Friday, June 4, 2010

Flying High

That Other Smithsonian

I am posting this while flying. The era of In-fight internet is here and the irony of flying while posting this seems pretty appropriate.

This was one of those weeks where despite elaborate planning efforts, everything just wound up going (as my old friend Bill G used to say) "Twist-O". But I won't go into that here.

The good news is that finding myself with a few extra hours on my hands near Dulles Airport allowed me to (finally) go see one of the newer Smithsonian offerings; The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. As always it is a Smithsonian museum, so it is free, in fact I was met by a smiling security guard who opened the door and offered a very warm and sincere "welcome". It was like they had been waiting for me.

The Exterior is a Cacophony of Slam-it-Together Geometry

The difference here is that they charge $15 to park. This may explain why there is no easy shuttle service to Dulles. They want you to arrive in your personal or rental car.

Officially in Chantilly Virginia, the new museum is pretty darned cool. Sort of the worlds biggest aviation attic. Before entering the museum I thought I'd just go in and be awed by an amazing collection of flying history. What I found was more than awe, it was also pretty moving. The items in here all form the way we live and changed the very geopolitics of our world.

First off, the shear size of it is overwhelming. The entrance is up on the second floor, so after clearing security, the first thing you see way off in the distance is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. And it actually looks pretty small.

Then it hits you. The space shuttle looks small. Geez this place is big!

Real Planes In A Building So Big That Hung From the Ceiling 
They Look Like A Bunch of Kites

The Enterprise

After you make it to the end of the initial observation promenade your eyes fall on a blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Here is amazing 1964 era Lockheed Skunk Works technology that fell into the direct path of the political wood chipper. Retired twice, it flew off and on until 1999. And although it hasn't flown in over a decade it still looks stealthy and totally sleek today. It is officially the fastest air breathing manned aircraft. Way ahead of its time.

Blackbird #972

I put it in the same category as Lockheed's earlier bit of dark amazement, the U-2 spyplane (not on display). I bring up the U-2 because I actually witnessed one of those taking off (the base staff at NAS Moffett Field referred to it as a "launch") during a high school field trip in 1972. The U-2 provided data to save our bacon over and over. It befuddled the Russians and allowed President Kennedy to understand the extent of the problem we faced in the Cuban Missile Crisis.) These are two of the planes that have helped maintain democracy itself.

I found myself actually getting choked up at the sight of the Apollo space craft, remembering both its successes and tragedies. And my heart moved way up in my throat when I realized the big silver WWII era bomber I was admiring carried the name Enola Gay.

The Plane That Ended Our War With Japan
And Changed The World We Live in Forever

One of Only 3 Boeing Stratoliner's Ordered by Pan Am
(With 33 seats, it could fly pressurized "Above the Weather"
 at 14,000 Feet! )

There is Wiley Post's little plane he flew around the world, and a romantic statue of Colonel Billy Mitchell who was shouted down when during the first world war he stressed the need for an American air force. 

The museum is a showstopper and well worth the drive from it's more crowded Smithsonian brethren on The Mall in DC.  

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Thanks for sharing these pictures! Looks like a place I need to put on my list! So many places to go, things to see!! :)