
The space portion of the museum features the immensely huge Space Shuttle Enterprise, as well as the Apollo Boilerplate Command Module and the Advanced Orbiting Solar Observatory. While all of the equipment is roped off, the museum offers several computers that take you into the cockpits of some of the aircrafts.
Don’t forget to go up to the observation tower, which gives you views of in all directions. One level before the top of the observatory features an exhibit on control tower operations.
GOOD FOR KIDS: Great for kids of all ages. If fact this is probably one of the best kid attractions in the Washington area. The little ones will enjoy seeing such large aircraft up close and inside of a building rather than in the sky. The bigger kids will enjoy the flight simulator rides and the IMAX Theatre. The museum also has a McDonald’s to grab a bite to eat.
GIFT SHOP: The museum has a great gift shop for nice souvenirs. It also features fun toys and gadgets, as well as t-shirts, books and movies.
WHERE: 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, VA 20151
HOURS OF OPERATION: Open daily 10 AM to 5:30 PM; closed December 25.
COST: Free for the museum. The IMAX theatre charges about $9 for tickets and simulator rides are $7-$8.
PARKING: The museum has its own parking lot, which charges $15.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The easiest way to get to the museum is by car, but a Virginia Regional Transit bus does take people to the facility from Dulles International Airport and Dulles Town Center.
WEBSITE/TELEPHONE NUMBER: http://www.nasm.si.edu/museum/udvarhazy/"; 202-633-1000
SPECIAL EVENTS: Become a Pilot Family Day and Fly-In is June 18, 2011 from 10 AM to 3 PM. Visitors can see visiting vintage, recreational, military and homebuilt aircraft, as well as talk to pilots about what skills are needed to fly. The event also features flight simulators, story time and hands-on activities for kids. The event is free but parking is $15.
WHAT’S CLOSE BY: Sully Historic Site at 3650 Historic Sully Way, Chantilly, Va., 20151, is a house built in 1799 and owned by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress and Robert E. Lee’s uncle. The site also includes slave quarters and picnic areas. Entrance to the house for a guided tour is $6 for adults, $5 for students, $4 for seniors and $4 for children ages 5-15.