November 13, 2022

Museum Review - Udvar-Hazy

Continuing the tradition of the DC DSL meetups, we headed for the Air and Space Museum, but this time for the Udvar-Hazy Annex near Dulles Airport in Virginia. This was the completion of a 10-year dream for me, as I spent about 4 hours in early 2013 being very bored in Dulles Airport, only to discover about a week later that Udvar-Hazy was reachable by shuttle, and not, as I'd somehow assumed, in Maryland. The downside is that Dulles is about a 30-minute drive outside of DC proper, and although the Silver Line of the metro has finally gotten out to the area, getting there from downtown will take like an hour and a half. Either way, getting there is likely to be something of a mess given the need for a car and DC traffic, or the risk that the metro will be on fire.

Type: Air and Space Museum
Location: Chantilly, VA
Rating: 4.6/5, A delightfully mixed collection of aircraft, both important and obscure
Price: Free

But it's a worthwhile mess, because Udvary-Hazy is great. There's a lot of stuff which simply wouldn't fit on the Mall, things the Space Shuttle Discovery, an SR-71, the prototype Boeing 707, a Concorde and Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. All of these are big, and the building downtown just isn't. But the majority of the stuff in the hangar isn't that big, and instead forms a cross-section of aviation history drawn from the finest collection on the planet. There's weird stuff like the Goassamer Albatross, which flew across the English Channel under human power, and fairly common stuff like a variety of American WWII fighters. There's a lot of strange rotorcraft, and some air racers, the first plane FedEx ever flew and a good cross-section of military aviation from WWII to the present. There's obscure German and Japanese night-fighters, often the only ones left in the world and an interesting collection of weapons mockups in the space section that let me recap a number of posts here. On the whole, the curators did an excellent job balancing the displays between the sort of things you'd obviously expect and the stuff that will thrill an aviation geek jaded by years of air museums full of P-51s (they had one, but it was an air racer, with pride of place going to a P-40 and an F4U) and B-25s (none present, and thus not a word about the Doolittle Raid). A particular standout is Bob Hoover's Shrike Commander, a business plane he would do acrobatic displays in, most notably pouring a drink while doing a barrel roll.

There was a Gemini Paraglider model on display

There was also some stuff on display that I suspect normally lives on the Mall and was brought out to Udvar-Hazy because of the renovation work going on there. Notable in this category at the time of visit in October 2023 were the Bell X-1 that (probably) first broke the sound barrier with a man inside and John Glenn's Mercury capsule. The restoration area is visible from a balcony next to the space gallery, and as of my visit in October 2023, they were working on several aircraft, most prominently a B-26. Also worth noting that while there isn't a strong narrative flow to the collection, I would recommend against doing what I did and starting with the military jets, because that led to us essentially doing the whole thing backwards. Go for the early flight/WWI gallery first instead.

Unfortunately, I couldn't hug the SUBROC because it was behind a barrier

The facility itself is deeply impressive, essentially one giant hangar full of planes you can wind your way around, with the the space exhibits off in their own gallery in the middle. It's a visual spectacle rivaled only by the Cold War Gallery at Dayton. Cassander and I were tour guiding a rather large group, and it worked quite well for that, despite a sore throat on my part. I didn't get as much time to look at the signage and various artifacts scattered about as I would have liked, but they looked reasonably well done, certainly better than most air museums do at that. On the whole, this gets a very solid recommendation from me. It's a bit smaller than Dayton, but the collection is more diverse, and it definitely does a better job of appealing to the aviation enthusiast than the building on the Mall. I suspect this is deliberate on the part of the curators, and if so, they're doing their job very well. There's also a tower where you can look at Dulles Airport, but that's rather distant, and it's not particularly impressive if the planes aren't flying past the tower, as happened during our visit. If you're interested in airplanes, it's very much worth the hassle of getting there.


  1. November 13, 2022Forty-Bot said...

    although hopefully at some point before the heat death of the universe, the Silver Line of the DC metro will be extended to reach Dulles

    Tuesday : )

  2. November 13, 2022Mike Kozlowski said...

    ...I've actually got a couple personal connections to Udvar Hazy - the Fair Melissa's granddad was the senior safety engineer on the SEA LANCE missile on display there, and my Dad was lead engineer on the ISS experiment and equipment racks there in the McDonnell Gallery.

  3. November 13, 2022bean said...


    Yeah, I'm going to remain skeptical on that, given their track record so far.


    Interesting. Didn't notice the Sea Lance.

  4. November 14, 2022Emilio said...

    OK, why should the metro be on fire?

  5. November 14, 2022bean said...

    I don't know, but it happens a lot. Last year, a fire meant that I took the scenic route back from the Navy Museum. It was very scenic. But also kind of annoying.

  6. November 15, 2022Anonymous said...

    Apparently they haven't been bothering to maintain the system.

  7. November 15, 2022Emilio said...

    @Anonymous "Apparently they haven’t been bothering to maintain the system."


    Welcome in Italy! :-D

  8. November 15, 2022Forty-Bot said...

    Well, apparently it opened right on schedule

  9. November 16, 2022bean said...

    Technically, wouldn't that mean it had opened sometime in 2018?

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