Your journey out to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy (say that fast three times) Center will not be a short one. And with all that there is to be seen in and around DC proper (National Monuments, Museums, White House, etc.), it certainly could be argued, "Is it worth my time to go all the way out to Dulles?" Let me answer that question LOUDLY and EMPHATICALLY...."YES, IT IS!!"
Granted, my wife and I, family and friends have had many opportunities to visit most of what there is to be seen in around our Nation's Capitol. But, we had never had the opportunity to visit the newest branch of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Our visit was long overdue, and we are so very pleased that we've finally made it out there.
Let me begin with the only other "downside" we observed with respect to visiting this great venue. Yes....point one....compared to what can be seen in the center of the capitol...it is a long way "out there" (think of it as a constitution builder). Point two.....there is a $15 parking fee (per car) to be admitted to the facility area. But that is where any "disappointment" you have with this facility will end.
So what's there to see? First, this is a much more tourist / historian friendly facility than the National Air and Space Museum within the National Mall area. The exhibits themselves are much more "viewable" (easy to see and appreciate the form and structure of the air vehicle) than what can be seen in the other museum.
Second, I personally believe it has three stellar attractions that are considered MUST SEE objects if you are an aviation enthusiast. They are: The B-29 Super Fortress (Enola Gay); the SR-71 "Blackbird"; and, the show-stopper of them all - the Space Shuttle "Discovery". Again, the beauty of these objects is in the great care and thought that has been invested with respect to how each is displayed.
There are many, many other aviation and space aircraft on display that will keep you entranced for hours. So......when planning your visit to this facility easily plan on investing at least half a day, if not a full day to fully appreciate all of the aeronautical history on display.
There are also guided tours available should you be unfamiliar with the history of flight. Although we did not personally avail ourselves of an opportunity to take a guided tour, I did have an opportunity to speak with one of the tour guides. I think he is typical of the guides who volunteer their time. This gentleman is a retired Navy and Commercial test pilot with experience in more than 29 experimental aircraft. You couldn't be in better hands.
I have pointedly left what I think is the best part of this museum experience for the last. In addition to an excellent food court, and an outstanding on-site book and collectibles store, the museum also boasts a number of flight simulators that you - the patron - can fly and enjoy.
For $8 @ person, you get a five minute flight experience at the controls of an F4 Phantom fighter. We aren't talking about some lame "watch the video" flight simulator here. We are talking about a full-out, Disney World "E" ticket ride. As a former military aviator, my brother-in-law agreed to fly with me as we "worked it out." I think he was fine, right up to the point where I rolled the Phantom inverted to dive and shoot-down the bogie. (And "Yes", the simulator really does roll inverted.) That, with the barrel rolls, high-G turns, etc., and he was "hurting." "Yes", you can make this a sedate and gentle ride....but what's the point.
Won't bore you with the details, but my brother-in-law and I flew the simulator four times; each of us getting a couple of turns at being the pilot and the weapons officer. I think we would have flown it more, but the museum was closing and our wives were dizzy from watching us (from the outside) spin and invert the simulator.
One comment so that you are prepared for this experience should you decide to fly a "mission." The flight begins with a carrier launch....which would be more realistic if you were actually slammed back into your seat when the launch occurs. But, that is the only disappointment in this flight experience you will have.
If you've ever experienced the rush of being a military or civil pilot.....this is a MUST DO!!
If you aren't up to it, there is a more sedate simulator ride also available.
No matter.....this is a museum experience well worth your time and investment.
See you upstairs.
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