DC: All About Aircraft!

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Satellites hanging from the ceiling of the Space Shuttle Hangar, taken with my iPhone and cleaned up a bit via PhotoForge2 and KitCam.

This post needs to have a lot of exclamation points! Why? Because this is how excited Coart was to finally get to visit the Udvar-Hazy wing of the National Air & Space Museum!

[Note to all museum namers: I don’t care how much money Udvar or Hazy gave you. I will never, EVER remember the name “Udvar-Hazy” ….not a chance. It cannot happen. So I call your cool museum “That Other Wing Of The Air & Space Museum, You Know, The Really Cool One. At The Big Airport.”

And I consider that a failure of nomenclature on your part. Plus, your marketing department probably hates you.  “Hey, boss! I can’t get the name of the museum to fit on this sticker! Can we come up with a nickname or something?”

Anyway, if you want to see Coart actually look excited for once, instead of just imagining what it would look like for him to be excited about something (because the man plays his excitement pretty close to the chest most of the time. He really does) then you should get him to give you a tour of anything with military hardware.  Aircraft are the best bet, but he was pretty chipper about our visit to the Battleship North Carolina back in May too.

But I digress.

Why should you visit the UQWYEGCHXTWETEUTRIFBDGD wing of the Air & Space Museum?

Because it’s straight damn awesome.

A P-51 Mustang C (different canopy shape)
A P-51 Mustang C

Wanna see a rare C variant of the P-51 Mustang which did an outstanding job crushing the Luftwaffe to help end WW2? They’ve got one.

Wanna see the Enola Gay, the B29 bomber infamous for dropping the atomic bombs over Japan? It’s there. Behind a spit shield raised by the Museum to protect the aircraft from protest-via-saliva.  [Several years ago we got to hear Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the atomic bomb missions, speak to a veterans’ reunion in Greenville, SC. He was unapologetic about the use of the bomb or his role in it.  As he pointed out, the Allies had already killed and maimed thousands more civilians via night bombing, incendiary attacks, and other traditional weapons.]

The plane is huge. I always forget how big B29’s are until I’m standing next to one. (And a B52 positively dwarfs anything nearby, but the U-H doesn’t have one of those on display.)

The front nose cone & canopy of the B-29 Enola Gay bomber. This huge aircraft occupies an amazing swath of the display floor in the hangar, with many airplanes tucked beneath its shadow.
The front nose cone & canopy of the B-29 Enola Gay bomber. This huge aircraft occupies an amazing swath of the display floor in the hangar, with many airplanes tucked beneath its shadow.

We ran into a helpful docent near the Enola Gay, an older gentleman armed with an iPad and a warm, outgoing personality. I missed his name, but he introduced himself as the lead docent of the museum, in charge of dozens of volunteers who work the floor of the museum every day to offer context and answer questions. Coart and he quickly descended into a long conversation about specifics of the plane and the mission. We learned that only 3 of the crew (12 men, I think?) knew what payload they were carrying.  Another veteran, in his 70s, walked up and added details to the conversation — he remembered being a boy when Pearl Harbor was attacked and served in Korea.  The docent was about 10 years younger and had risen to the rank of Colonel during Vietnam. His dad was a Colonel in WW2 and the docent had inherited his actual bird insignia to wear.

I just love it when you can catch bits and pieces of people’s stories like that.

Anyway, we spent about 2 hours wandering through all the hangars, enjoying a few rare aircraft like this P-47 Thunderbird (cool Popular Science article here):

The hubby was really excited to see this P-41, something we hadn't run across in our museum travels.
The hubby was really excited to see this P-47 Thunderbird, something we hadn’t run across in our museum travels. It also gives you an idea of the size of the B29 sitting above it.

The SR-71 Blackbird still holds the record as the fastest military aircraft (as far as the government will admit). Plus, she’s really pretty:

SR-71 Blackbird, which greets you when you enter the museum.
SR-71 Blackbird, which greets you when you enter the museum.

We finally laid eyes on a Joint Strike Fighter (F35), the political football that was held up due to Congressional finance wrangling, some arguments about design, and technical issues. I didn’t take a photo because it was too hard to get a good angle on anything interesting. But the engine developer (Pratt & Whitney, I think) had one of the engine assemblies on display.

Space Shuttle Discovery in her hangar.
Space Shuttle Discovery in her hangar.

Despite loving all the aircraft, my favorite hangar was the Space Shuttle Discovery.  It’s a great display of rockets, space exploration, and technology in its own right…. but mostly I just loved looking at Discovery with my own eyes.  I remember as a kid watching the space shuttle lift-offs and landings on TV — if I was home, I always watched.

And while it’s probably true that the shuttle program was a massive waste of money and resources, leading to a space station that really isn’t doing anything to move space exploration forward, it’s still SO COOL.

*****

The Udvar-Hazy wing is a great “layman’s museum.”  They don’t really bother you with a lot of the details.  I guess that’s what the docents are for. But if you want to wander through a hundred years of flight, this is a great place to come.

More photos from our trip

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