I'm a sucker for airplane museums. So this account of my visit to the Smithsonian Institution's Udvar-Hazy center in northern Virginia will not be the hard-eyed objective report of a neutral observer. I'm a fanboy. On the other hand, who goes 30 miles into the suburban wilds of northern Virginia to look at airplanes? Fanboys, that's who.
I was accompanied by a reduced-strength Crack Team of museum evaluators, because the other two wanted to do girl stuff downtown.
Getting to and from the Udvar-Hazy Center took more time than our actual museum visit. I understand there's a shuttle bus from the Air & Space Museum on the Mall and I recommend it sight unseen. Even if the bus driver is a cross between Mr. Toad and Mad Max I doubt it can be less fun than coping with suburban Washington traffic.
But why am I blathering about cars? We went out there to look at airplanes! How does the Udvar-Hazy Center stack up against contenders like the Air Force Museum in Dayton, the New England Air Museum, or the mighty Air & Space Museum downtown?
Awesomely. They've got a Concorde. They've got the original Enola Gay (look it up!). They've got the not-quite-Space Shuttle Enterprise. And right in the center of the whole shebang is the long, black, wicked, sleek, jaw-droppingly beautiful shape of an SR-71 spy plane. This is the plane that set a new transcontinental record of 1 hour 4 minutes 20 seconds from Los Angeles to Washington -- on its retirement flight. When it landed they recorded the new record (it averaged over 2100 mph) then wheeled the plane into a museum.
Whew. Hot flash there. Besides sheer crowd-pleasing awesomeness the collection has much to reward a serious aviation-history buff. There are several unique (or nearly-so) examples of German and Japanese experimental craft from the last days of World War II: a Japanese Ohka piloted missile, a Komet rocketplane, and part of a Horten flying wing (which inspired the plane in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark with the boxing-obsessed chief mechanic). There are also some Soviet MiGs from the Air Force's old "aggressor squadron."
And for the younger set there are FLIGHT SIMULATORS! Run by an outside contractor (so you have to pay), there's a passive "thrill ride" version and an active, you're-in-control jet combat simulator. Even without the help of a rear-seat gunner our Crack Team managed one confirmed kill and one "possible."
Jim and the Crack Team give it two thumbs up. Information is here.