12 Reasons Why You Should Visit Air & Space Museum At The Udvar-Hazy Center
This weekend my family fell in love with planes. No less, no more – it’s a true infatuation now. We were always admiring the sleek bodies of commercial airliners while waiting for our flights at the various airports or gazed upon the sky to follow “silver birds” flying over our heads, but last weekend’s experience gave us a completely new appreciation for the beauty of aviation.
We visited the Air and Space Museum at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Don’t ask me why it took me so many years to get there, but I finally did and I feel like it’s my duty now to tell everybody that if they haven’t done so yet, they have to visit this museum. And there are good reasons for that:
- A “Wow” effect
This is exactly what I said when I entered the museum. My jaw literally dropped when I saw the enormous space of the Boeing Aviation Hangar filled with dozens of planes of various shapes, colors, origin, and ages. From a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, to Air France’s supersonic Concorde or the Red Bull Stratos capsule – this museum has them all. And you can admire them from below, from the sides and from above using various passages and special walkways.
- Lesson of history
The museum is divided into 14 sections, including modern military aviation, aerobatic aviation, sport aviation, commercial aviation, cold war aviation, German World War II aviation, pre-1920 aviation, business aviation and others. You can read about each plane and learn interesting details about their history. Some major aircraft are also presented with a 360 panoramic picture of their cockpits.
- IMAX Theater
IMAX of course doesn’t need any advertisement, but believe me, if you want to boost your experience with the museum, you really should see there the “Journey to Space” in 3D. The movie is spectacular, takes you out to space and tells you many interesting things about the NASA shuttle program. You learn about various space shuttles and their missions and then….you can go to the Space Hangar to visit the magnificent Space Shuttle Discovery in person.
- Space hangar
You walk around the enormous body of Discovery examining every aspect of it and think to yourself, how amazing it is to be able to witness it. And believe me, I know what I’m talking about as I saw a replica of an American space shuttle in Belgium and the effect was not the same. You see signs of wear and tear on the shuttle and you know that you face the real thing here. In addition to the space shuttle, the Space Hangar presents a collection of rockets and missiles, applications satellites, instruments used in space science, and objects dedicated to human spaceflight.
- Observation Tower
Since the Museum is located just on the outskirts of the Washington Dulles International Airport, we had to take the opportunity and visit the Observation Tower from which, if you are lucky, you can observe right above your head planes landing or taking off from the airport. But even if you are out of luck, like we were, and the planes happen to change the route, it’s still a great way to experience the surroundings of the museum from the altitude of the 7th floor. After that, you can go one floor lower and visit an exhibit on air traffic control to see what the work in a control tower is like.
- Hands on experience
During a visit kids (and adults) can learn for free (!) how to operate a real Cessna plane or they can join one of the interactive Discovery Stations to find out more about aviation and space exploration delivered by the museum’s staff in a fun and approachable way.
Another interactive option is the simulator rides available for an extra fee. They don’t require any skills (just 48” minimum height) but I would recommend interactive flight simulators ($10), during which you and your kid test yourselves in air-to-air combat, actually rolling at times in 360-degree barrel rolls – perhaps best for older kids (or at least more adventurous ones). More suitable for the younger ones is the 3D virtual trip in a ride simulator ($8), which takes its passengers to various destinations in space and time (it also pitches and moves, but does not roll).
- Free Guided Tours
We didn’t take advantage of this opportunity but we walked by several of them and it’s really worth mentioning. The Museum offers FREE (!) 90-minute guided tours for all visitors interested in learning more about the museum and its exhibits. The tours are offered daily at 10:30 AM and 1:00 PM and you don’t need to make any prior reservation. Just show up and be ready to absorb some interesting facts about machines on display and the history of air and space travel from very knowledgeable guides.
- Scavenger hunt for the kids
This is something your kids will love and have fun with. Upon your arrival at the museum, collect a scavenger sheet at the Welcome Center and turn your kids into detectives. Their task will be to find various planes and identify their “animal names.” For the younger kids, you can turn the hunt into an “I spy” game. I promise it will keep them focused for quite some time.
- A picture from the moon
As cheesy as it may sound, it can actually make a nice souvenir from the museum (possibly even a good candidate for a holiday photo). Right next to entrance to the Space Hangar a photographer will snap a cute photo of your family and will transform you with the magic of Photoshop into a team of savvy astronauts posing in front of the space station, space shuttle, or out in space.
- Restoration hangar
You can’t enter the restoration hangar, but from the visitor overlook you can observe how engineers reconstruct and preserve old artifacts to their former glory.
- Space ice cream
Ok, so I’m going a little personal here, but I have a huge weakness for space ice cream. I just can’t resist it when I’m where it’s sold. You can buy space ice cream at the museum’s gift shops, which (of course) offer many other interesting things if you are not a big fan of space treats.
- Free admission
The museum, being part of the Smithsonian Institution, is absolutely free. You only pay $15 for parking, but even with a parking fee the admission is a real bargain considering the content you are exposed to. (You can also get there by public transportation, but with multiple stops that sound like a bit of a pain and take much longer than driving. Pay the parking fee and be glad you did!) The experience you and your family get is worth every single penny and more.
Have you visited Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum? Share your experience with other parents here.