Reach for the Stars at the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum

Growing up, my favorite museum was the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. My family made annual pilgrimages downtown to the Smithsonian Museums. I was really excited when, in 2003, the Udvar Hazy Center, an annex to the National Air and Space Museum, open. Multiple trips ensued, with the kids, with out of town guests to explore human space flight, World War II aviation, and vertical flight.

But our most recent visit was the first time I really got to explore the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum.


This is a great place for kids — a wonderful way to try to ignite that raw imagination and desire to explore where no one has gone before. I have fond memories of taking my two sons to visit the museum. I treasure a photo I took of them in front of the Discovery Shuttle.

But this time, it was just two adults. And it was fun. We started by walking around the sky walk above the planes — it seems like hundreds and hundreds of historic airplanes, from the very dawn of human flight to present. Actually, walking along the skywalk was mid-level — airplanes soared above us as well.

It can be hard to take in. There are simply hundreds or thousands of history’s most significant aviation and space craft. And it’s hard to focus.


Before heading into the space age hanger, we stopped by to look down over the Mary Engen Restoration Hangar, a facility spacious enough to allow the museum to restore several different aircraft at any given time.

But on a weekend, there was little activity going on in the restoration hanger, so we headed to see the star of the Udvar Hazy Center, the Space Shuttle Discovery. Patriotic feelings fluttered in our hearts as we took in this massive aircraft, framed with exotic satellites overhead and the American flag behind.

The satellites in particular were very interesting — some reminded me of dogs, others of jellyfish. I wondered if these shapes had inspired the engineers who designed these amazing aircraft!

The exhibit explores how, in the tense years of the Cold War, satellites evolved to serve both national security needs and civilian interests.

We headed down to the floor to explore the aircraft on the ground. We had to stop to take in the Enola Gay, famous for dropping the hydrogen bombs on Hiroshima, Japan during WWII. It’s a legendary airplane. 
I think my favorite aircraft was the cartoonish 1936 Waterman.

But I also liked the Blackbird, it’s sleek black design threatening and reassuring, all at the same time.

We also took time to explore the simulators (hint: the virtual reality simulator of a space walk is the best!!). 

It’s worth noting that this amazing museum is because of the generosity of one immigrant to America: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, who came to America from Hungry to co-found the International Lease Finance Corporation, an aircraft leasing corporation. Udvar-Hazy’s ginormous donation enabled the National Air and Space Museum to build the annex and open it in 2003.

Know before you go: On-site parking is available for $15; free parking for vehicles that arrive after 4 p.m.

Getting there: 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, VA

Hours: 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.


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